Posts Tagged ‘memory’

The presence of knowing

July 28, 2012

Knowledge is a dubious gift.

The problem with knowledge is that once something is known, it cannot be unknown. Even though we forget and often can’t recall what happened yesterday, some part of our brain still retains the memory of everything we have ever encountered.

Much of what we do and remember is automatic and linked to our survival and basic needs. Dementia and Alzheimer’s aside, it takes little effort to recall where we live, work, and play on a regular basis. I am grateful to remember my loved ones and special times shared with them. The memories I have a problem with are those when I witness the ugliness we create in life.

The current ugly in my life is the knowledge that people leave their babies and small children to die alone locked in vehicles. This summer, I have read at least five articles where infants and small children died of heatstroke inside a car or van. All of their stories yank my heart right out of its ignorant resting place. For example, a day-care worker “forgot” that she left a three-year-old strapped to his car seat in the van at the end of a field trip. I really would have rather not known this. My imagination has a field day taking on the suffering of others, and I wondered why I needed to know.

I tried to imagine what it must have felt like to die like that, so I purposely sat in my car one day when the temperature was about 85 degrees. I parked in the shade, turned off the engine and rolled up all the windows.

Within five minutes, a mild panic settled into my throat and I felt that certain restlessness that I was not in a good situation. Thick and heavy heated air went in and out of my lungs, but it was not enough. Sweat oozed from my skin as my body began its futile attempt to cool me off. Nausea settled in my stomach. Within ten minutes, I had to open my door and let myself out.

And my true suffering had not even begun.

The babies and children I have read about suffered much more. They could not free themselves. The three-year-old who was left in the day care van might have been able to get out of a car seat, but most likely he had been trained NOT to. He sat there sweating, waiting, and hoping for someone to release him. I cannot imagine the distress in their little minds, although I can imagine how I would have felt, what I would have thought, and how alone I would have been with my despair. In my ending, I felt total anguish at the betrayal of trust. I had been entrusted to someone’s care and they had broken that trust.

I think that before anyone gets to have a driver’s license, he or she must endure at least ten minutes of what it is like to be locked in a hot car and not be able to free themselves.

The question again came to me, though: Why had my attention been drawn to these articles? Why did I need this knowledge? I know not to leave a child locked in a car under any circumstances. When I am driving with a child, everything about that driving is with the knowledge that I have precious cargo on board. I could have easily lived the rest of my life without knowing the suffering those children endured.

My answer is metaphysical. God/Spirit/All-That-Is/Universal Consciousness is always with us, connected at the source of our being, even in our dying. I am connected to those children, just as I am to every living soul in the universe, through God.

In this moment, my presence is with every child who is suffering and letting them know they are not alone.

©2012 by Barbara L. Kass

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A Better Presence

March 3, 2012

I am never enough. There is always more of me to become. The soul that swooped down from the heavens to nestle among embryonic membranes and permeate my fetal cells captured my infantile first breath and is still emerging.

This life all about how I can do better.

How can I live better?

How can I love better?

I can tweak my communication with others. I can smile more. I can bring more sincerity, compassion, and attention. I can talk less and listen more. I can meet another person’s gaze with single-minded devotion to this moment we are both in . . . my indivisible focus. Just for an instant, I can be perfectly present for another.

In being present to another, I am present to my own soul and I am, after each encounter, more than I was the moment before.

This immutable forward progress makes me painfully aware of why the motion of existence is one-way. There is only growth, becoming, and ending. There is no reversing. There is no undoing what has been done no matter how much I wish I could. Reversal would undo not only the actions (or inactions) that I regret, it would also take away all that I have become.

This is my only opportunity to love myself, my daughters, my friends, and the strangers who come and go. In the next moment, they might be ended. I might be ended.

Will I be complete at the moment of my physical death? I don’t know, and it simply does not matter. Death is an ending and a beginning. All that I am follows me in this eternity. All who I have known live in my eternal memory. My better presence greets this day and from moment to moment, it whispers: what do you want to remember about this moment?

©2012 by Barbara L. Kass

The presence of meaning

October 29, 2010

We all tell ourselves stories – about everything: ourselves, other people, what others are thinking. Our stories all have morals to them, too. We give meaning to events. Events by themselves have no meaning. We ascribe meaning to them. We say “this happened and that means I am and/or others are (fill in the blank).” We even pronounce judgment upon our own thoughts and feelings that resulted from the event.

