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Experiences; life’s little interludes of activity, a flourish of doing that lends small but poignant chapters of expressive segmented structure to our chaotic lives. Our past experiences are of course twinned with our memories of them.
Whether these memories become subject to change as we ourselves grow and look back, whether events become more startling and vivid in our will to recall them, or, whether they fade and become lost in our mental archive in our will to shut them out, we all have past experiences in the dynamic ever-evolving situations we create that deserve our attention for as long as we draw breath.
The involvement in our past experiences, then and now, matter in every reality in which we reside because they are what make us the person we become. We wouldn’t read snippets extracted randomly from a novel because to understand the plot we know that we need to read the whole story, and as the experience chapters of our lives take shape, then it is memory that can make the story whole.
We don’t need to lose the plot by extracting and erasing parts of it. In order for us to recognize the importance and value of our past experiences in the here-and-now, it is vital that we approach how we handle our recollections in a positive and open way.
Memory and recollection may be seen by some as an indulgent exercise in nostalgia, but neither need be labeled nostalgia because both play a part in who we are now, and labels put limits on ideas. We ourselves have limitless minds if we stop trying to label everything and reason away the creative essence that needs an opportunity to live if we would just release it.
I want to explore these journeys of the past, the time travel of the mind, and attempt to demystify the idea that past experiences are an attack on present happiness, as if they are something hostile and to be feared, our experiences being locked in some other timeline as if we watch them on a mind screen where we no longer feel or play an active role in the drama.
Let us consider how imperative it is that we integrate all of our personal history into an unabridged stream of progress that forms the whole of what it is we are now, because life – existence – is a wondrous chain of events, each link being beautiful, whether the beauty is found in joy or in tragedy, each link carries with it a valid verse of existence, forging a connection to the next link, an interlocking chain that never ceases to be, each link, again and again, adding variety and an abundance of happenings to our lives, creating an array of memories along the way.
Our bodies may change and grow and seal moments of time into the physical world we inhabit, youth and vigor making its impact, leaving its scar, but our intangible mind evolves, creating a constantly mutable state of existence that takes all of our physical and emotional experiences with it. This is our memory.
What was once tangible becomes intangible. We can no longer grasp it in our hands as we did when we first experienced it, the events become our memories, we can no longer touch what is now only imagery. Maybe that’s why some of us enjoy collecting things, to give our memories a proxy physical existence, a solidity we can touch, yet, we feel memory constantly within us and those feelings are just as real as the textures we touch with our fingertips.
Sometimes there seems to be an internal churning that feels infinite. Are our memories fuel for our emotional wellbeing and, if so, how many of us do not refill our fuel tanks enough to keep our wellbeing nourished? Memories can provide a positive momentum for our current and future selves as they are an integral and necessary part of who we are.
How we absorb our memories into our current selves is all about loving them, embracing them, creating our own positive effect from them as part of our historical past that ever links us to our present. This challenge of accepting events, however painful (no one can deny the emotional impact of a traumatic event that scars our memory), does not mean that we have to submit to defeat and self-inflicted dementia.
Yes, we react to our memories, of course we do, and, memories are often loaded with anger, betrayal, loathing, sadness and resentment, but we must also recall that sense of joy and happiness many experiences brought us, and that our responses now and how we handle those feelings is the only way we can make each day positive, twenty-four hours at a time.
This does not necessarily mean change, metamorphosis, a complete reinvention, but rather a means of acceptance because we can never really stop being who we are, but we can start to embrace and love who we have become.
We often tend to look at our past as if we are peeking over a neighbour’s fence, hanging on with our fingertips, hiding behind the fence hoping we won’t be seen; what’s happening over there isn’t happening to us, yet we are intrinsically part of it . We can be party to observation whilst denying ourselves the fulfillment of participation.
Instead of observing our memories and explaining them away as if they are markers from which to run and hide, we must participate in the necessary role they play in our minds. Dissociation with our memories can cause a painful dislocation with ourselves. A step to healing is to re-associate and re-integrate our past with the here-and-now.
Breaking down fences is not always easy, but, an open plan mind is more free to express itself and open to emotional possibilities than a fenced one is. Once we learn to erase fences instead of memories we are free to explore the relationships within ourselves that we have been potentially pushing away to our detriment.
The organic architecture of the brain does not have brick walls or fences, we build those ourselves when we attempt to limit and restrain our emotional responses to experiences that we find too painful, and, even happy memories can be painful, I am not denying that, but, as the engineers of our own construction sometimes we have to stop and think and wonder why we deny ourselves our own freedom to feel.
Breaking down these walls and fences to reveal the honest blueprint is the way to personal truth. To fully accept ourselves means to live with an open plan mind. Okay, sometimes that can result in an influx of memories shouting “Back atcha!” but the sooner we accept that those memories are not separate entities but are just elements of who we are, we can begin to engage with them.
Instead of allowing them to shout at us so loudly that we shut them out and fence them in to keep them out. Instead we can realize our human potential by living with them because they make us who we are.
Now, you may be thinking, ”But how can this realization make me happy?” Well, if we are thinking about how our present feelings about our past bring us happiness, then we can’t let the idea of happiness elude us. The attainment of happiness may not be such a hard struggle if we just rethink our preconditioned ideas of happiness.
