Forgetfulness can be a funny thing. We often joke and laugh about our forgetfulness as we grow older. What did I walk into this room for? Where did I put my keys? What did I eat for lunch yesterday? And so on. There are also things (events) that we would like to forget. However, that is easier said than done. The things we want to forget tend to stick to us like algae on rocks. The river of time flows over the rocks, trying to dislodge the algae, but often to no avail. The harder the river tries, the faster the algae seems to want to cling. Such can be the nature of our attempts at developing “voluntary” forgetfulness.
From a mental health perspective, forgetfulness isn’t funny at all. The growth of memory related diseases like Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s and dementia, poses serious challenges to our health systems, to families and to communities as a whole. The financial costs related to the treatments of these disease is conservatively estimated in the billions of dollars in the USA alone. The nature of “involuntary” forgetfulness is that it leads to memory and cognitive loss, which, in most cases, is irreversible.
The classification of forgetfulness as “voluntary” and “involuntary” is perhaps arbitrary. From a spiritual health perspective, what is perhaps important to ask is – how skilled are we at forgetting what we need to forget? Once we have learnt what we needed to learn from a particular event, how long do we keep it around in our awareness? In many instances, our brain helps us out by deciding what to immediately discard. The rest of the ‘life-stuff’ then gets filed into short-term, medium-term or long-term storage. The challenge is that we forget what got filed where.
When I moved into my previous home, I brought boxes full of stuff with me that ended up in the basement. There must have been at least two or three dozen of them, of various sizes. I had attempted to label them as best I could, so that I would know what was in them without having to open them. Fourteen years later, at least half of those unopened boxes ended up in a storage unit, in preparation for my next move. I had forgotten that I had filed away my “life-stuff”. My rationale was – maybe, someday, I may need what’s in them.
Some memories are like that. Their impression on us, our clinging to them, runs deep. The deeper the impressions, whether from pain or happiness, the harder it is for us to forget. Their depths become our comfort spaces, the valleys in which we go to hide from the world. And the more we (re)visit those spaces, the deeper they become with our fresh treads. So, how do we break the cycle? How do we make sure that the unopened boxes don’t make it into the basement of our next home?
We may have to make a decision to lighten our load, to develop voluntary forgetfulness towards certain ‘things’. Our decision may create room for other ‘things’, preferably those which leave a lighter imprint than the ones they replace. How may we do this? Any current practice, which is ‘working’ for us, can help us. For example, in meditation, we can decide to ‘forget’ the outer world and our river of ‘problems’. If we can commit to this for even for a few (tens of) minutes a day, we can create space — for remembrance in our inner world.
One unopened box at a time, we can choose to develop forgetfulness and empty our storage unit. Our new home’s basement will be grateful.
P.S. Join us for our weekly twitter chat in #SpiritChat – Sunday, July 8th at 9amET / 630pm India. I will make sure not to forget the tea and snacks, and questions. Looking forward to ‘seeing’ you. Namaste.
The hydrangea finally blooms… when it has (perhaps) finally forgotten about what winter was like…