When I was in high school, my family travelled from New Jersey to Wyoming, where we visited Yellowstone Park. While there, we had an incident with a mother bear and her cub.
In discussing it years later, we realized that none of our memories matched exactly. Two siblings said the bear chased us. One said “It was just there.” Another said it “followed” us. I remembered being chased, but I had forgotten that the bear chased or followed us all the way to our car and reared over it, giving us an excellent close-up view.
I tell this story to illustrate the deceptive nature of memory. How I remembered the bear had no major effect on my life. Memories, however, become significant when we assign a meaning to what we think is true and make decisions for the future based on our beliefs about the past.
We can use mindfulness to disrupt patterns based on false memories and interpretations. This process begins when we become aware that what we remember isn’t always true.
NO ONE KNOWS BEST
Being mindful is especially important with childhood memories.
You may have read or heard the notion that would-be parents should be required to pass a test at least as rigorous as a driving test. I agree. In many ways, we are the people our parents created. However, we have a potential choice about who we are. We exercise this choice when we question the truth of our memories.
We can discover and mindfully examine our childhood memories, especially those that don’t match what we learned was ideal family behavior. When I was growing up, the US media, especially TV shows, presented happy families. Things might go wrong, but these cheerful people made everything right again without even arguing about whose fault it was.
Where, I wondered, was my happy family?
I didn’t realize that the parent who never yelled, hit, acted stupid, who was sometimes vulnerable, and sometimes looked at you as if wishing to return to a childless state did not exist. I only knew that my parents didn’t meet televised standards.
Since then, I’ve come to a rational understanding of the cultural propaganda that encouraged me to believe that I lived in a psychotic setting (and, again, I realize that some people did), but I didn’t feel that maybe the comparison wasn’t serving me. If I felt it, I would have to forgive them and, even worse, let go of it being their fault that my life wasn’t perfect.
Because I avoided bringing mindfulness to my memories, they flourished in a fantasy land from which they governed significant aspects of how I viewed my life. As I worked on renovating Fantasy Land, it looked like a different place.
Mindful Memory Practices
- The more positive and especially curious you can be about this, the better results you’ll get. See yourself as a treasure hunter. Once these gems come to the surface, their reflected shine will lighten you.
- It can be difficult to admit that one was wrong. I ask myself, “Would I rather be right or be happy?”
- Don’t force it. Sometimes the search is more about noticing what shows up in your life. Maybe you get invited to the wedding of a hated relative. That could be fun.
- If at any point, reality is shifting too quickly, and you feel really uncomfortable, stop.
- Come back when you feel strong, or if you want to explore the subject but feel you need assistance, call a coach or counselor.
- Keep a journal. It makes good reading.
- Remember that it’s a project that never ends. New discoveries are always waiting to be unearthed.