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Co-Existing with Our Memories

Acceptance is our ability to co-exist with our memories, whether the memory happened 5 minutes ago, 5o years ago, or anywhere in between. Being able to co-exist with our memories offers peace in the present and allows us to heal from the past.

How do we do that?

First, let’s get our thinking right. Accepting past experience does not mean that we’re allowing that experience to repeat again. It doesn’t mean we’re okay with what happened. It doesn’t mean we forgive anybody for anything. It doesn’t mean anything in the outside world at all. It’s not about the outside world. Acceptance of memories is strictly about allowing ourselves to be okay in the present.

What we’re really doing is dropping the argument with what we think the past should have looked like versus what actually happened and the story we’ve been telling about it along the way.

Memories are just pictures and short movies in our minds. They are part of our imagination. The thing isn’t happening now and so the mind is just pulling up a movie or an image in our heads to show us. More often than not, that movie or image is triggered by something that’s happening in the present that directly or indirectly has something to do with the memory.

If the memory makes you sad, that’s the same as watching a sad movie. It’s got nothing to do with the present. We’re just reacting to what our mind offered us. It’s no big deal. There is no healing to do there because we’re not going for desensitization. The object is not to become numb to the memory. The object is to recognize that the memory has been brought up and that the feeling is connected to the memory, not the present experience. The trick is not to get distracted by that. Just let it be what it is.

I have plenty of memories that, if I bring them up and start thinking about them or replaying them in my head, will upset me. Does that mean there is something wrong? No. It’s a movie or an image and it’s sad and that’s okay. I can allow that to be there without feeling the need to change it.

Does that mean on Valentine’s Day every year I bring up those memories like clockwork and spend the day crying my eyes out? No because that’s not helpful either. Allowing memories to wreck present experience doesn’t usually serve a purpose.

Now, let’s qualify that a little bit. Let’s say somebody transitioned out of their human form and you’re working through grief. That first year without them in their physical form, may present a challenge on certain holidays. The memory is going to be triggered because suddenly the experience of those holidays is different than it used to be. You’ll recognize that difference and it will create a sense of sadness. That’s normal and human. It’s okay. If you’re still doing that 20 years later, start managing that. It’s not something that needs to be cyclical and happening year to year. It’s something that should slow down and stop over time. At some point all it does is upset the present experience. You know what to expect because the experience is no longer new, so there is no reason to allow the mind and the memory to upset you every year. You can and should manage that. The reality is you’re not grieving 20 years later anyway. You’re just reacting to memories. For as long as you allow that to happen, it will continue. The mind will happily give you that experience every time you ask for it, consciously or unconsciously.

Part of co-existing with our memories is understanding when the transition from reacting to the experience itself to reacting to the memory actually happens. It’s different for everybody based on the experience. Grief is a far more lengthy process, for example, than somebody cutting you off in traffic or a long line at the grocery store that annoyed you. Recognizing those differences allows you to begin to understand when to cut off the mind.

The mind will keep you in pain for as long as you allow it to. So if you claim you’re still grieving 20 years later, guess what? The mind will continue to give you the experience of grief because you’ve identified as somebody that is in a perpetual state of grief. It becomes an identity that you take on. If you consciously cut it off after 2, 3, or 5 years then you don’t have to stay in that cycle. You don’t have to wear the identity. You don’t have to be in a perpetual state of grief if you don’t want to be.

The same with the long line at the grocery store. How long do you want to be annoyed? Is 5 minutes enough? How about an hour? How about all day or all week? How long you stay annoyed is up to you, not the experience. Your job is to consciously decide what you’re going to allow your brain to do with the experience. You have that power if you want to use it. For as much as the mind is there to protect you, it will keep you annoyed for as long as it can because is how the mind chooses to protect you – it uses pain as the shield to keep you safe.

What does that have to do with our memories?

Well, if the mind uses pain as a shield, then it will use painful memories to make you feel pain as a means of protecting you. If you don’t have any pain in your present experience but you have plenty of pain in the past, the mind will use that instead without hesitation.

Again, the mind isn’t trying to hurt you. The mind isn’t out to get you. This is a legitimate strategy the mind has for protecting you from unknown future pain. The only two types of experience the mind has to draw on are the present and the past. It is happy to use whichever one will accomplish the task of keeping you safe from the future.