As I am meandering (and occasionally stumbling and downright falling on my ass) down the pathway of the past and not quite forgotten memories, I will come upon an incident that occurred over 40 years ago and still be able to recall the details including what was said and done, what I felt at the time, and what I was thinking. I also recall the meanings that I branded upon that incident, my thoughts, and my feelings. I can even recreate the feelings as well as think those same thoughts again. If I hang with the memory just a little while longer, I also discover the decisions that I made in those moments about how I was going to be from now on.

It is not a shock to discover that I am still living out those decisions over 40 years later.

It does not surprise me that when I think about changing a decision, I feel just a tad bit threatened and scared. After all, the child I was then made those decisions to survive the circumstances she was powerless over and remain as emotionally and mentally intact as she could. Now, looking back, I watch the child I was give myself a meaning based on what other people said or did even though clearly at the time my initial thoughts were, “that’s your problem.” I knew even as young as five years of age that what other people said and did was all about them, not me. But I gave meaning to that behavior. It meant I was responsible.

And, I took on responsibility for others because I had been told that my attitude was wrong, that I was making other people behave the way they did (all of us had adults who played this trick on us – remember the words “You make me so ________!”? They did that to manipulate us into behaving the way they wanted us to behave.)

This way of living pretty much strangled any growth of individuality. Instead, I became a puppet who thought she could rule the world if she just danced to everybody’s strings just the right way.

How nutty is that?

Let me reframe my nutty judgment. The skill and the insight are useful. I am living in a world where most of the population believes that other people control how they feel and, thus, what they do, including how they treat themselves and others. I know how to identify these people and thus limit my exposure to them. I appreciate the five-year-old in me who is wise enough to recognize the symptoms in others, and who took good care of herself way back then. At age five, she had neither the power nor the words to extricate herself from such people.

But now she does.

©2010 by Barbara L. Kass

The presence of unknowing

October 26, 2010

Can a thing once known ever be unknown?

Can a truth once known ever be forgotten?

What if all of your history disappeared?

Who would you be without your memory?

Time magazine had an article in their October 11, 2010 issue about a woman who suffered brain damage in the hippocampi of her brain (http://www.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,2022652,00.html) as the result of herpes encephalitis. As a result, she is now an amnesiac who has procedural memory (she remembers how to drive a car) and semantic memory (she remembers facts that she had previously learned) but she has very little access to episodic memory: only rarely can she remember the sensations associated with an experience – what it looked liked, sounded like, and felt like.

She does not remember the faces of people in her life, although she can remember their names.

The article is very short and focuses mostly on the device created by Microsoft to help her retain day-to-day memories. If I could, I would like to talk to her about what she remembers about who she is.

If we are the product of our experiences, what happens to our identity when we lose the memory of those experiences? From our experiences in life, we make decisions about how we are going to be in the world.

Some people hold themselves back from fully experiencing life the lives they want because of what happened OR did not happen in our lives. Perhaps we suffered a trauma. Perhaps our parents were not quite the role models we would have opted for. We come to believe that we are shaped by our experiences. We become adults who attach meaning to those memories. These memories dictate who we believe ourselves to be and how we trust ourselves.

What if those memories disappeared and you could invent new ones? Who would you be then? Can you imagine how you would be in the world?

If you can imagine it, you can be it.

©2010 by Barbara L. Kass

the presence of memory

September 14, 2010

The past occasionally creeps up on me like a spider stalking its prey. I can feel it coming but because I am entangled in the web that is my life, I am helpless. I surrender to my helplessness, bracing myself for the inevitable wondering if the past will devour me whole or wrap me up like a cocoon to snack on at a later time.

My history is always with me. Mostly, it remains hidden behind the piles of other, more recent memories. I have selective recollection for the most part, but when I am on a quest to heal my present self, inevitably a forgotten memory slips past my selectivity. These are short memories, snapshots that crystallize a significant point in my life so I can see how I was made and who I was at that time.

One poignant example comes from my first year in school. I have a sister who is one year older than I am. She was in the second grade. We had bicycles to ride to school, but on the way home one day, the chain to my bike broke, so I could not ride it. I had to walk, but I was not sure I knew the way by myself. I asked my sister if she would walk with me, but she said no and pedaled off.

I walked whatever distance it was alone and very sad. My sister had abandoned me. Obviously, I found my way home. I do not remember my mother’s response. I think my father was in Korea at the time. In the big scheme of things, this was a very small matter and one that I survived just fine.

As our lives evolved, it would turn out that I learned to be as totally self-reliant as I could be, even to the point of isolating myself to prove that I did not need anyone because other people are unreliable. I struggled through co-dependency issues with my mother, finding out in the end that the only kind of relationship she can have with others is that of co-dependency.

