August 21, 2013

Do You Remember—

Memory is the Diary...

It is probably obvious already that the subject of memory has been much on my mind of late. Just moving back to Florida, to the area where I spent my childhood, and several other interludes during the intervening years, was surely enough to stir up the muck that had sunk to the bottom of my mind. Living in a Home that has so much family history contributes to this nostalgic bent, as well as a rather chaotic unfoldment of events since we have been back here. At least two of my previous posts, Coming Home and Florida Memories, have relied heavily on history, mine and my family's, for subject matter. During my previous life in North Carolina, my co-workers and I often yarned away the otherwise tedious hours of the day with anecdotes from years past, earlier times in our lives or childhood memories that established both similarities and divergence, as we grew up in several different states, and came from different religious and economic backgrounds. There was no immediacy to that remembering though, just the casual exchange of entertaining or interesting lore between friends passing the time.

Those same memories, shared among family, with the very people you made those imprints on consciousness with, have a very different flavor and impact. I have noticed this to some degree with everyone—children, granddaughters, parents, etc., but most particularly with the two sisters who also reside in this area. Though we have taken hugely divergent paths as adults, have different tastes, preferences and lifestyles, there are no other people in the world with whom we share as much commonality, as many childhood experiences and memories. Our other sister lives far away now, in Australia, and though we share a great deal, she is the youngest by several years and as a child was seldom included in the tight-knit clique formed by my other two sisters and myself. We are very close in age. As I write this post, one sister is having a birthday which, for the next two months lines us up each one year apart in age. We were stair-step kids who spent a great part of our childhoods living in rural areas where there were few other children. Subsequently, we became each others' closest  friends, companions, conspirators and confidants. Though we often fought and squabbled among ourselves, the front we presented to the rest of the world was united. It was "us against them" any time one of us was provoked, teased or bothered by anyone outside our circle. Most often when people spoke of us as children, teens and even young adults, we were referred to as the Meyer Girls. Though Girlhood lies far in the past now, there are still people in our home town that think of us in those same terms.

The Meyer Girls
"The Meyer Girls" on a long ago Easter Sunday.
Even as children, we were little alike in temperament or inclinations. Ours was more a union of circumstances. The ties that bind are seldom based solely on love or caring, though those things were and are not absent in our relationships. Mostly though, we just had each other, and a fierce allegiance and loyalty to the small tribe that we formed together. Over the years we have drifted, sometimes closer and more often farther apart, as the responsibilities and situations of our lives demanded attention to our own families, to significant others, our children and other relationships and jobs. More than likely, our interactions would still be sporadic, even though I am living nearby again, except that my Dad and Step-Mom host informal Saturday afternoon gatherings most weeks. Attendance varies from one week to the next, as cousins, children and grandchildren, nieces and nephews visit according to their own schedules and availability.  Both my two local sisters and I are present at most of these Saturday afternoon fetes, and the conversations become lively and often hilarious over hors d'oeuvres and beers or glasses of wine.  Often, we reminisce, about good times, childhood triumphs or traumas, absent loved ones or other past events. 

Though I had noticed the differences in the nuance and  detail of memory between us somewhat in the past, I have been very aware of it since we have reunited and spend time together at these gatherings. While it may be true that what and who we are is defined by our memories, perhaps those things which we do not remember are very telling also. Since what we retain as memory is governed largely by what is significant or important to ourselves, it is perhaps not so surprising that the content which my sisters and I have chosen to keep from our shared past after all these years is quite divergent. 

Christmas in Wisconsin 1970sI am the oldest, by some seventeen months, of the three of us, and remember the least about our shared childhood and teenage years it seems.  My most powerful memories are of holidays, of events good and bad, like having the measles or my youngest sister not coming home from the hospital when I expected her to. I am a compendium of  generalities concerning the climate, the landscape and the transformation from Florida past to Florida present, the places we went and what we did in those places. The sister closest in age to me but still younger, recalls details about those early years in National Gardens that astound me. What for me seems a two dimensional gestalt, like looking at the old photos my Mom keeps in a box, to her has shape and form, color, texture, smell and taste. She remembers things about that small house we lived in that I am not even aware of ever having known. Her descriptions of the past are technicolor rather than sepia or gray, a remembrance of the senses as well as the mind. Our next sister, fifteen months younger than the second, seemingly recollects people much better than I am able to. She is always throwing out one name or another in conversation, and while for some I have faces and recollections, vague oftentimes, others are names I might have heard at one time or another, but have no context for, no clue of where they fit into the tapestry of life. Her memories, it seems to me anyway, are very much based on interpersonal relationships, ranging from the casual to the intimate. Her recollections are scattered with conversational tidbits from a past I no longer really feel connected to.

