September 17, 2011

Memories: do they keep us stuck in the past or do the enable us to envision a brighter future?

This was the reflective question raised by the BBC Africa commentator on the eve of the tenth anniversary of the 9/11 terrorist attacks on the United States.

It nudged me to reflect upon my own life over the past 10 years. As one friend commented in my response to my posting this query on my Facebook profile, whether we choose to have our memories depress or inspire us is largely up to us.


As I reflect upon my own life since that surreal disaster that brought the world to a standstill and me to my knees, my findings are mixed. On the one hand, I commend myself for the growth and evolution that has taken place in my life since then. On the other however, I found seeds of anger and frustration that have kept me stuck and have prevented me from blossoming into the person who daily, I am striving to be.

Upon arrival at yoga class that same afternoon, it was synchronous that the teacher would evoke this theme as she led the class.  She made reference to genius’ Louis Pasteur’s statement that germs are only able to flourish on terrains that are weak. So rather than focus on the germ, our job is to ensure that our terrain is sound and healthy. Many of us, me included, are carrying around baggage that we ought to have left ages ago, on the other side of the river.  Parasitic in nature, ultimately these germs weaken our terrain. And even though we may have managed to cross the river, our journeys would have been far more enjoyable if we’d lightened our load.

Intellectually, many of us know this. What we lack are the ability and tools to release that which no longer serves us.

Further reflection led me to listen to a Pema Chodron CD series that I recently acquired named Don’t Bite the Hook. Her comment on anger is mainly this: in our inability to let go, we continue to lead a life that is anger driven, without even realizing it. She makes specific reference to individuals like me who call ourselves humanitarians, environmentalists and the like. Our passion to save the world as it were is anger that unprocessed has been transferred to a larger terrain. In other words, our indignation and outrage at how others may be treating the planet et al, is our unresolved stuff being transferred at a macro level.

I take as a personal example, a comment that was made to me nearly thirty years ago. Having ingested that comment, I’ve continued to fan its flames through my own anger, ultimately giving it more power than its worth, thirty years later.  In so doing, I’ve remained stuck in the memory of this statement and therefore have crippled any possibility of transforming the nature of that relationship to one that is wholesome and uplifting. Each time that I hit a roadblock with this person, I’m transported by to that comment.

As yogis, yoginis, sages and persons aspiring to lead conscious lives, we know that the anecdotes to/for anger lie in our ability to be accepting, compassionate and forgiving. And as my yoga teacher reminded us that day, just when you think you’ve toppled this hurdle, life is bound to throw you a similar but different scenario! At this point in the class, I burst out laughing as I certainly had the empirical evidence of this notion.

So what then is the solution? I’m learning that firstly, there is no clear-cut one. In my case, I had to be brought/sent to the bowels of the earth where in the absence of daily distractions like television, shopping and unlimited access to the internet where I could lose myself in the fantasy of others I had no option but to confront my own harsh realities. In the words of Robert (Bob) Marley, “you running and you running and you running away but you can’t run away from yourself.”

Pointing towards a renewed, brighter future

Over the past couple of days, I see that what I may regard as a descent into darkness is contrarily in fact a rise in consciousness; akin to when one is awakening from a long deep sleep.  Messages and words of wisdom passed along by friends, strangers, mentors and guides are just seeping in!  It is quite a revelation.

As another friend wrote in a recent article, “in case you haven’t noticed, the world is demanding that we lighten our loads and lead simpler lives.” This lightening that she refers to I believe must first begin in our hearts and minds. With our backs against the wall of Life, the Universe is inviting us to see and embrace our limitless possibilities amidst our illusion of limitations.

When I manage to pause long enough and come up for air and observe the world around me unravel at an alarming speed, I realize that in my own life, there is so much to celebrate and express gratitude for. Any hurdles or bottlenecks that I may encounter are simply Life’s way of presenting me with yet another opportunity to lay my out-moded burdens on the other side of the river. This is possible only when my quest to reach to the other-side outweighs my need to remain stuck.

Lightly re-emerging then indeed memories and lessons learned albeit tough ones do enable me to envision a brighter future.

Paradoxically, rather than forgive and forget, our task is to experience, remember, learn, forgive and move forward.

And so it is.

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