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  • Writer's pictureBarbara Emrys


A friend once spoke to me about constantly having to push a certain memory away, because it caused him so much emotional pain. He wanted to run from the memory, or deny it. Pushing it away was a full time job for him, and a continual frustration. He knew it would never go away. The whole exercise was exhausting.

As I’ve said on occasion, memories don’t seek us out. We conjure them or we deny them. We pull them in, or we push them away. We summon them to cheer us, or to cause us distress. If we were old-timey telephone operators, we would be plugging into certain memories and gossiping with them all day long. Other memories, we would repeatedly unplug and ignore. Either way…exhausting.

So, I decided my friend should imagine memories differently. He could picture a memory as one of countless particles that make up his physical body– like atoms, or molecules. Matter is composed of atoms and empty space. Looking at the night sky, you can see the same thing reflected back: stars and the space between stars.

Memories are stored in matter; they’re embedded in your brain. But, imagine them as the same atomic particles that make up your entire body. Imagine them moving and swirling like flecks of fine powder, and then spilling out around you like a dusty energy field. Some memories congregate at the center of you– in and around your heart. Others drift outside of you, ready to seep down and settle into you, in a flash. Then there’s a cascade of memory-dust that streams behind you when you move around. It’s made of memories you have very little investment in, but will shadow you forever.

Those are fun images, I guess, but they’re also helpful when you find yourself trying hard to deny the past. Memories are you, as much as your body is you. There are not many body parts you’d want to lose. Some parts you can’t live without. An important aspect of self-love is to accept your body as it is. It’s important to acknowledge your body as the love of your life; to respect it for all it does for you. And, among the many things it does for you is stash and carry all those memories.

Memories aren’t just a burden to carry. They serve you, too. They provide the information you need to adapt to new situations. They offer wisdom, and they frequently bring you joy. A memory that causes pain should be given closer attention. You might want to take the time to give it your thanks, and possibly your forgiveness. By denying a memory, or fearing it, you’re only inviting long-term torment (just ask my friend).

So, why not give at least one of those uncomfortable memories some love? Why not talk to it, write to it, be gracious with it? Let it bump against other memories– the ones that give you pleasure and make you laugh. When you focus on past shame, shame is all you remember; so, when you think of the past, include your many blessings. Include everything. See how you’re just like all living things– an amazing blend of the sublime and the strange.

You might think you’d be much better off without a particular memory, or without that one painful experience. Well, whatever you may think, every memory is a particle among the many millions of particles that shape you. They circulate through you and trail behind you. To deny any of it, is to deny yourself. To accept and to love all of it, is redemption.


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