Lemons are notoriously sour. Citrus peels are notoriously bitter. Have you ever eaten some of the peel of an orange, unintentionally? You notice the bit of left-on peel right away! Not just because of the texture, but because of the taste—it’s bitter.
Sometimes people have bits of bitter stuff stuck into their brains in the form of memories. Have you ever been going about your day and then, in a seemingly random fashion, been reminded of something that you saw, heard, or experienced from years back? How did you react to the memory? Did you rethink your reaction or did you just reinforce the ideas that popped into your head along side that thought? Was your reaction good or kind or helpful?
It seems to me, that when such things happen—and they happen to everyone occasionally—we have a choice to exercise in how we react to our memories. We may have been angry, hurt, or embarrassed by what happened in the past. We may have felt belittled or shamed or guilty. But, today, we have a choice in what we think about when we revisit our memories and perhaps, paying better attention to the attitudes that walk with us down memory lane can benefit our current and future mental and physical health and the health of those around us.
What comes to mind when you think of certain people, places, and events will probably be etched into your memory like the path scraped into clean ice by a pair of skates. If you remember something and then proceed to follow the pattern of your thoughts, you will more or less keep remembering whatever thoughts and feelings accompanied you along the way, like a skater following the icy pattern of their blade’s edge. You will probably keep remembering that same set of thoughts and feelings, over and over and over. If you do nothing to interrupt that process, you will never get beyond any of your own existing attitudes, such as buried anger, lack of forgiveness, jealousies, prejudices, selfish motives, defense mechanisms, and excuses.
We make excuses for ourselves a lot, even if we don’t speak these excuses out loud; often, we cherish them to ourselves in our heads, where we think no one will ever know. We remember something and make excuses for our behaviors, rather than to face what we did, such as recognizing that we made a mistake, hurt someone’s feelings, or had a bias against someone. By doing so, we are just following down a well-worn rut and pretty soon, that is all we will remember—perhaps, if we keep it up for long enough, all we will be capable of remembering. I think everyone has met an older person who has very few memories left, but the memories that they do have are filled with excuses, shaming, defensiveness, and bitterness. I know that I want to do everything I can, while I can, to not be a person who follows down a bitter rut of memory for what is left of the life of my mind.
It is kind to others and to your own self to make efforts to put aside our prejudices, bitter thoughts, and excuses by examining our thoughts about our memories.
IMPORTANT NOTE: I know that when this subject comes up, many people will have traumatic and bitter memories that would be helped by working them through with a counseling professional. Please don’t think that I am discounting the need for counseling and professional psychological service. Also, reaching out to a caring friend, clergy member, counselor, or other person you trust is important at such times. Don’t try to go it alone. If you tried to talk to someone about the trauma, but you didn’t feel it worked out in a way that helped you, don’t give up. There is hope for people who have suffered traumatically painful experiences. Here is a link to the PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder) Foundation of America, with some hotline/crisis numbers: http://ptsdusa.org/get-help/hotline-crisis-numbers/ and here is another set of numbers from the US Government’s “National Center for PTSD” http://www.ptsd.va.gov/public/family/resources_family_friends.asp. We all need help from time to time to sort our way through painful and bitter memories and sometimes to find justice when we have been wronged. There is help to come alongside us as we navigate through these issues.