Remembering is a re-creative process. The word “Re-Member” (to put the members back together) implies this.
When we remember something, we are recalling a stored state. The emotions we were experiencing, the thoughts and beliefs that were passing through our minds, as well as the associated physiology are brought back together as a complete state when we choose to, or are Re-Minded, to recall.
Remembering is less like opening a page in a catalogue that looks the same every time, and more like coming back to the same meadow on a different day or even in a different season. You can change how you feel about the past by coming back in a new state.
Brain imaging experiments have demonstrated that imagining an object and actually seeing the object will appear the same on brain scans. This implies a paradigm blindess – that one can only see the physical representation of what one has already constructed in the imagination. We are constantly creating contexts, and we have the power to change any context.
It is nearly impossible for the brain to distinguish between something ‘real’ and ‘fake’ or something in your physical presence vs something imagined. The reason that we can understand something as ‘pretend’ is because we have applied that context. When the first cinema goers experienced the very first film -it was a film of an oncoming train- they ran screaming out of the theatre. A context needs to be applied retrospectively to frame the experience, and the context must be learned before it can be applied.
This is what we do when we re-create a memory. We apply a learned context retrospectively. So on a given day, you may recall a particular event will less cringing than on another day. Or you may feel warmer or cooler thoughts towards the memory of a friend depending on how you feel that day, and how you feel about them on that day.
Regardless of who or what we are directing our emotions or thoughts towards, they create a context within us first. It seems to the mind that we are directing this experience away from us and towards the person or thing about whom we are thinking, but actually this is an illusion. We are creating this experience within our physiology and neurology and programming ourselves into a context.
When for example we remember a fight, we are simulating the entire state and experiencing the physiology, neurology, and emotions of that fight that is no longer happening. Thinking about the fight with the same thoughts, eliciting the same emotions, from the same context, and drawing the same conclusions will reinforce that particular pattern (or version) of the experience. Moreover, it trains us to react to other similar situations in the same way. This reinforcement is a self-programming of a state that was very clearly illustrated by Pavlov’s dogs. That situation, (or any part of that situation) becomes a trigger for the neural and associated physiological and emotional patterns that we understand as the context.
Your body is inextricably linked with your emotions and thoughts. An effect to any of these aspects will reverberate throughout each of them. This has HUGE implications for what your thoughts and associated feelings mean to your body. For example, just thinking about standing up will cause the muscles to tighten in anticipation of action. This is why both muscle tension and anxiety can be relieved by experiencing a state of willingness, or accepting the present state of things.
There are many ways to go about creating a more positive context for your experience. You can work with the mind or you can work with the body to transform the emotional filter.
You can practice abdominal breathing to create a relaxed state, and anchor this relaxed state by associating it with a word you can later use to bring about the same state.
A good way to teach yourself a new pattern is simply by REimagining a new one over and over again. Find a new perspective on the situation that creates meaning for you. Remember to let go of speculation about other people’s intentions. Before you begin this work set an intention of courage and compassion for yourself and all aspects of the memory.
You can also create a variable rolodex of pleasant states made accessible through your body. This involves remembering or creating a state, noticing the sensations of that state, and anchoring it with a posture that you select to represent that state. In other words, you create your own positive trigger to deploy at will. For example, you can imagine what “confident” feels like, experience the sensations of this emotion and “anchor” that state by taking an intentional body position (you decide which one you want). Then you can do the same thing for “relaxed”, “joyful”, “caring” creating a new posture for each state. I recommend doing this anchoring process whenever you experience an emotion that you like. I suggest that you check out Amy Cuddy’s work for a set of universal postures as another tool for reinstating positive triggers.
Try these techniques if you feel stuck in a loop with someone or with yourself. Use these to bring yourself into a new state and therefore a new perspective. We are more likely to trust the beliefs that are old and familiar over the ones that are new, but the new beliefs may provide us with a better experience. Try on a new state and see how those old beliefs measure up to your new perspective :)