The Persistence of Memory

Memories are weak materials in the process by which we construct our personalities.

If you wanted to construct a castle to withstand seige, would you use bricks of ice?

Would you build on shifting ground?

Better to let the ice melt and use the water for idle entertainent.

Memory would be a fine material indeed if we could trust ourselves to derive reasonable, self affirming meaning from the past. Unfortunatley, the process of evolution has rendered us excellent recollectors of the terrible, and it is usually by fear and pain that the past holds precenence in our minds.

We must be careful not to become hoarders of the past.

And just like those who hoard physical objects, the process of accumulation begins innocently enough. We keep happy memories as if they were trophies and diplomas hung up on the wall, there for us to glance at when the chaos becomes unbearable and say “Yes. Thats me!” Other memories we keep because we believe they might be useful. That there might be meaning and experience left to gain from them. ┬áLike old newspapers, they sit inside us unread, outdated, and collecting dust.

I read a story once about a hoarder who became trapped in her house, the stacks of newspaper having grown so high and so plentiful.

Theres a reason newspapers are sold for profit one day, and used to pack meat the next.

Their utility is in relevancy and timeliness.

But we cherish the old memories anyway, either addicted to our own victimhood and in need of reaffirmation of that identity, or else hoping for the sad, strange high that nostalgia gives.

In strange contradiction to our tendency to best remember particularly sharp instances of pain or fear, in remembering periods that make up a category of many consecutive memories, we look back fondly on what in the moment was misery.

High School is a common nostalgia trap. Our minds somehow trick us into believing the structure and order enforced by the institution were somehow the bedrock of a kind of constrained freedom more rewarding than anything we experience in adulthood.

All of this stands in perverse contrast to the rather self evident principle by which all good lives are organized:

That the future be an improvement on the present through our actions in the now.

Of course, to create a better future, you will say we must reflect upon our mistakes in the past.

Yes.

But once you’ve read the newspaper, for gods sake throw it away.

 

Why Positive Thinking Matters

Why do we remember things?

In order to learn from previous mistakes, and correct present and future behavior.

Why can we project the future?

So we can foresee unfavorable outcomes, and avoid them.

The present is the only thing we can act upon. Both the past and the future exist only as images within our minds. From these images, we create our conception of the present.

Memories and predictions are the present moment’s context.

We have limited control over what we choose to remember. The unconscious mind filters perceptions for us and files them away. But in spite of that automatic process, we have near complete control over our attitude towards those memories.

Was that person cruel to us because of our inherently flawed personality, or because they themselves are inherently flawed, and are struggling to conduct themselves in the world?

Did our parent’s treatment of us cause permanent, irreconcilable damage, or nurture an indomitable resilliance?

Those choices, in how we conceive of past events, are left up to our conscious minds. By crafting those conceptions, we form the present moment’s context. This context determines our actions. Our actions determine our future.

And people say positive thinking is naive.

Just as depression stems from negative conceptions of the past, leading to impotence in the present, anxiety stems from negative conceptions of the future. This results in a rigid immobility, like that of a frightened prey animal.

But here again, we have control.

The world is not 10% as dangerous as it was when our biological systems evolved. We have a capacity for fear that far eclipses reasonable need. How can we overcome this obsolete circuitry?

By practicing positive visualizations of the future. Drown out the ugly projections. Look at them and dismiss them, again and again. Deny them the air they need to live. It may take months. It may take years. But thoughts, like animals, fight for prominence within your conscious mind. Support the positive conceptions. Do not nurture the negative with attention.

This is the essence of positive thinking; a vigilant tending to our mental gardens.

Do not hesitate to poison the poisonous.

Those flowers and fruit trees you wish to see grow must be tended to constantly. Water them with attention. Let them grow until they take over everything, even those patches of weeds you thought permanent and hopeless.

Do this every moment of every day of your life.

And perhaps in several years, you will wake up and find yourself in a Redwood forest, so strong and tall that the weeds are denied all light, all rain. These negative conceptions will perish without you even having noticed them.

That is the character of a healthy mind.

That is the power of positive thinking.