Unfortunately, our memory is not to be trusted for several reasons. First, what we tend to remember are negative things. We may have had a generally positive experience, but if there was one negative aspect, that is what we remember about the experience. It blots out all the positive.
Why does memory act like that? As an evolutionary, biological function, the role of memory was to remember the things that we did that were dangerous so as not to repeat those activities … like putting our hand in a fire.
But memory has morphed into something that is not protective of us and instead is destructive. It focuses predominantly on the negative and so warps our memory of the past. Which has a profound impact on our self-image and our narrative story. (See my post, “Reclaiming the ‘story’ of your life.”)
What makes this power of our memory even more dangerous to our wellbeing is that it is typically false. Why? Because our memory is composed of our mind’s take on things that we experience. And since the mind sees everything through its lenses of feelings and perceptions, it is not a reflection of reality. Whether the memory is good or bad, it is a product of the ego-mind and therefore a distorted picture of what actually took place.
This is the same thing we know about our learned experience. It is a product of the ego-mind, rather than a dispassionate appraisal by our heart, and so it is the building block of our suffering, our samsara.
Since memory arises pretty much of its own accord, it is not something we usually seek out, how do we free ourselves from this destructive force? Every time memory arises, you have to ask, “Is this really what happened? If I looked at this through the eyes of my true Buddha self, my unwounded heart, would I see it differently?”
This is not an easy exercise. It requires that you be present and that you are able to review past events objectively, separate from your emotions. But even if you are not able to see things as they really were, at least knowing that memory is suspect and to not follow its lead will be helpful to you. Otherwise you will repeat the same pattern of behavior over and over and you will suffer.