Sujata was a Prehealing participant who stayed with us while she was doing the Prehealing Lifestyle Program. As a part of the Prehealing program we walked for approximately 10 kilometers every day. Sujata was fun to walk with. She had so many stories to tell and most of the times the 10 kilometers walk felt too short.
It was on one of those days, we started the walk and as usual Sujata started the walk/talk combo. For the better part of the walk, the talk was ‘Happy Talk’, but somewhere along the way out came a memory the dark and painful type. Earlier on, after we started the therapy, I had made it a point to cut her short and explain to her as to why it was important to let go, whenever she went into a mode of complaining, whining and negativity that left her feeling depressed. On this day however I decided to observe and let her go on with her tale - a childhood trauma she just couldn’t let go. A trauma that was a constant source of her stress.
On she went…. “Speaking of Susheela, I can never forgive her for what she has done…… I don’t know as to how she was able to convince everyone that I was mad and dangerous. The shock treatment and all that followed was so painful…...........” She had not even been halfway through her story, when she did the most unlikely thing- She paused for a second and then apologized.
“I will do the best I can to forget these memories. Without forgetting these I just don’t think I can heal. Thank you for being with me.” she said as she squeezed my hand tight. In that squeeze along with the warmth was the agony, sadness and the pain of a memory that she was trying to let go.
I had always been intrigued by the brain and did spend a lot of time studying and pouring over its mysteries. As I summoned all that knowledge to the situation at hand, there was this realization deep within that that no matter how hard one tries to forget, the memory stubbornly stays on. In fact many a times the attempt to forget makes the memory stronger. From the experiments done earlier on in the 19th century by Dr Penfield, there was conclusive evidence that the brain retains most of the memories regardless of whether you remember them or think that you have forgotten them. The data we experience becomes a part of us and we cannot just let it go. How then was Sujata to forget the ‘BAD’ memory. Did she have a choice to let it go... Do we ever have a choice?
Let’s don on the Prehealing hat as I did it on that particular day and see as to what can be done in this scenario. Even the luckiest amongst us would have at least one negative memory that we would love to forget. How can we go about doing just that?
For that let us understand the anatomy of a Memory. You don’t need to be a student of Psychology to do that, all that you need to use are the very basics we all are familiar with. Here goes…
What is memory?
It is a recording of an event that has happened sometime in our past
What is good and what is bad?
Good/Bad are attributes that we assign to an event. We assign that tag depending on how the event turns out to be- in our favor or against. Good events give us joy, happiness….. Bad events on the other hand tend to cause discomfort, harm, pain- a negative impact either physically or emotionally or both.
What happens when we recollect?
The memory is played back in our consciousness and as it is played back we react to the memory. Aha… React!
So it is that we RE-ACT to a memory as if it is a real incident do we?
Yes we do react to every memory when it is being played back as a fresh incident. In fact we never live in the past, we play the past recording in the present and react to it in the present as if the event is happening all over again! In short, we React and Replay. With negatiive memories especially the culprit is the Re ( From React and Replay). If you remove the RE, you now have a choice to Act differently and Play/Experience it differently
That means we have a choice every time we play back a memory to let go the Good/Bad tag and retag it if necessary?
Yes we can. In fact as we grow and mature a few memories that bothered us when we were young take on a different attribute. I have a ton of memories that I had tagged as very unpleasant, sad, painful and frightening but now they have been retagged as good nostalgic memories. In fact I have to admit that after all that retagging, I don’t have any bad or unpleasant memories at all. Surprisingly, it is just a shift in viewpoint!
Some of my most precious Retagged Memories…
Every time I write, a silent thanks goes out to a teacher I feared the most. She was Miss Grace Polycarp who was our principal for three years. Those three years of my life were the most difficult. It was like living with a ring master. I had the feeling that my every move was watched. My father was called for what I thought were small mistakes and I did get a good share of punishments too. Her influence on my parents was so powerful that Miss Grace Polycarp could impact my happiness at home too ( Only if I was not a responsible and disciplined student). I did tag a lot of memories as unpleasant, but over the time I came to understand as to how those events had shaped me and forged me. Over a period of time I realized her supreme sacrifice as she did the best for every student of hers, knowing fully well that she would also be hated and feared for a very noble act.
As the realization dawned (Thanks to my psychotherapists – Mom and Dad) I re-tagged those very memories as precious ones. It’s been almost three decades since I met Miss Polycarp, but she is the one I remember most fondly. She is the one who is helping me reach out to all of you to share this precious skill that Prehealing is.
And yes, though I haven’t met her ever since I left school, she hasn’t left me either!
All those memories have been retagged. Now when they play back, there is love, appreciation and gratitude. I take this opportunity to thank Grace Polycarp once again.
So you see, a memory is not doomed to be good or bad. We do have a choice to retag it and relive the moment in a new way.
Read on more about Retagging Memories in the next post