• Ashley Casillas

Retracing the Path of Memory

Retracing the paths of your memory can sometimes be an arduous task. Perhaps the memory left a scar-like path, deep in the clay of your soul; maybe it's a winding road that feels like a medieval labyrinth leaving you confused or lost; or it could be a path you forgot long ago that it is now barely recognizable and you wonder if it really ever existed. However you approach it and wherever it leads you, one thing is true: going back in time through memory is a spiritual experience. When I say spiritual, I am not referring to an all-powerful being per se, but rather an experience which elicits an emotional response based on the lasting and highly personalized imprint of the memory. These past experiences left their imprint in your life and still play a role in your character in the present for better or for worse. By taking time to go back and relive moments of joy, sadness, trauma, excitement, and loss, you are essentially reliving the past in spirit and forming new paths of understanding and compassion.

Although the actual past events have come and gone and the words that left their mark on your character were said, you are not an eternal victim of consequence. Sadly, the past cannot change and as much as you try to erase memories or pretend they never happened in an effort to move on, you still bear their burden. This burden, however, when viewed from a safe vantage point and when approached with a ready heart and head, can turn into your own enlightenment. You can find the light to the shadow and reprogram your responses to be self-empowering and caring.

This is not to say that you simply can and must change your perspective. No, it is not that easy. But it is true that when you are in a space where you can begin to go back and visit your inner child and listen to your own childhood interpretations of the past, you become open to writing a new history that can provide you with a more open, loving, and compassionate future.

As much as you like to believe that you have always been able to decipher the meanings and implications of your experiences and interactions, the way you viewed events as a child most likely differ wildly as how you view them now as an adult. Sure, you can flippantly recall the time your ____________ (fill in the blank) criticized your every move and go forward knowing they are not worth the trouble anymore... but what happens when they come back around with the familiar song and dance? How does your heart react? How have you unconsciously adjusted to avoid their criticism? How has it shaped the way you interact in general? This person could be anyone, anything or any event that took your heart and molded it unwillingly like clay picked out of a river.

Goats made me happy! Other people's sadness/loneliness made me unhappy. Was/Is it my sole responsibility to ensure nobody felt pain? (child of divorce questions)

When you begin to work on retracing the paths of your memory and find an area that causes you pain, this is where you stop and dwell. This is the time where you can sit and allow your internal dialogue to express your emotional response as it has always been since the time it was formed who knows how many decades ago. The key to beginning work with yourself is to allow your heart the space to express itself with compassion and non-judgement. Anytime you recognize self-depreciating talk coming around, remind yourself that you were a child when these emotional habits and responses were formed and just as you taught yourself how to deal with _________ emotion, you can re-teach yourself how to deal with it now.

Let's take a look at an example of how to begin the process of reframing memory and response.

Out of the blue in your life today, you receive a text message from a family member who constantly criticized you as a child. Many times in the past, this person would blame other people's displeasure, disappointment and loneliness on you. As a 7 year old, the last thing you wanted to be guilty of was making your family unhappy so you logically decided to become the person that made people happy, even if this meant denying your own authentic voice and drive.
So you receive the message and it ends with a line you heard all too often. A line reminding you that you bring pain. A line that says "Oh no, your father will be so disappointed." That word, disappointment, it stings and crushes your heart. Your head immediately takes you back to the times you were told that you caused disappointment and you begin to feel guilty, ashamed, or possibly even worthless.

If you continue the spiral of blame, you may end up reinforcing false statements that someone who was careless had made you believe when you were young and impressionable. But this is the moment, the perfect time to begin to reevaluate statements and see the light of the shadow. More examples (real life, happening right now to a 32 year old who still sometimes feels like a 7 year old examples):

"You can't make it? Oh no! Your dad will be so disappointed."

Emotional Response Options (since this is real life, it's a work in progress):

Option A: You are a disappointment because you cannot make a long trip to his home and you do not do what your father expects of you.

Option B: Your father feels joy when you are around. Perhaps the two can make plan to meet somewhere together.

"It is natural for a son or daughter to spend a special day with their parents. The special occasions won't always be here."

Emotional Response Options (since this is real life, it's a work in progress):

Option A: I feel guilty that my father is lonely on Father's Day because I can't make it to see him. All the problems in our relationship stem back from me not being a good daughter.

Option B: We can work together to plan a visit which is just as special as any other day in June or the rest of the year for that matter. I am not the only responsible party in making visits happen. I am an adult now and have an adult life with responsibilities.

As tempting as it may be to repress things further into the black hole of forgotten pain, it is truly worth it to get to a point where your self talk is supportive. Beginning to reframe your emotional responses at first is difficult. It hurts. You go back spiritually to the places where you felt most vulnerable and feel the effects both emotionally and physically. Working on forming new and age appropriate response options to place painful memories in an adult context helps. The effort is a reminder to yourself that you have the power to release your pain and cultivate a deeper awareness in what is holding you back from emotional fulfillment.

This is only the beginning and no inner work is perfect so be ready to grapple with difficult situations, feel the feelings, and speak kindly. There is no freedom or liberation without acknowledging the chains holding you back. Start small and love yourself often. In taking the time to write the above scenario, I already have lightened the burden of guilt ever so slightly that I carried in my heart.

I work to help you develop your wellbeing by integrating individual practices with community support and to understand the fluid nature of your growth.

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