Last night, my son Noah started playing with a 'new' Xbox game. I say 'new' because we've actually had it for years but just didn't allow him to play with it for the longest time as we felt he was too young for it. Last night, we finally gave in and thank God, it really isn't as inappropriate as we had imagined it to be. Anyway, during our conversation this morning, I asked Noah if he knew where the game disc came from. He said we've had it for a long time and that he thinks we've had it even when he was still a toddler. However, he admitted that he really doesn't remember where it came from and when exactly. What he meant to say was clear to me, but it was his delivery, the manner in which he phrased it, that struck me most.
He said, "I'm really not sure, Mama. I didn't know yet then how to put pictures in my mind."
I thought that was a good way of conceptualizing 'memory'. It's pretty accurate, if you asked me, because memory is like that. Though memory formation is a highly complex process, simplistically speaking, it's like having a series of images, pictures if you will, that are filed away in our brains. Some pictures are good and happy, some not so much. Some pictures are very short-lived, while some are extremely enduring, whether we prefer such endurance or not. One thing is certain though. Our memories, the things we (choose to) remember truly shape who we are.
I generally have good memory (to a fault sometimes), although oddly, I have problems remembering certain events that happened during 2004-2006. Interestingly, that was when I migrated here to the States and for years I couldn't explain this semi-memory loss. It was just recently when a cousin of mine pointed out that maybe it was due to the fact that I was still adapting to a new life, and I guess that was traumatic enough to affect my memory process overall. There are also memories that are extremely blurry to me during Noah's early years and that I attribute to stress and sleep deprivation. Fortunately, I took a lot of pictures at the time and also had my Mom with us helping me with Noah. She just happens to have one of the best memories on this planet, and no I'm not kidding.
I'm also very olfactory and it is a fact that smells aid us in memory formation. There is a smell that brings me back to my kindergarten days and an embarrassing event that I wish I didn't remember anymore. There are also smells that will always remind me of weekends at home, with Mom preparing a sweet 'after-nap' surprise for me and my siblings. Then there's a smell that will always remind me of romance and make me turn my head expecting to see someone I know. It's all tucked away inside me, memory after memory after memory. But it's not just what these random images are, that make us who we are, but rather the choice of what to recall, what to keep, what to replay over and over, ad nauseam.
I'm not saying that we should choose to erase all our bad memories. They're there for a reason and remembering pains and mistakes is necessary for self-preservation, as well as growth or learning. However, having the capacity for memory is different from choosing to get stuck in memory hell, where all the bad gets replayed and everything gets emotionally charged once again. I have seen this in people and I have heard the pain in their voices. You could deny it all you want and say that it no longer affects you. But trust me. Your eyes, your voice, something in and about you will inevitably betray you and your suffering will show through, all because of a bad memory that you choose to hold on to. This is when the line is drawn between plain pain and suffering. I know this. I, too, still struggle with my own demons, still working on letting the bad memories pass through me without draining me of even one drop of energy. Such equanimity requires discipline, one that I'm still working on with persistence because I am clear that I need to show kindness even to my Self.
When we create photo albums or scrapbooks, we take the time to really sort through our gazillion photos to make sure we select only the best; to make sure we discriminate between the mediocre photos and the real highlights. We know we only have a finite number of pages to fill and it's clear that we need to select well in order to give a wonderful narrative truly worth remembering. Why not treat our brains the same way? Our brain should be seen as valuable real estate. Let's do our best to make sure that we only give space to deserving thoughts and memories. Whether those memories brought you happiness or grief, just be certain that they are worth something in terms of helping you become a more evolved spirit. It's not yet too late to work towards a narrative that brings only three main things that truly count in this life: Love, Joy, and Wisdom.
Do you sometimes catch yourself replaying a past hurt, an unpleasant memory that you feel drains you of joy? What steps have you taken in order to free yourself from the shackles of this memory hell?