Co-existing with our memories requires us to get okay with the idea that the mind uses our memories as a means of generating pain in order to protect us. We also have to understand that the memories are just movies or images generated by our imaginations that we are reacting to. Memories on their own are not hints at old wounds that need to be healed.

How will we know there is a wound to heal?

Present experience will show us what the wound is and whether or not it’s connected to a memory. If the present experience is also triggering a memory, separate the memory and any associated feelings from the present experience, at least temporarily. That gives us the ability to deal with the present experience without the distraction of the memory. Feel what you feel as it relates to the present experience and leave the memory alone for a bit. This helps to keep the story of the mind at bay.

The problem with the memory is that it’s going to offer you a story that isn’t true. If you apply the story that came with the memory to your present experience it will cause you a bit of trouble. The work is to try to see your present experience clearly without the past story clouding your clarity. The more you can mentally create some separation the easier that work is going to be.

What is your past experience or your memory showing you?

It’s probably showing you a behavior – how you reacted to what happened.

It’s probably also showing you some pain of some kind – how the experience made you feel.

It’s probably offering you a prediction for the future based on the old outcome. You don’t have to repeat the past so this isn’t true either.

It’s also telling you a story of blame, shame, guilt, or victimization that is not true. Whatever the story is that you’re telling is offering you a perception of your present experience that is cloudy at best.

The more you can see these things, the easier they are to manage. Can you pull back from your own perspective and see what you’re creating for yourself in your own mind?

Clarity comes from being able to pull back, zoom out, and see things from outside of yourself. Pretend there is a bird flying above your head and give yourself that perspective. The bird is not you, so it’s separate from you and its location is not only outside of you but above you, meaning the bird has a better viewpoint than you do. I used to call this the helicopter view – get up and out of it so you can see it more clearly.

Don’t get me wrong, learning to pull back like this is a skill. It takes practice. The more you do it the better you’ll get at it, the easier it will be. Eventually it comes naturally. I do it automatically now. I’ve taught myself to do it all the time because I understand the benefit of it when I’m interpreting my own experience. It offers me clarity I can’t get when I have my face smooshed up against the glass trying to figure out what’s happening.

Pulling back doesn’t mean letting go. It means giving yourself breathing room to figure out what needs to happen next. It offers the space for conscious clarity which doesn’t come when you’re pushing for more information.

To get back to those memories, when they show up it’s our job to recognize that the memory clouds the glass. The memory doesn’t allow us to see clearly. Even if we have our faces smooshed up against the glass trying to see, the memory makes that even more difficult than it already was.

What it comes down to is self-awareness. What’s your mind offering you? If it’s coming in the form of a memory, then our job is to understand why the memory is being triggered. If it’s somebody’s birthday, for example, and they’ve transitioned but there is nothing happening in your experience, then it is literally just you reacting to your own memory. Knowing that allows you to contain the story so that you don’t have to let it wreck your entire day, week, or month. If the memory is being triggered by something actively happening in your experience, then your job is to figure out how to deal with the present experience differently. If the memory didn’t work out and the experience is similar, then what can you do differently now to potentially change the outcome?

Self-awareness is no joke. It takes a lot of practice. The more you understand the mechanics of the mind in this way, the easier this gets. You don’t have to struggle with it if you understand how to manage it within yourself.

Memories are as much about allowing past experiences to just be what they were as they are about not allowing old memories to wreck our current experience. Our memories aren’t in control – we are. We have to remember that. We are allowed to get the mind under control. We’re not harming ourselves by doing that. We’re actually helping ourselves. It’s not all or nothing. There is balance to be found and not just balance, but conscious balance – the ability to use our awareness of ourselves in such a way that we can manage our thoughts and feelings in a healthy way that doesn’t require us to squish anything or block anything.

Feel your feelings and take your brain with you.

Be at peace with your memories by understanding what they are, why they are there, and how they can help or hurt you depending on what you do with them.

We all have memories – good, bad, and just plain ugly – all of us have to co-exist with those memories. We can learn how to not be hurt by them constantly.

It’s a process of awareness that everybody has the ability to create for themselves. You just have to be willing to start.

Love to all.



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