Memory

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Memory has always been something that fascinates me, like dreams. Another mysterious inner activity of the mind that we struggle to fully understand. Both my memory and my dreams are private worlds that only I may enter. It’s an interesting thought. Reality can be confirmed by those around us experiencing the same things. How are we to know if our solitary memories and dreams are “real?” Perhaps in the end it doesn’t matter. They are real to us. Therefore they influence the way we see and interact with the world.

Lately I’ve been asking people about their earliest memories. I’ve done this a few times in the past as well. Even though I always seem to get similar responses, I never cease to be shocked and frustrated. I don’t think anyone I’ve ever asked has told me about a memory from before they were in school. Even kindergarten memories seem to be rare for people. This is just so hard for me to believe. Do most people really not have any memories from early childhood, before school? Before 5 years of age? That just can’t be true. I can’t imagine going through life like that.

The excuse is usually, “Well, I have a really poor memory.” But so do I! My friends will tell me stories from our adventures together in college and I’ll have only the foggiest recollection of the whole scenario. There are handfuls of people I’ve met and even slept with that I don’t remember at all. Sometimes it feels like my memory is a jar of sand with a crack near the top. All of my early memories seem to be safe at the bottom of that jar, but memories from recent years slip through the crack and are lost forever. I used to have a nearly photographic memory. However years of drug and alcohol use have all but destroyed it. But I just thought a deteriorating memory would encompass every memory, not just more recent ones. Perhaps my brain is able to hold onto the memories it keeps, but is just hit or miss when it comes to forming new memories.

Either way, the fact remains that even will this poor memory of mine, I am able to remember countless things from a very young age. I have tons of memories from before I went to school. I have memories of my grandmother watching my sister and I and the fun we would all have together while my mother was at work. I can remember going to preschool when I was 3 and 4. I remember the friends I made. Even snippets of conversations, the toys we would play with, the ones we weren’t allowed to and how frustrated I was by that. (There were finger paints and giant blocks that we were forbidden from using to my confusion and dismay.) I can remember a lot about kindergarten too, not just one or two memories.

It is honestly scary to me that no one else has these kinds of memories. It makes me afraid that I will someday lose them. It makes me want to start writing it all down for myself. It also makes me doubt myself. Do I remember these things? Maybe these are false memories. Maybe none of those things really happened or happened differently than I remember. Maybe I am just remembering the times throughout my life when I have recounted these memories to others.

What I used to consider my earliest memory is now suspect. I was only 1 or 2 years old. I was in my crib, throwing a tantrum, throwing binkies out onto the floor. I wanted my original binkie. Like the first one I ever had, if that gives you an idea of just HOW young I was. But it had gotten old and used up so my mother threw it away. (This I only discovered from telling this memory to my mom when I was younger.) Even at the time she was shocked I could remember that. And at the time I truly did. But now it feels more like I am remembering the story, not the actual experience. There are some of my very very early memories that feel this way now, but with others there is still that feeling of being transported back in time in my own head, that bodily sensation of being there again.

Part of me doesn’t fully believe people when they tell me their first memory is from when they were 9 years old or something. It just seems absurd to me. I question if it’s just that they don’t want to tell me their earliest memories. Perhaps that’s too personal for me to be asking. Or maybe they could think of earlier ones if they really concentrated and put more effort into it. I just cannot accept that I am rare in remembering things from when I was 3 or 4. Or that I could possibly be mistaken in thinking I can. That’s what actually unnerves me the most. Because those memories mean a lot to me.

I want to hold onto as many memories as I can from those early years. Those years of simple bliss, of being so lovingly cared for, marveling at the whole world, learning, exploring, loving everyone and everything with the innocence of a child. Maybe I will write as much as I can remember down and see if I can at least confirm it with my mom, grandma, or sister. That might give me some peace of mind on the matter. For now, I am going to keep asking people in the hopes that I can find more people that share these memories of early life. Please help me out by leaving a comment letting me know when your earliest memory is from. And if you’re comfortable doing so, let me know what the memory is about as well. I would love to hear from more people.

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Shades of Grey

It’s getting to the point where I’ve written every day for so many days that I can’t remember if I’ve talked about something before or not. However, I don’t really care enough to sift through all of my old posts to find out. So if I have started to repeat myself occasionally, I apologize. That being said, I’ve been thinking a lot about that black and white thinking I know I’ve mentioned before. This is a quality of mine that has in some ways been instrumental in determining my path in life. I’m not sure that I would have become a vegan or have the courage to stand up for what I believe in with as much passion as I do now without seeing the world primarily in black and white.

