(Written for my column 'Monthly Misgivings' in Page Seven magazine)
Contrary to what some people think about me, I don’t do well at all in confusion and crisis. Actually, I am guilty of circulating this lie about myself in the hope that just saying it out loud would make it true. Turns out it doesn’t. Some people manage to be like the proverbial eye of the storm and stay completely unperturbed by all the madness around them, or are perturbed but manage to find the inner resources that help them stay calm. Somehow, they become the reliable, rock-solid center that holds things from falling apart. Not me. I usually need a whack in the head from some sweet friend before I can calm myself down.
I remember reading a lovely analogy for a confused mind in a story about Sri Ramakrishna Paramahamsa. He had likened a confused mind to a glass of muddy water. Nothing comes out of stirring it frantically. But if you let it sit undisturbed for a while, you can hope for the mud to settle down to the bottom leaving some clear water on top. This makes perfect sense, but why is it so hard to do? I am all zen when everything is perfect. And when I think things are better than perfect, I smell the roses, fall in love with the sky, bask in the sun, and whip out a mushy status message for Facebook. But the moment something goes wrong, I look like a hen roused from her dozing off while sitting on her precious eggs.
So you’d understand why some people are staring at me right now in this lovely café in San Francisco. They saw me change my mind three times about paying with cash or card; do a crazy balancing act of carrying my coffee in one hand, laptop in another, backpack slung across one shoulder, jacket over another, unable to decide where I wanted to sit, which sunny spot was sunnier than the others, and, in the process, drop my mug of coffee. The sound of porcelain shattering on the floor was what made me snap out of my fluster, s down, hold my face in my hands and close my eyes. And I heard the sweet lady who came to clean up the mess say the most comforting words I could have asked for: “It’s okay. Not the end of the world. I’ll fix you another one.”
There is a wonderful, healing work that our memory does. In helping us cope with loss, we can filter out the not-so-good times about a person, or a place, and retain only the ones that help us move on. This is also why sometimes the dead appear in a more forgiving light in stories about them.
Some, like me, could really abuse this therapeutic possibility of memory. I, for instance, use it to cope with relationships that have ended, in letting go of people who have moved on from my life. But I don’t stop with it. I push it further. In filtering out the remembrance of times that were painful, I even come to believe, by a circuitous logic, that they never happened. And I start believing that all I had was a lovely time that I have now lost by some stupidity of mine. This belief makes me hold on to the persons in my mind and not let go of them.
In such instances, a reality check is good. You can speak to someone who remembers you from those times, who can remind you what an emotional black-hole you were to hang out with, how a certain relationship was not good for you. Or there is a more fall-with-a-thud kind of a reality check – you end up revisiting the person or place for which you have built up a dangerously Eden-like nostalgia. And you get to see how far the reality is from the colourful machinations of your mind and memory. Thud!
Memory can be a good healer, but only as long as you allow it to do its work without thrusting your hidden agendas on it. Like with any healer, you should not start forming an unhealthy relationship of transference with it. If you do, memory, like any ethical healer or therapist, might tell you that your sessions would have to end.