This particular incident is an example of the theme of abandonment in my childhood. I am not special, by the way, we all have abandonment issues because at some point somebody we depended upon left us to take care of matters on our own. That is the nature of life. I waver between feeling sorry for my little self while at the same time finding it remarkable that I could take care of myself in a very adult way. When I wonder what I came to this existence to learn, incidents like this stand out for me. If I take ultimate responsibility for my existence, then I absolutely must ask myself: What is valuable about the incident that I need to learn?

On the heels of my life lessons comes wisdom, and then I must untangle myself from that web and let it go. Constantly poking and biting at my sister and my mother through my memory does not serve me well. That particular spider will have to find other prey.

©2010 by Barbara L. Kass

The presence of memory

September 1, 2010

It has only been two weeks since the Magic cat left and her absence still looms large in my days and nights. That little cat taught me a very significant lesson about being present: I need to pay attention to now because I am creating tomorrow’s memories.

At first, I thought it was an odd way to be present because it presumes there will be a tomorrow when all we really know is that we have the eternal present. There are these past presents, though, that come around to haunt me either with their sorrow or with their joy. With my 20/20 hindsight, I can clearly see and know how I could have been more present, how I could have responded differently.

If I get caught up in the woes of yesterday or the endless search to recreate my pleasures, I will miss the present opportunities. Given the cyclical nature of most people’s behaviors, there will likely be other events for me to practice a new and different response. Each time I practice a different response, I create a new memory that can support me in all my tomorrows. I can capture the essence of joy and imprint its feeling in my cells. The memory of joy helps balance the sorrows and losses that often fill me in the last moments of those I love.

Each present moment is a lesson. The studying and learning of life comes with the reflection of the memory. While we may not always have a choice over the events in our lives, we always have a choice on how we are going to apply the lesson we interpret from those events.

©2010 by Barbara L. Kass

The presence of absence

August 21, 2010

The limits of being human are never quite so obvious as when our loved ones die. Their absence is so pervasive to the point of being its own entity.

A few days back, I sent my beloved kitty into the great beyond and still cry about it. My perspective remains intact: this was a very old cat who had stopped eating and lost the ability to drink water. She was not going to recover and could have lingered for weeks, yowling over her water dish managing only to take a lick or two. I was clinging to her life more than she was, and I still doubt whether I made the right decision to assist her on her way. I would much have preferred that she die of her own accord and, eventually, she would have, but after how much suffering, I don’t know.

Her absence is still very much in residence. Her ghost is here. I glimpse her image out of the corner of my eye as I pass a corner where she slept and on the stairs she would run down to greet me when I came home each day (yes, not your typical aloof cat). These empty spaces are full of her absence. They used to be full of her presence.

If our loving were so strong, I imagine that our connection would supersede death. But, the actual physical connection is severed. My connection with those in my life who have died is in the memories and recreating the feelings in those memories in a bittersweet dance. It is the irretrievable presence that most consumes my misery. It is one thing to be separated while knowing that the other still physically exists. We can retrieve another’s presence in our lives. It is another thing when death is the separator.

Those who have physically died have entered an energy state our human senses cannot always detect. Why this is so, I don’t know. But I believe there must be a life-sustaining reason for it. One of the laws of physics says that energy can neither be created nor destroyed – it only changes form. We don’t know that energy cannot be created. We only know that as humans we cannot create energy. It is the law of our human existence, not necessarily of our energy existence.

In the presence of absence, there are lessons to be learned. Absence itself is an energy that is teaching me to be present in each moment and be mindful of the memory that I am currently creating.

©2010 by Barbara L. Kass

remembering presence

July 6, 2010

Memory is a particularly peculiar human trait. While we are all born with an instinctive memory that prompts us to let others know when we are hungry or cold (or even just lonely), we have to learn everything else – even how to be human. Learning to be human is a lifelong process, not one that ends at whatever arbitrary age of emancipation our laws might choose.

What we remember and what we forget also shapes our humanness. We have our short-term memories and our long-term memories. A lot of what we choose to remember depends upon how much and how often we are going to need that knowledge. We also choose to remember significant events in our lives . . . significant being self-defined not event-defined. Some of the events I remember from my childhood “didn’t happen that way” according to my parents and siblings. Well, they didn’t happen to them that way, but they happened to me that way. If I want to change how I remember a particular event, only now as an adult am I able to look back and take a different perspective.

I have also forgotten many, many events from my childhood and adolescence largely because I choose not to focus on them. What is the most difficult for me to forget is my way of being in the world. I learned to be human in a dysfunctional family that was only a microcosm example of the larger dysfunctional world. It is how I learned to survive and giving up any survival mechanism threatens my safety at a primordial level. Yes, I believe at some deeper level of my being that if I change, I will die.

