Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Hand Me Downs Insight

I've been thinking a bit about the effects of the environment and memory on the mind. Phylicia Rashad says in a letter to herself at 21 (Omagazine, April 2006), "Everything you do, every thought you have, every word you say creates a memory that you will hold in your body." This is very powerful and shows deep self-reflection.

Those things also create memories in your mind. And also every word or action others have had can also create memories, memories that repeat in your mind. I understand why parents wish to shelter their children from swear words and mean debates, politics and images of violence. Children absorb things like a sponge, it's been said.

At this time in my life I have often thought about those repetitive thoughts that sometimes come to the surface. I wonder, "Good lord, where did that come from? Where did that mean thought first appear?" The fact is we may never know where we first heard an insult or saw a mean action. But we absorbed it and now it repeats.

For many years I had struggled with subduing mean-spirited memories, the impulse to go quickly toward anger, pride, or self-righteous indignation. But I found that the more I tried to stop them, the more clever and glee my ego got at making them resurface, and there I would be again, grasping those uncomfortable thoughts and crying in dismay, "Oh stop this in my head!"

It is amusing, in fact. Over time I have learned that part of the problem is actually the grasping or the judgement of those thoughts. When, in truth, they should not be paid any mind at all. Thicht Naht Hahn speaks of how we seem to poke at the painful places. When we are at the doctor, we are asked what hurts. But we should be thinking on what is all right in our lives. To get perspective.

Whose hand me down was the first insult? Whose hand me down was the first curse of anger? I will never know. But even as those things resurface in the mind, there is a choice to be made. One could reenact them, insult someone, and the viscious cycle continues and is passed on to another. One could grasp the thought and feel guilt and dread that it is there--but there is no progress in this, for the thought will again resurface just the same. Or one could let it pass as water over the body. Without judgement of it, without empowering the ego. Observe it distantly, as if to say, "Oh, there it is, there it goes." And the calm remains. It cannot harm you any longer. It cannot hurt you or others for you have let it go. And you are on to better moments of the day, in the moment. At peace.