During last week’s conference call we took about five minutes of silence to explore a memory – what it felt like, how we distinguished between past, present, and future, and how it felt around the memory?
Over the ensuing week that little exercise has just been calling me, I am seduced by its depth, simply fascinated by what it offers. It’s a gift that has kept on giving.
Initially, the memory I chose was a vivid one of sitting on the beach on a bright beautiful day. I mentioned in class recalling memory flashes of the heat of the sun on my skin, the bright blueness of the sky and the blue-green ocean, crashing waves, the salt smell, the sound of all the people laughing-talking all around, and so on. I thought the feelings that I remembered associated with that memory, and the flashing images were the whole of that memory, as if it was fixed, as if I assumed it was a frozen snapshot, bounded by limits I was constructing in the present while in the act of re-calling sitting on the beach — frozen in time.
But as I kept returning to the memory it dawned on me more ‘stuff’ kept coming to my attention, like space, gaps and holes between and around the flashing images, and I realized, first, the memory is not a static thing. Even though we say the past is dead and gone, in a sense it isn’t, it’s alive because I am alive. The memory is a dynamic, moving thing in time, and while I skimmed over it initially as what I chose to focus upon, it was just a ‘summary’ of a moment of experience that was NOT bounded. I set the boundaries of it back then when I experienced it, and even when I recalled it as a memory.
Working with the memory, as I noticed space or darkness around the edges between flashes of images, I decided to focus on those spaces, and what surprised me was that these spaces opened up. It was as if they were little tunnels or worm holes that led to some subset of the memory — like a new flash of specific faces in the crowd around me of children and adults coming out of the water toweling off, and sitting on their beach chairs talking to others. Each gap I encountered led to, or opened another branch of my remembrance. (An airplane dragging a long colorful sign, girls talking to the lifeguards, and so on.) You could say the past opened to reveal more branches, or that time unfolded what I (a consolidating self) had previously enfolded.
I found this ‘opening the past’ exercise exhilarating, how it informed my present about how I go about structuring time, processing experience by managing content, by controlling, and ordering how and what unfolds.
A prior practice describing an insight with memory can be found here: