Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Not-So-Sacred Memories

The greatest deception men suffer is from their own opinions
— Leonardo da Vinci

We are so constituted that we believe the most incredible things; and, once they are engraved upon the memory, woe to him who would endeavor to erase them
— Goethe


I'm reading a fascinating book called Beyond The Conscious Mind that talks a good deal about memories. As I've described in several past posts about ho'oponopono, all our problems are caused by memories. So how do we resolve this fact with the Western mindset of memories being the source of our pleasure and the need to cling to the memories of our dead spouse? Over and over again, I see constant reminders that nothing is more important in our lives as widows and widowers than to honor their memory. As a result, those memories take on a kind of special, sacred status, and we the living are presumed to be duty-bound to be a kind of living Ark of the Covenant, carrying around these sacred memories of our deceased mate, housing them and safeguarding them.

Says who?

Again, let me be clear that I don't think we can erase the memories of our dead spouse — their essence permeates every cell in our bodies. What I do think we can do is let go of wanting to cling to those memories, and in doing so, we can heal and recover from our grief and focus instead on living in the present instead of the past. But if these memories of our past lives are sacred and we are to carry them around as a sort of living tombstone and memorial (after all, we knew them the best and are therefore the most qualified), isn't it paradoxical (if not sacreligious!) to suggest that we let go of these memories?

Tonight I just want to examine this idea about sacred memories of our dead spouse. This implies some unchanging quality to these memories, as though they have been cast in stone to be henceforth unchanged, forevermore.

As Thomas Blakeslee points out in Beyond The Conscious Mind, our memories do change over time. Each recall changes them in some way. One example he gives related to students being questioned immediately after the space shuttle Challenger exploded as to where they were and how they felt, and then a follow-up questionnaire 2 ½ years later. Consider the following [pp 77-78]:

NEXT DAY: I was in my religion class and some people walked in and started talking about [it]. I didn't know any of the details except that it had exploded and the schoolteacher's students has all been watching which I thought was so sad. Then after class I went to my room and watched the TV program talking about it and I got the details from that.
2 1/2 YEARS LATER: When I first heard about the explosion I was sitting in my freshman dorm room with my roommate and we were watching TV. It came on the news flash and we were both totally shocked. I was really upset and I went upstairs to talk to a friend of mine and then I called my parents.


Hard to believe these two accounts came from the same person! But was this just a one-off? No, in fact they were able to find 44 students who had filled out the original questionnaire, and all of them had substantially reworked their memories of the event.

In the next part of this article, I'll explain more about how these memories changed, as well as provide some shocking details about what our memories really consist of. I think it will become clear that the only thing we have to lose by being willing to let go of our memories is our pain.

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