Unchained Memories

“You must live in the present. Launch yourself on every wave.  Find your eternity in each moment.” – Thoreau

Sometimes we hold on to painful recollections that seem to keep us mired in regret. It’s easy to condemn oneself for this – the Groundhog’s Day of pain revisited. But the memory function of the mind is not inherently predisposed to the task of reworking the past. Whether we actively recall them or not, memories will still be there because the mind is designed by evolution to remember information. The thoughts themselves cannot be eradicated.

Negative memories can manifest deeper grooves then positive ones – especially if that’s what we’ve patterned for ourselves. But going back and forth about the past is an endless game of tetherball. The memory is chained to an invalidation, and how you feel about it speaks to this moment more than any other. There can be no end for this form of perfectionism, because the past does not exist – hence, an experience frozen in the amber of recollection cannot be improved.

That’s why it’s not helpful to demonize or idolize the past. What a presumption to make. With hindsight, it becomes easier to laud any decision that seems to have played out in our favor, and condemn any action that has born ill fruition. So what? This is a symptom of a fixation to perpetually judge and/or fix things.

A strengthening of perspective is wholly dependent to the degree that we are owning the moment, or conversely, denying it’s immediacy in exchange for a story. It is only the present which gives us any agency whatsoever. No matter how brilliantly laid out, belief and ideology are two dimensional, by comparison.

Why do we insist on creating fables of our experience? Because the idea is likely that we are seeking patterns of pleasure and pain to run towards and avoid. The real question is, why doesn’t this always work? Why does it sometimes seem we are doomed to repeat patterns that we’ve already decried and distanced ourselves from.

The answer lies in the present moment. To the extent that we can internalize and process our past, of course, we learn from it. But no moment of catharsis will be helpful if we’re not being conscious about the options that life is presenting to us while they’re on offer. In other words, the sources of our information in the now – be it intuition, affinity, or knowingness – tell us way more about what’s going to be useful today because they are made for this moment.

We need to be able to see what the parts are in order to make the machine run. If we look at everything through the jaundiced eyes of ‘lesson learned’ and ‘fool me once,’ then we are apt to overcorrect and shut out new things. The problem is that we magnetize experiences that fit certain expectations. That is why they seem to come back. Running towards opposite experiences doesn’t mean much if it’s just a reactionary gesture. What we seldom allow ourselves to have is the ease of ease itself.

The more we can let go of all expectations, regardless of which way they are charged, the less we will attract experiences that directly confirm or deny them. This is the way to avoid the trap of surrendering to confirmation bias and, alternately, overcorrection. To get fresh and real results, we must be fresh and real. To truly live we must give permission to unpredictability and improvisation. That way memory loses it’s power and authority to dictate terms. The past is, after all, stuck in the past.

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