Are you living in the past?
“What matters is to live in the present, live now, for every moment is now. It is your thoughts and acts of the moment that create your future. The outline of your future path already exists, for you created its pattern by your past.”
This past weekend I had the good fortune to return to my hometown for a high school reunion. There were several days of remembering the past, or as I came to realize, trying to relive memories. It would at times take great effort to search through my memory bank to find a similar story to the one I heard someone reciting.
I discovered that most of the time I struggled to remember many stories, let alone relive them. I soon came to the realization that you cannot relive memories. Good memories, bad memories it doesn’t matter. They only reside somewhere in the corners of your mind. You cannot time travel to the place where they occurred and relive them. Or as the noted author Thomas Wolfe once wrote: “You can never go home again.” The only time that we ever have is the present moment.
It is important to understand the anatomy and biology of our memory. The hippocampus is the area of our brain that is most involved in memory. Especially, long-term memory. Memories are really exchanges between different neurons in your brain. With short term memories being quick and simple exchanges, while long-term memories are established by creating new proteins which create a stronger and longer lasting chain in your brain. The hippocampus is also a critical part of the limbic system which handles emotional regulation. Thus, the events that occur in your life that have strong emotions connected to them will have stronger chains. In addition, the hippocampus is located next to the amygdala. The amygdala is our fear and threat center. It is an efficient system. Things you encounter in your life that may pose a threat to your survival whether real or not will create a stronger chain.
Some recent studies in neuroscience claim that when we access long-term memories we not only travel down those existing chains but create new chains. In other words, new proteins are produced when memories are accessed, which would mean that memories, when remembered, are slightly changed and possibly distorted.
What role does mindfulness play when examining our memories? Simply, let go or be dragged. Even the good memories may possibly not be accurate and slightly changed when they are remembered.
To exist without memories would be a challenging life. To understand how difficult life would be you can Google "Henry Molaison," who had experimental surgery done in the 1950’s to relieve him from serious life threating convulsions. He was cured of his convulsions, but he was unable to establish new memories. It would be an extremely mundane existence to live as Henry did. Although you wouldn't know it. It would be "Groundhog Day" every day with no means of escape.
It is nice to reminisce in the past with pleasant memories and to learn from the painful memories, but don’t dwell there too long. The present waits for no one. It always just is. And it is all we have.
Until Next Time,