I think a lot of people have this belief and are just unaware of it, but I cannot speak for them. I can only speak to how I work to change this belief each time it surfaces in my life. As any forgotten memory that has been living in my subconscious rises to the surface level of consciousness and becomes remembered, I have to note if that memory is associated with my current way of being in the world. That I have released the memory from my place of forgotten events means my higher presence, my eternal presence, knows that I am ready to deal with that way of being in the world. The memory serves as a sentinel pointing to a seminal event that could be inclusive of every other event where I made a decision of that particular way of being in the world.

At that point, I can take the event outside of me, place it on the movie screen, and get a little distance. I can watch me as a child go through the event and my decision-making process. I can ask me what I needed then and, as an adult, I can give my inner child now what she could not get then. I respect her so much for the decisions she made to keep us alive and secure until we reached adulthood and could take care of ourselves.

Then I invite her to come join and be with all that I am and let me the adult take care of us. The child who I was then integrates with the whole of me and suddenly there is a space for a new way of being in the world. How I am going to be in that new space comes from a greater whole me.

I do not forget the event but now it no longer has as much power over my way of being in the world. Forgetting has served its purpose and now I can safely remember and acknowledge events without reliving my life, without feeling now what I felt then.

As I move into my new way of being in the world, I still bring with me that wealth of experience, and experience is not something we forget.

©2010 by Barbara L. Kass

Past presence tense

May 16, 2010

The me of yesterday is still very much present today. Memories creep up on me, rapping softly at the back of my mind, saying “this is not quite resolved.” I watch the old reruns of life past with an apprehension I cannot quite name. I just know that I am disturbed by my recall of the event and wonder what it has to do with my present today.

My friend, Laurie, writes about the ripple-effect of our actions. I am acutely aware of how my journey brought me to this moment. And I know there are thousands of moments that are yet to come full circle. I remember past events and I think: can I change the past? No, I can’t change the event.

But, I can change my perception of that event.

And, I can tell a different story around the meaning of that event.

Or, I can remove any meaning I have attached to that event.

My presence today has the advantage of distance. Today, I have the power to disengage reliving the event and simply observe it. I can remember the person I was during the event. I can notice my clenched jaw, my hands curling into fists, and the shallowness of my breathing. I can give my past self permission to breathe and relax while watching the memory. I can listen to the story I tell my past self about the event and suggest alternative stories . . . or no story at all. Changing any part of the story changes it meaning, but I have also noticed that meaning sometimes just evaporates.

By engaging the past with presence and awareness, I can address the present realizing I can make these same choices now about perception, stories, and meaning. In this way, I can be more in charge of my “ripple effect” and not get knocked out by the boomerang.

©2010 by Barbara L. Kass

Finishing presence

April 30, 2010

Finishing presence feels somewhat like I imagine forgiveness feels like: the circumstances, the person, the situation, or the event no longer stirs evocative emotions in me. I feel neither this way nor that way. I am finished.

I struggle with the word “forgive” because it implies that someone or something has wronged me in some way. As a child, I was taught that the concept of “forgiveness” meant people could do anything they wanted and as long as they were sorry, God would forgive them. It did not necessarily mean that the person had to stop that behavior.

As an adult, I have to grow into a new concept and definition of forgiveness. Finishing is as close as I can get right now. To let myself off of the hook and quit feeling bad over life long past, I need to be finished and let it go. It does not mean I forget. Finishing means I remember from a new perspective.

From this distance, I can look at events that occurred in my childhood and know that I felt bad. I can even recreate the bad feelings over something that might have happened forty years ago. I am still that child feeling awful about something someone else did. I might even feel bad over something that I did. I am not finished. To be finished requires some creative work. A mindful meditative journey with that child works well for me. From my adult perspective, I can point out and create new stories about the event. As I tell myself (the child) several different stories about the event, why it occurred, what was going on with me and other people, I come to realize that I feel bad because I’ve attached meaning to the event. The meaning almost always is some derivative that I did something wrong, that I was a bad person, that I should have done something else, I should have known better, I should have (fill in the blank). I continue to suffer because I want life to be different than what it was or how it is right now.

This internal work moves at its own pace. The child in me signals readiness when the memory surfaces and I become that child again, feeling bad over things long past. My eternal presence urges me to let it go . . . not to forget the incident, but rather, to let go of carrying the emotional weight. If I stay present, being with the child in the moment, life will bring me all sorts of ways to let go: reading a sentence, drawing a picture, writing a memoir, a physical movement, witnessing life unfolding. It does not matter. There is not any one specific way except for me to trust myself, know that I am eternal, and make the choice to live joyfully.

©2010 by Barbara L. Kass