Wednesday, November 18, 2009


After over three years in a counselor training program and four weeks of meditation class, I came to a new realization/understanding last night about memory.

It was connected, in large part, to something I wrote about on Monday - an idea our teacher had shared in class. Last night, when she went over the concept again, I realized I had remembered it (and internalized it) totally incorrectly, and so had sort of traveled down this tangential and theoretically erroneous path in processing the information.

To clarify and correct my earlier post... the three pillars are teaching, practice, and enlightenment (connected, predominantly, to the Japanese tradition of Zen - assuming I'm remembering that correctly!). The three stones referred to in class are related to the Korean tradition, and are peace of mind, happiness/contentment, and gratitude.

This little ah ha moment in the midst of class led me to thinking about memory and how we tend to define ourselves by our memories. They are our anchor to our past, and because we are so often attached to thought and our mind in terms of our self-definition, I think sometimes we are prone to relying solely on our memories as a basis of truth for our experience.

The difficulty in this is how subjective (and potentially faulty) memory can be. We need only ask a family member or friend for their version of events on a particularly important day to see there is no such thing as objective truth. Experience is defined by the narrative we weave, the meaning we make, the memory we hold and define as real.

Yet, if we honor each person's experience as valid and authentic, then we must accept multiple renditions of reality and embrace the very scary notion that objective truth simply does not exist. Or rather, our version of "objective" truth can be objective for no one other than ourselves.

This is important in two ways, I believe. The first echoes back to something one of my professors said with regard to working with younger clients: it doesn't matter how you meant something or what your intention might be, it matters how it has been perceived by the client and what meaning he/she makes of it.

In other words, whether I intended offense or hurt through my words or not - if someone has told me that's how they experienced what I said, then the truth (and validity) of their perception of the interaction between us must be acknowledged. This is especially important in the realm of multicultural awareness and sensitivity, but is a great lesson to carry forth into all interactions.

Similarly, whether my recollection of events jibes with those of someone else or not, we are equally invested in our remembering. We hold onto those memories like a safety line in the tumultuous sea of chronology and biology - both of which tear asunder our minds as we grow older.

What this all leads to, I think, is the necessity for an increased capacity to forgive ourselves and others when our versions of history chafe against each other or we realize we have muddled something previously thought stable and irrefutable due to the limitations inherent in our thinking selves.

I am more aware of the importance of forgiving and accepting my husband, friends, or family their memories - much as I must accept and forgive my own. So many of us are quick to speak sharply, exhale loudly, or react negatively when someone has forgotten something important to us, retold a story we've already heard a dozen times, or made a mistake based on (to our thinking) an erroneous recollection.

Pretty unfair when you remember the mind is merely one small part of us... not our selves. It makes no more sense to punish someone for a glitch in their thinking than it would to get angry for the ramifications of a missing limb, a genetic propensity for high cholesterol, or the extra care taken with something like asthma.

And yet, we do it all the time. I do it all the time; showing frustration and impatience instead of compassion and calm. Harder on others than I am on myself, because I control the remembering of my own inadequacies (and we all know how that goes).

May you distinguish your self from your mind. May your memories provide a source of perspective - without claiming infallibility.

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