Memories are the building blocks of our lives. We collect photo albums, remember weddings and anniversaries fondly. We hold on to the good ones and bury the bad ones. We feel nostalgic over the loss of our childhood (some of us anyway) or rehearse bad events to keep fueling our anger. We depend so much on our memories in fact, that most of us spend our whole life stuck in the past, reliving them over and over.
But have you ever wondered how memories are made? Have you ever wondered why children raised in the same family or a bunch of people attending the same event can have a completely different recollection of what happened? And why would it even matter to understand that concept to begin with?
Deciphering the mystery of memories became very important to me when I realized, through meditation and mindfulness practice, how much they held me back. In fact, I came to recognize that a huge part of my personality had been shaped, not necessarily by what happened in my childhood (and later in life) but by what I remembered about it. I felt angry and lost but I was determined to find out who I really was and abandon behavior that no longer served me. So I decided to educate myself and I came to understand that memories are as unique as we are.
You see, memories are created by combining events, emotions, interpretations, repetition and distortion. To illustrate how this works lets imagine that you are a 13 year old child, very excited to go on your first vacation (event). You start fantasizing about what the hotel and the beach will look like. You picture yourself having fun in the ocean, swimming, and fishing. You can’t wait to board the plane and you’re excited about the food they gonna serve (emotional build up). However, the vacation gets cancelled when your dad loses his job. You are extremely disappointed, even angry. You throw a fit. It’s so unfair (more emotions getting thrown in the mix). Your parents, who are already pretty stressed out, get mad at you. “How could you be so selfish?” they say. But in your child’s mind, they are the one being selfish (interpretation) and you fume for weeks over the punishment you received for expressing your anger (repetition).
Your little sister on the other hand, has a completely different experience. She isn’t that thrilled about the vacation in the first place because she is afraid of flying (same event but different emotions). And the ocean makes her nervous too. She would have been just fine spending a few days at Grandmas instead. The cancellation doesn’t bother her much. As a matter of fact she is almost relieved! Furthermore, she feels really bad for daddy because she heard him talk to mum and she knows how upset he is about losing his job (different perception creates different emotions). She is over the whole thing in a few days (no repetition or distortion). Years later, when the two of you talk about the event at a family reunion, you still arbor resentment about the whole thing while she can barely remember what happened.
Understanding the process behind memories was a revelation for me. It helped me realize that I had held on to one version of the truth so tight that my whole perception of reality had been warped. And it wasn’t until I became aware that memories made from a child perception were controlling my current circumstances that I was able to decide to revisit the events from a different perspective and let go of the pain that I had associated with them (we’ll see how to release trapped emotions in a future article).
I still come across memories that get me going once in a while but I have learned to look at them from a distance and I am happy to report that they no longer run my life.
Listen to the interview with Lisa to learn more about Building Memories
Much love: Sandrine
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