The perception of memory

I slowed to let the young lad on the bicycle pull out onto the roundabout. That looks like… I raised my hand to wave to my son’s friend and instantly realised my mistake. It might have been his son, but it certainly was not the boy I had known. It couldn’t be… he would be in his thirties now and this youngster was little more than a child. Even worse, he looked like my son’s best friend when we had first known him, almost twenty years ago, not as I had last seen him a couple of years ago, well over six foot tall and as broad as a tank.

Memory is a funny thing. I recalled a recent conversation where we had discussed how the images that we hold in our minds of people we know are not always accurate. Sometimes we picture them from a single moment in time, often the first time we met them. Sometimes we build up a composite picture, snapshots from across the years we have known them, all melded together and occasionally shifting from one angle to the next. Then again, we always look through the eyes of emotion, seeing a face that may reflect more about the true depth and nature of our feelings for that person than what they actually look like.

Memory and emotion are intimately linked. When we look back from the now, we see both events and people through the emotional eyes of the then. Our memory of events will inevitably be skewed, coloured by the emotions of that moment, rather than being the accurate record we think we hold. In many ways, that does not matter; what we remember is true… for us, as whatever we recall is what will have affected us as we moved through that moment and forward into the rest of our lives.

Some of those impressions will change us for the better, teaching us love, happiness, hope and understanding. They are gifts upon which we will build, little by little, for we are made of such fragments of memory, each one adding, as we grow, to the picture of who we will become. Some of them will leave a darker mark and a deeper scar, especially when we are very young, when we are not always equipped with the experience to see beyond the surface and simply react to the emotions.

Take, for example, the very small child who does something to upset his parents. He does not truly understand, only that he has upset them. He may feel he has let them down and disappointed them. His parents may simply be doing their best to teach the child or keep him safe… but the child cannot comprehend the adults’ motives. He only knows he has failed them…and that is what he feels. He feels it too when he knocks a glass of water over at school and the teacher is disappointed in him… That feeling is stored away as memory and becomes one of the most formative moments for him, though his parents may well have forgotten what was to them just a minor incident.

The child grows, always feeling that he can/has/will let his parents down. He does not necessarily remember the incident either, but its effects are carved on his heart. He tries hard, harder… so much so that he almost inevitably ‘fails’ to achieve his goals, in his own eyes at least, though to all others he seems to be doing well. That insecurity, that feeling of never being able to make his parents proud may go on to colour the rest of his life, actions and future relationships… and neither he, nor his parents, will ever know where it came from.

It is a tragedy that is played out in a hundred different forms, through almost all of our lives.

It is not always what we do that matters, but how it makes other people feel. It is that which imprints itself on their memory. Yet we are not responsible for how others interpret our words and actions, that responsibility lies solely with them. For ourselves, we can only act with consideration and thought, letting empathy be our guide. We will not always get it right… and if we did, we would learn nothing, but we can try.

But what to do about all those invisible scars that have formed and created fragile places in our hearts and minds? A trained therapist might take you safely back into the trauma of childhood dealing with the perceived events and the misconceptions that may have arisen. For most of us, that is probably a step too far and rather unnecessary… we are who we have become, based on our experience of life so far. It doesn’t really matter what or where the cause, what matters is to see the patterns that have formed and begin to address those that are having a negative impact on our lives and wellbeing.

One of the ways we begin that journey in the Silent Eye is to break down the human personality into ‘bite-sized’ pieces so that we can learn to understand them, relate to them… and see how, where and if they relate to our own lives.

We do not have to delve into the deep and murky memories that are buried beneath the weight of years. We do not have to reopen painful wounds. We can simply find the effects and work with them until we can see that the bars they have placed around us no longer hold us. We can learn to see them as gifts, for every experience adds to the richness and depth of our personalities and our possibilities of understanding both ourselves and each other. In this way we can free ourselves from old misunderstanding and, like a flower when the shadows of weeds are removed, grow to our full potential with a better knowledge of who we truly are.

