observations

Protected: On change, resistance, and in response to those shocked by my pregnancy announcement. (I’d grab a cuppa – message me for password)

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The Stranglehold of Memory

Be kind to me
My robot heart is fragile too
Keep it well, keep it true
My robot heart
– Hawksley Workman

There’s something that’s been bothering me a lot lately, and it comes in the form of discrepancy. I think we all tend to feel unsettled when we’re not at peace: when our actions and thought patterns defy what we want them to be, it causes inner conflict. I find that usually, simply recognising the existence of that discrepancy is enough to move toward doing something about it. But what happens when the gap seems impossible to close? Sometimes, when a behaviour or thought pattern has been so deeply engrained for so very long, it almost feels impossible to do or see things any differently. The stranglehold of memory exerts such a strong force over our minds that even when logical actions and reactions are staring us in the face, we can’t help but surrender to the reflexive patterns we’ve followed our whole lives.

One of the reasons it’s causing me such distress is because it goes against everything I try to stand for. As I mentioned not too long ago, practising acceptance of the past and focusing on the future is something that helped me get on with life after everything was thrown up in the air. Reminding myself that we only get one life, and making it a priority not to waste a second on things that have already happened has allowed me to be more productive, more proactive, and more positive. But I find I keep slipping up. I allow my mind to default to panic and disaster mode at the slightest sign of history repeating itself, despite all present-day evidence to the contrary. The trouble with investing your whole heart into people is that you give them full permission for the potential to hurt you catastrophically. And when people have done just that, and repeatedly, it’s hard not to put a guard up. One thing I’ve reiterated many times lately is that no matter how many times my heart has taken a beating, it’s not going to stop me from putting it straight back out there. But what happens when you do that, yet your mind is unable to let go of the fear it could all happen again?

“But don’t you think it’s better to be extremely happy for a short while,
even if you lose it, than to be just okay for your whole life?”
– Audrey Niffenegger, The Time Traveller’s Wife

A good friend recently gave a good analogy. Imagine if you were assaulted or mugged in a dark alley one night. You’d probably be a little scared of dark alleys for a while, even if they were the most beautiful alleys on the planet. It’s the oldest of lessons: touch a hot element and get burned, and you’ll learn not to make the same mistake again. But that goes so very much against how I want to live life: I want to take risks and hope for the best; I don’t want to cage myself in and become a prisoner of fear. I want so desperately to be able to get to the end of my life and look back without regret – to say I gave it my absolute all, and have “oh wells” rather than “what ifs”. I want to live with passion and zest for life, believe in happy endings and in the innate goodness of people. I want to believe that people care about each other, and I want to believe in love. Not just settling for unreliable friends and acquaintances, or a partner you wish understood you. Not just settling for a job that pays the bills but doesn’t make you excited every day. But finding those fairytale endings, those brilliant friends who’d cross oceans to make you feel better when you’re down, that perfect partner who knows you better than you know yourself, with whom you never have to wonder, that amazing job that seems designed for the most unique skill and interest set that belongs to you alone… I want to believe in it all, but I can’t stop my mind going into panic mode at the tiniest imperfection. I can’t shake the feeling that investing my heart into things in similar ways I’ve done in the past is going to result in disaster, so instead of accepting and believing that sometimes in life things can work out, I default to it’s happening all over again in some futile form of self-preservation mechanism. I inadvertently doom my own existence by allowing past events to dictate a future that by all rights has every potential to be wonderful.

I realise life isn’t perfect, I realise I’m not perfect and I realise people aren’t perfect. I realise that nobody can live a fairytale existence free of hurt, pain or disappointment – that’s just real life. I realise I probably need to lower my expectations of the world – not even expectations; hopes… any situation can go brilliantly or terribly, I just don’t know how to break free from the worry that’s become so at home in my mind after a series of life blows. It’s human nature to want to protect ourselves, but I’ve always maintained that by guarding ourselves we miss out on the incredible depths of emotion that could be felt by opening our souls to another human being. Greater openness involves greater risk of destruction, but living a half-life isn’t really living at all. So how does one break away from the risk of self-fulfilling prophecies? If you always expect the worst, it has a habit of becoming manifest. We inadvertently plant seeds of sabotage that will allow us to feel comforted should things fall apart, giving ourselves the option to later say our fears were fully justified. But doing this destroys the present moment. Kindness is questioned, assumptions are made, and the path that could be walked in bliss and beauty is strewn with imaginings of worst case scenarios, or detours to hunt for signs that history is doomed to repeat.

Why is it so difficult to let go of former hurts and simply embrace the opportunity for a fresh slate? Why are we conditioned to allow the past to dictate and curb our present ability to live? Why must memory exert such a frighteningly strong stranglehold, and why is it so difficult to simply choose to shape the future instead? I want to live in the now, free of the worry of the then invading all over again. I just don’t know how to break free. My mind is being a frightful rebel to what my heart wants it to be.

Oh, you delicate heart
There’s deep enough wells for our tears
When we break ourselves carelessly
Through a tumbling down of our fears