As far as we know, no one has developed a true time machine. We’re talking about a device like the one in the movie, The Time Machine, where inventor George Wells goes forward in time to discover a harrowing future populated by Eloi and Morlocks. Well, as disturbing as that fictional future might be, it is not nearly as traumatic as each of our own personal pasts; the past that lives in the minds of every human being who has ever drawn breath.
That past lies in our memory banks, or more particularly, in neurons in the little understood hippocampus region of our brain. Memories get imprinted there from as early as our time in the womb, through our childhood, right up until what happened to us yesterday. They float around in there waiting for the moment when they are recalled. It is extremely important, however, to remember that, whatever or wherever those memories reside, they were captured at some time in the past, in our yesterdays. Equally important to remember is that although memories are records of yesterday’s events, they can vividly color everything we do today, as well as everything that might happen in our future.
And therein lies the rub. Without a lot of hard work and clarity of purpose, our todays and tomorrows can be held hostage by our yesterdays.
Shakespeare said, “All the world’s a stage and all the men and women merely players”. What he didn’t mention is the stage has two parts: the front of the stage and the back of the stage. The front of the stage is where we live our daily lives. As actors we walk and talk and carry out our duties. To some extent we can be taught by parents/teachers/mentors to walk better and talk better and carry out our duties better. But, like actors on the stage, our performances occur within a certain context and, in turn, are effected by that context. And that’s where the back of the stage comes in. You know, all those invisible-to-the-audience stagehands who make the production appear seamless. Are the curtains handled correctly, is the lighting sufficient, have the actor’s marks been accurately set, is it too hot or too cold? Each of these backstage activities can either enhance or diminish an actor’s performance.
Well, in human life these backstage activities are memories (sometimes also called old tapes or internal robots or simply baggage). There are happy memories and sad memories, frightening memories and liberating memories, traumatic memories and inspirational memories. All sorts of memories exist and these memories can also either enhance or diminish our ability to have a pleasant life.
Again, memories are born of our past experiences.
The problem is often our past experiences cloud our current perceptions. When faced with a new event in the here-and-now, do we experience that event through the lens of our current reality or do we experience it through the lens of a past memory? And if the past memory that we dredge up is a particularly unhappy one, do we (as a default) experience the new event as an unhappy one too. Further, a new, happy occurrence can mistakenly be interpreted as a frightening one or an anxiety-ladened one or one that causes anger, etc. Did you ever wonder how an invitation to a wedding, scheduled six months hence, can cause heart palpitations in the here-and-now? This may very well be the case of a past memory (bad marriage) causing a negative reaction to a future event that has yet to occur.
When angered, people often use the phrase “he pressed my buttons” to explain the cause of their anger. Those buttons are nothing more than the recalling of past memories (past experiences).
When confronted with a current decisional situation a young student of Zen once exclaimed, “Yes, but yesterday he said something untruthful to me. How can I ever trust him?” The Zen master calmly replied, “That was yesterday; what are you actually experiencing today? Yesterday should have as little bearing on today as possible.” One of the great benefits of a Zen philosophy is that it directs us to always live in the present.
Experiencing life in the here-and-now is a real challenge, especially with all that backstage activity clamoring about, all those old tapes playing so loudly. Memories (imprinted past experiences) are certainly not all bad. They can not only give us great pleasure, but they can also help us live much more efficiently, giving us immediate insights (intuition) about how to quickly handle the many new things that confront us every day. The secret is being able to distinguish the good memories from the bad and being aware (very aware) of which memories we are calling upon to deal with the events of our every day life.
We have no idea what tomorrow will bring, but today is overflowing with potential – Allan Lokos
How do you handle your Time Machine?