Memory is a complicated thing. It has the power to inspire us and to paralyze us. Billy Cundiff has to deal with the memory of his failed field goal attempt to tie the Ravens’ playoff bid for the Super Bowl. What he does with that memory will make all the difference in his future performance.
We all have the problem of memory in some way. The bad things like failures, mistreatments and accidents stick in our minds and make it hard for us to face current experiences. The old experience is so entrenched in our minds that we can’t burst out of its construct and into a new experience. I see it with anxiety clients a lot. They remember a place or experience where they had a panic attack and they cannot bear to face the same place or the same anxiety symptoms again. They are stuck in the past so their ability to embrace present experiences is stunted.
Interestingly, positive memories can have a similar paralyzing effect. An exquisite kiss, an exceptional performance, an intimate spiritual touch…..all of these wonderful things can trap us in the past with their enticing, iconic place in our minds. Present experiences are compared to the past ones and can never quite measure up. We get stuck in the past and our present is, once again, stunted. We aren’t open to the new things happening now because we remember too well the wonderful thing that happened before.
St. John of the Cross talks about the need for a “purification of memory” which can enable individuals to new openness to the present and fresh hope in the future. The process does not involve us forgetting the past, but rather, holding our past experiences without clinging to them or amplifying them. It also involves being able to properly mourn past experiences that harmed us and celebrate past experiences that were wonderful. The reality is that the present will never be exactly like the past and our ability to accept this reality will shape our ability to be fully awake and present to what is happening now.
Will we judge Billy Cundiff for the missed field goal, or for the way he handles holding its memory? What memories, positive or negative, hold you in the past and block your full experience of the present?
To read a wonderful article that inspired my thinking on this topic, follow this link to an article written by Constance Fitzgerald of the Baltimore Carmelites. http://www.baltimorecarmel.org/swf/pdf/writings/cfprophetic.pdf