How we define happiness to ourselves can go a long way to realizing how our memories of past experiences help define us today. I don’t mean happiness as walking around in constant reverie and gleeful bliss, I mean happiness as an acceptance and being okay in your own skin, coping well from day to day, staying calm, finding fulfillment in the day through positive thought and action, in the small but meaningful tasks, and seeing value in the most mundane of daily rituals.
Often the modern way of describing happiness as an abstract concept can be depersonalizing and is flawed as it tends toward ownership and the material when in fact, true happiness is a state of being and not as an abstraction. True happiness is about just being human and accepting that without regret or the idea of being damaged. We are all flawless and free if we simply allow ourselves to be. Memory has a lot to do with that flow, the realization that happiness is not always out of reach or a goal to be achieved, but, it is linked to our memory. It is how we walk with those memories that ultimately allows happiness into our daily activities. Personal happiness is related to inner acceptance, it is not materialistic.
When we unexpectedly recall something so suddenly and clearly that the new experience of it can be alarming, we could consider, instead of burying it again, the reason that our brain has thrown one back at us. Is it that the mind needs us to address the feelings we have about it?
A big step toward acceptance is welcoming those sudden visual descriptions of past events rather than casting them out again. Realize that you can’t hide from yourself forever. Past events don’t disappear just because you choose to leave them in the past. They will always reappear in a flash or a dream or an object that reminds you or words that are spoken or read, a scent that binds you to someone or something.
Once you are prepared to embrace even the most unpleasant memories as being part of you they stop hurting in the same way. Don’t think of them as enemies attacking you, instead allow them to become something that you learn from and work with in order to make the neglected part of you better and stronger. To become more of a whole person is a liberating feeling, and that comes with acceptance and inviting a more positive light to surface from within yourself and light your way from the gloom that traps that part of you that needs to be free.
Whether you feel that bad memories are your fault or someone else’s, this is not about assigning blame. Remove the idea of fault and concentrate instead on recovering those thoughts of bad events and developing them into something you can make positive.
Blame is negative, so try to question your thoughts when you start to blame, as blame is just another way of pushing away situations you could handle in a different way if you just consider an approach with a different frame of mind.
Ridding yourself of the blame attached to your memories means one less negative emotion to contend with.
Being in a different place in your life now means you can handle these thoughts in alternative ways. Be that act of releasing them from the enclosures you have trapped them in through art, discussion, writing, music, dance, visualization, meditation, work, cleaning, playing, gardening, whatever helps you release anxiety, use your abilities to set them free.
You don’t need to sanitize your recollections to heal your mind. In fact, for me, it’s been the opposite and only through embracing all of them, even the painful ones, have I helped myself realize that I can only be the person I am and offer my love and kindness to others by accepting the whole of me.
Speaking from my own experience, I can clearly say that without doubt, it is only when I stopped pushing my past experiences into the proverbial behind me abyss, when I finally started to re-love and re-loathe my story and the people in it, that I felt relief and enlightenment of my own.
To finally allow myself to be me, without criticism, without blame, I learned to forgive myself and others, but never to forget. I never want to forget, I would rather cherish and nurture my former life experience, because, in understanding, I gain wisdom, in re-involving myself I feel complete and the all-encompassing fullness of it all helps me develop as the uncut, uncensored, complete person I am today. Everyone benefits from your realization and you might just find that the new positive you will help others too.
Denying our memory sufficient room to emerge and expand is akin to denying our senses their primitive need to liaise with our physical selves. Taste, touch, smell, sound, visual perception we all have at least some of these physical attributes that link to our psyche each time they are stimulated.
Our senses play with our memories, gently nudging us when we smell, taste, see, hear or touch something that takes us back into the recesses of our mind, a physical reminder that we must not deny the part that memory plays in our present time.
The key to guiding our present emotional wellbeing is not to control our memories, once control is in the mixture we set up a whole new form of restriction on our free-flowing mind, but to see memory in it’s purest form without overloading it with new collected thoughts that had nothing to do with the original experience.
Again, this sets us up with a whole new perspective on thought, which potentially makes us detach from them, as if watching them on a screen as a witness, the story playing out as it happened instead of allowing ourselves to feel the full force of it, and, can we really ever be that objective when it comes to our own memories?
We are forever absorbing new external stimuli and imprinting our responses on everything we see or do, the people we talk with and the actions we take. As our memories are real to us, so too we imprint these stimuli onto those in an attempt to bring them into our tangible world because to feel is not only to touch a solid object, it is to touch our thoughts.
Remembering is good. Remembering is healthy. Remembering the bad and the good is equally as important to help us make sense of who we are and how we can sustain peace and happiness. Once we come to realize that our history makes us and our recollections are important remnants of our past, snapshots that are there to give purpose to those remnants, we can turn them into something useful that we can integrate and cherish into our daily being.
Then we can start to truly live and truly love.
If past events make us feel uneasy, then we need to seek comfort in the knowledge that our wisdom has grown because of them, our capacity for understanding ourselves and others has increased because of them, our ability to listen and care is nurtured because of them, our empathy for the pain and suffering of others is heightened because of them.
All these positive attributes now ingrained in you make you the wonderful human being you are. Continue to allow your history to develop, and continue to create new memories, in the knowledge that we can live with our past in a healthy, positive way.
We unconditionally help the ones we love and care about. No strings. No expectations. Just continually offering hope and positivity all the way, whatever the outcome. So why can we not afford ourselves the same privilege?
Help yourself by consolidating your history and synthesizing your life.
Lulu, The Green Fairy lives in Northern England, and is the new UK correspondent for Painted Brain News.