When I started mindfulness therapy, there was a lot I did not like about it. The idea of living in the moment sounded okay, but what about the moments I did not want to live in? There had been all too many of those in my life. Mindfulness therapy threatened to bring them back up, leaving me vulnerable to their full impact.
However, there is a reason mindfulness works in treating depression. It is when you avoid or try to push away the difficult emotions that they become monstrous. Eventually, that leads to depression. By experiencing the feelings in the moment, you can appreciate them without the fear that they will last forever. Feelings never last forever, and in fact dissipate fairly quickly if you let them.
But it is an indirect consequence of mindfulness therapy that I want to talk about. Mindfulness has affected the way I remember my life.
I have the tendency to think about my childhood and adolescence as uniformly bad. According to my narrative, growing up was traumatic for a number of reasons. My parents always fought, my brother verbally abused me, I was in the closet, and we had terrible financial problems.
The thing is, my life was a lot more than those memories. A therapist once described this as having tabloid memories. The big headlines stick out, drowning out everything else. Unfortunately, headlines only tend to get so big when they are “bad.”
In theory, I always knew that there were good times in my youth as well. However, it was only with mindfulness practice that I could begin to truly remember those times.
Mindfulness therapy and memories
It is human nature to think of our lives within a linear narrative. That is how we make sense of the world and it is important on a practical level. But narratives leave a lot out. There is simply too much happening in every single moment we are alive to cram into a coherent narrative.
Mindfulness therapy teaches you to appreciate the present moment. To do so, you have to experience it in its entirety. You cannot filter out the bad without diluting the vividness of the good.
At the same time, you cannot sensationalize the bad if you are taking in the entire moment. While the difficult emotions and events may appear more urgent, they are no more real than everything else going on. The pain from a cut on your finger does not negate the experience of the breeze on the back of your neck.
This is why, with the change in perspective that comes from living mindfully, the way you view your memories also changes. I began to remember that my parents used to praise me sometimes. That I loved our garden. That I used to enjoy my family’s company.
Mindfulness practice won’t change your memories. However, it will bring more of them to light, so that you are not left looking back at the tabloid version of your life.