Friday, April 18, 2008

Memories Are Not What They Seem

In my last post, I suggested that part of Grief Recovery is being willing to let go of our memories of our dead spouse. I realize that this is anathema for most Westerners. As widow/ers, we are seen by many as the keepers of "the memories" of our deceased mate. Like this is our new profession now — why we are alive, our new reason for living. But memories are slippery things, and they change over time. Clinging to memories of our past married life is a recipe for much pain, especially as those memories begin to fade. It is easy to feel guilty, as though we are not doing our job as delegated by "society" (whatever that is).

As Thomas Blakeslee points out in his book Beyond The Conscious Mind, it is important to understand that the majority of our memories are in fact fabrications. That's right, our mind fills in a lot of detail for gaps where it never recorded the data completely. Out of the 15 million bits of data per second we are exposed to, we are consciously aware of maybe 15 of those bits (1 in a million). Subconsciously we retain more, but there is still huge gaps in between what we are exposed to and what we recall. But our mind does not like gaps or voids, so it fills in the missing data when we recall a memory.

Preposterous. When I first read this, I didn't believe a word of it. But Thomas provided a disturbing example. It turns out that our vision system has a blind spot where the optic nerve connects to the retina [pg 38]:

Close your right eye and hold the book about 8 inches in front of you while your left eye stares directly at the X. Adjust the book position until the hole in the text disappears. Your brain easily fills in words to cover up for the blind spot in your vision (where your optic nerve enters the retina). This tendency of the brain to imaginatively fill-in gaps to make the world seem normal is the cause of much confusion in the world.

He also states, "our mind does such a good job filling in gaps to create the reality we expect that we don't even notice the inconsistencies" [pg 37].

So what am I saying here? That our entire experience of reality is imagined? Made-up? A fabrication? No. What I am trying to point out is that our memories are not cast in stone, especially those of our dead spouse. Those memories change, and we do well as widow/ers to recognize that those memories change and go with the flow of that change. In other words, it is a normal part of being human, and there is no reason whatsoever to feel any guilt when we feel those memories slipping away.

I've also been thinking a great deal about what happens to our memories when we use a tool like ho'oponopono to modify our memories. When we recognize that we are replaying a memory and say "I love you" to that memory, we are expressing our total acceptance of that memory. I think it is important to understand that the memory is inherently flawed and incomplete, and that our mind is filling in missing detail each time we replay the memory. And yet we express our acceptance of that memory. That flawed memory is OK just as it is.

The second part of ho'oponopono is to say "I'm sorry for harboring this memory." Now we are no longer just passively willing to let go of a memory, we are actively letting it go and allowing ourselves to begin living in the present moment.

What I discovered in my grief was that letting go of memories and living in the present moment healed a huge amount of my pain. I strongly believe at this point that we feel pain in bereavement so that we will change our thought patterns and habits. Ho'oponopono provides a powerful tool for changing our thought patterns, which in turn changes our habits. Since my thoughts and habits have changed dramatically, I have been released from my pain. I wish that for you also.

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