 

16 thoughts on “The perception of memory

  1. This is a wonderful post, Stuart. Loved it. The things we learn about ourselves in The Silent Eye Mystery School are so different from any ways we have ever learned. It is not anything like visiting a psychologist, or talking to a Priest, or any of the other ways we have dealt with who we are the the ways we respond to everything and everyone outside ourselves. But it is also so much more than that at the same time. It is NOT a self-help class; it is a whole new way of looking at the world and the universe in which we live. And I say new, but that is to say that we tie together the present, and past, and the time before time as we know it and the world as we know it. I have learned so much and seen so much of places I have never seen or read about, in depth, as if I were there in person. And I am still a very beginning student. I have loved putting myself into very different geographic locations and feeling what it must have been like to have lived in those places and those very different times. What I like about it too is that I have not needed to travel physically to those places; I have been there from my desk and my chair and I have felt the wind behind me and smelled the fresh air of the highlands, and felt the rain at my back. I have made so many really wonderful friends too, friends I will probably keep for the remainder of my life. I didn’t have to invest huge amounts of money for my studies or my “travel” either. I want to thank all of you who have made this life journey something really special – Sue Vincent, Stuart France, Steve Tanham, and all my friends who have touched my life in such meaningful ways. Thank you one and all.

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      1. Sorry, Sue. I should have known. You have a special beauty in your posts, though not to say none of the others who post do. Theirs are just different. The Silent Eye did strangely come along at just the right time for me. I wanted to tell others that although remembering the good things in our lives is a very good thing of its own, it is also not bad to look back on the difficult challenges we faced and to see them in a new light. I know that for my own self, some of the bad times when I thought I was a total coward, I was actually being very brave and strong, and I also know that without those times, I would not have the compassion I have for others, or the ability to say and do what feels right for me now and to know without question that I will always stand up for myself and be strong, even to my last breath. I am glad not only for the good but for every single breath of my life, every thought, every action, for in reality I am the one who those things really have meant something to. I would say realistically that the people who hurt us in the past had no recall of those times in their own lifetimes. That is ok. I have been able to turn the worst of times into my strengths even when I did not see myself that way. I have been able to do things to help others that I know has made a difference for their lives

        And life is made up of dualities – night and day, cold and warm, drought and floods. Bad is what we make of it. We never really got any promises that life would be just ducky every day – a bowl of cherries, or what other good things we can think of. To imagine that is to live in a storybook world. I suspect that everything that happens is going to happen no matter what we label it.

        I was thinking that when Jesus was carrying the cross, it was somewhat of a symbol of life. We can choose the short and often seemingly easy way, or we can take the long way through life, or it might even be a mixture of both. Is it possible that when he was nailed to the cross, the so-called shorter parts of it and the longer part of it show us that both ways can be illusions of reality?

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        1. It is very easy to make a judgement call on whether an event is good or bad in the long run…but not so easy to be sure we have made the right judgement 😉 There are so many good things that can happen as the result of one ‘bad’ thing that we may have to revise our initial appraisal.

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  2. I love your post in The Silent Eye. I may not always respond, but it doesn’t mean I don’t appreciate them. This one is especially thoughtful. It has always worried me (is that the right word?) that ‘conventional’ counselling and psychotherapy insist on taking people back to difficult and painful memories. These memories are buried for a reason. I’m not qualified in any real way, although I did a counselling course some years ago. In it, we were supposed to relive our own problem memories. I don’t think it did me any favours, bringing things to the surface I’d rather not think about. If not thinking about something makes a person able to live their life happily, or relatively so, bringing up painful times might just tip them over into depression.
    As I said, I’m not a psychologist, and I suppose there are reasons for making people confront these things, but for me, remembering the good times, not the bad, makes for a happier existence.

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    1. I can only speak for myself. Having suffered TSD after my son was stabbed and left near death, I can only say that being able to relive those particular memories helped me to ‘file’ them away where they should have been filed, thus allowing me to move forward and beyond the problem.
      Revisiting ancient history can be useful, though perhaps not in all cases. I know there are things I would not want to relive in the samddetail, but I have found that thinking about them from an adult perspective has allowed me to come to terms with them and put them too firmly where they belong…in the past, but with more understanding and compassion than would have been there had I simply allowed them to remain buried.

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  3. I was thinking along similar lines today on my walk…how old memories color our experiences today, oftentimes not for the best and how to shake loose from them to create new thought patterns that serve us better. Not as easy as I wish it was!

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  4. This is so true Sue. I really do feel guilty when I think back and remember the time my youngest son had gone to the shops with our neighbour’s daughter ( she was about ten years older than my lad) they bought me a bunch of flowers withe the change. I really couldn’t afford the flowers so I made them take them back. I really felt guilty about that and 30yrs later I still do. I often wonder did I scar them for life.💜

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    1. We all do things we wonder about in later life. We cannot always know, even now, whether the actions we took were the right ones as we do not know x hat might have happened had we chosen another path. Perhaps what youe son learndd from the incident was a valuable lesson. X

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