How shall we conceptualize the way that the past informs and affects the present? Are past negative experiences, from tiny rebuffs and small slights to truly painful and traumatic events, residing somewhere in that room that is your mind, waiting to intrude and pounce? Are they like burrs on your easy chair, making that easy chair always prickly? Are they asleep and only awakened by some current experience that rouses them and that causes them to suddenly wail or pinch? Where are they and why do they return?
The past certainly seems to return unbidden sometimes, completely disconnected from any current experience. There you are, walking along, thinking nothing in particular, and suddenly you’re flooded with some terrible memory of the time that you make a huge mistake, the time that you were abused, or the time that you chose a path that proved rocky and led to nowhere. Why did that memory assault you just then? Were you thinking something out of conscious awareness that triggered the memory? Was it the look of the sky, a stray scent, or a passing scene? Can anyone say?
Let’s suppose that sometimes that painful memory returning and flooding us is in fact the culmination of some just-out-of-conscious-awareness stream of thought. Just how far out of conscious awareness was it? What if it was so very close that you could actually smell it, taste it, or sense it, if only you were alert to its presence? If that were true, if thought processes that lead to the return of painful memories can be sensed as they transpire—then couldn’t they perhaps be interrupted and the memory avoided?
Think about how that interrupting might work. You’re walking along. It’s a sunny day. You suddenly sense just the slightest chill somewhere inside you. Plus it’s unnaturally quiet in there—too quiet for your own good. You can’t tell what exactly you’re thinking but you can feel that chill and hear that silence. You say, “Uh oh.” You stop and do a little dance, maybe a bit of an Irish jig. You smile. You dance a bit more. You think about a scone with butter and jam. Which scone should it be? Are you in the mood for a currant and raisin scone? Or would you prefer a savory one, maybe one with cheddar cheese and green onions? You smile. You dance a bit more. You proceed with your life—with no bad memory having attacked you.
Is there any way to know for sure if you really spared yourself a painful memory? Can you be certain that the chill you felt and the silence you heard were warning signs of the past returning? No—how could you possibly know? But what was the cost of that little insurance policy: nothing more than a smile or two, a little dancing, and some pleasant thoughts about a scone. Can that even be called a cost … or was it a spontaneous two-minute vacation? Isn’t that the perfect insurance policy, after all, one that is all joy and costs nothing?
Maybe you’re a little worried about dancing down the street, smiling, and looking foolish. Let’s hope not. You wouldn’t want to pass on a simple, pleasant and effective strategy because of some shyness. Really, couldn’t you do with a little more street dancing, smiling, and scone dreaming? After all, there is the startling possibility that you might avoid some of your painful memories by sensing them coming and blocking their arrival with just a little dancing and smiling. You don’t want to miss that chance, do you?
This may only prove a slight possibility but it does conform to our experience. While these terrible memories seem to spring upon us unannounced, we nevertheless sense that something was brewing, that the silence in our mind didn’t sound quite right, that some whiff of ammonia got into our nostrils. Haven’t you had that experience? So perhaps this will work beautifully to keep the past at bay!
Try it today. When you feel that something suspicious is going on in your mind, when you sense that some train of thought may be heading you toward a hurricane, start dancing, smiling, and contemplating scones. Or sing, laugh, and picture pancakes. The details are up to you. Whether it’s dancing, smiling and scones or singing, laughing, and pancakes, begin to pay attention to those silences and scents that signal the past returning. When you sense them, instantly start frolicking.
This lesson is part of the Your Best Mind Ever series. In this groundbreaking program Dr. Eric Maisel teaches a brand new way to get a grip on our minds.