Some things are wrong. Some things are right. Some things are good. Some things are bad. This narrow frame of view is somewhat childish. Most people come to understand that very few things in this world actually fit into those parameters. The majority of life falls into that broad area in between, that grey area. While intellectually I recognize this, I still can’t help but reflexively place things into my black and white boxes. It is as if my mind doesn’t have a space for the many shades of grey. Rather than letting anything rest there, I feel many things, people, and actions constantly oscillate back and forth between good and bad, right and wrong. Which, as you can probably imagine, is quite mentally exhausting and emotionally confusing.

It has always been hard for me to reconcile the different aspects of people into a cohesive whole, a realistic image of a person in my mind. Instead I find myself idolizing someone one moment, then condemning them the next. This, understandably, makes all of my relationships quite difficult. I may feel undying love and admiration for someone, placing them up on an impossible pedestal, then feel utterly tricked and betrayed when they don’t live up to that unrealistic image. And even though I recognize this, I can’t seem to help it.

Even my self-image suffers from these extremes of perception. However, usually when it comes to myself I remain pretty consistently in the “bad,” “not good enough,” “broken” box. I focus on my faults and flaws while dismissing or diminishing anything positive about myself. Lately, I’ve even been feeling guilty about my posts on this blog. I feel like I’ve been playing a dastardly trick on everyone who follows me. I want to write about love and gratitude and yoga and self-improvement, but every time I do, I feel like a phony. “I’m not good enough to speak on these things,” I tell myself. I feel like a hypocrite for the things I write because I, myself, can’t embody those ideals fully in every moment. I’m not entirely perfect, therefore I must be utterly terrible.

Even though I know it’s ridiculous, it’s the way I feel most of the time. I feel like I am missing out on so much in life by being unable to accept all the shades of grey for what they are. Instead I find myself keeping a mental tally. If someone or something has more “bad” qualities than “good”, into the “bad” box it goes and vice versa. Anything close to true neutral flip-flops between the two endlessly rather than being allowed to remain in the middle.

As I’ve gotten older it’s become easier to recognize, but no easier to adjust. I know that this is possibly a symptom of an autistic brain, but I wonder if there is anything I can do to create space in my mind for the grey areas. Am I truly incapable of this type of comprehension? Perhaps there are some types of exercises or therapy that would help with this issue. In the meantime I guess I’ll just have to keep reminding myself that good people can do bad things. Bad people can do good things. No one is truly “good” or “bad” at all. Including me. We are all just doing the best that we can. And we are all constantly changing. I don’t need to label everyone and everything, I just need to allow them to be what they are. Even if that happens to be something I don’t fully understand.

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Meditation Metaphor

Imagine the mind as a flowing river. Normally we, ourselves, are submerged in the rushing waters of our own minds. Trying desperately to keep our heads above the current. We are swept along with every passing thought. Unable to separate ourselves. Meditation is a chance to step out of that raging river.

When we sit down to meditate, we have stepped onto the bank of the river. As we nestle in, the sunlight begins to dry our dewy skin. We align our backs with the trunk of a sturdy tree. We imagine our own roots sprouting from the sits bones, anchoring us. Finally finding solid ground after being carried by the cold rapids for so long.

As we watch the river in front of us, we notice leaves falling from the tree and landing on the water’s surface. These are our thoughts. Fragile and fleeting, the river carries them off quickly. As we meditate, our job is not to stop these leaves from falling, nor is it to catch them or collect them from the water. We simply observe them. We watch them land on the water, floating gracefully for a few moments before the current carries them out of sight. We don’t need to identify the leaf or discover why it fell. We don’t need to stop the flowing waters. Just watch. Just breathe. Feel your new roots grounding you, anchoring you in place. Secure as we watch the river of the mind and it’s many thoughts.

This is one way to visualize meditation. It isn’t about control. We can never hope to control our minds. Meditation is about observing. We are watching ourselves. Noticing what it feels like to exist. Maybe as we watch, realizing some of our own patterns, and maybe not. Just giving ourselves permission to sit on the bank for awhile. To just breathe, just watch, just be. It may even be helpful to visualize yourself at the side of a river as you meditate. Whenever you notice yourself getting tangled in thought, bring your mind back to the image of the water. Imagine the thought falling as a leaf into the river, and watch it go. We are not the leaves of thought. We are not the swift waters of the mind. We are the one who watches.

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