My Paternal Grandparents' House
Nanny and Grandpa's House in National Gardens
While the one sister has vivid memories of the little frame house we spent most of our earliest years in, some of my strongest memories are of the house across the dirt road—the house my Dad's parents lived in. To me it was, and is, Nanny's house. My Grandmother made an indelible impression on me. It has been close to twenty-five years since she passed away, but her death did nothing to lessen the impact that she has always had on my life. She was a genuine character. Not in the least the archetypal grandma of those simpler times, she was often more than a little frightening. She loved her Grandchildren fiercely though, and indulged us with forbidden sweets and pocket money, even as she scolded and scowled. The house she lived in and its environs remains vividly fixed in my mind, though I can no longer be sure of what I remember and what I have dreamed. The house still stands, at least it did last time I was out that way, but I have not been physically inside it since I was a teenager. I still dream about the house and my Nanny on a regular basis though, and these are not dreams woven out of nostalgia, nor am I carried back in time by them. They are in the  Present with stark immediacy, so vivid that I carry the memories of some of these nocturnal impressions more strongly than actual daily occurrences, and have so, in some cases for many years. I recognize them as being highly symbolic, fraught with layers both clear and obscure.  So how do we define memory, or separate it from other modes of conscious perception?

As my family tell one another tales of our past, each of us has at one time or another said, "I don't remember that." or, "that's not the way I remember it." Memory is a completely subjective experience. Even though most people think of history as implacable, as a series of events cast in stone and immutable, this is not true. It is first of all dependent on the observer and the method of record keeping, and finally subject to the paradigms that govern its collection. We not only forget, we also change, as individuals and as a culture. To maintain a stable past, an implied agreement must exist within the group consciousness that contains these memories. In my own estimation, the past is just as flexible and uncertain as the future. Because we perceive time as a linear construct, we do not think we can reach back and effect what has already occurred. However, in my own experience this would seem to be false. Events and people who once lived in my memory are no longer there while some who logic and reason would say never did, seemingly are. I am quite aware of this, but it does not trouble me. The fact that one sister or another still retains a given set of memories only serves to point out the differences between us, that the directions we have chosen in life are very different, and that they ripple out from now, to both our past and future.

Star Search-- walking through the infiniteI am currently reading a book called "Quantum Shaman; The Diary of a Nagual Woman" by Della Van Hise, and that certainly is contributing to my musings about memory and its nuances. I am enjoying the book very much, though I must acknowledge that there is a part of me hesitant to keep reading it. While consciously I am very much set on resuming that Spiritual Path I seem to have been somewhat diverted from several years ago, it has been only too obvious to me that some aspect of Self is hesitant. There will undoubtedly be fear at the Root of this hesitation, but of what I am completely unaware at present. Meanwhile, reading this book is waking up some previously dozing synapses. I am not far enough along to have formed any strong opinions beyond the fact that the author is interesting, informative and well informed. Do I agree with all that she has to say? No, but the pursuit or aspiration toward a more enlightened Consciousness is a very personal journey. There are as many Paths as there are Seekers. I like Ms. Van Hise's  writing style though, and am enjoying the prospect of looking at some of the other things she has written. 

This book has brought to mind the works of Carlos Castaneda, the Peruvian born author and student of anthropology whose books and life are still causing controversy a decade and a half after his death. His books, starting with "The Teachings of Don Juan" originally published in 1968 detailed his training in a Shamanic discipline by a Yaqui Indian he called Don Juan. I was introduced to these books over two decades later at a profound turning point in my life. It was no coincidence that this was so, and the effect reading these books had on me endures to this day. I did not like Carlos Castaneda by the time I had finished the first book, and this assessment had still not changed a decade  and ten books later. However, I liked and respected his teacher, his Nagual,  don Juan a great deal. Initially, I found the books to be magnetically compelling, but I did not like the effect they had on me. Though anything is possible, I do not think that it was likely, as some people still believe, that Castaneda was a  complete hoax. I do not believe that the man had it in him to create a system of sorcery, or ultimately the Sorcerer who made him famous. It is my assertion that the man he called don Juan used Castaneda's ego, his talents as a writer and his huge sense of self-importance to achieve the end he wanted. It really does not matter, though. Whether fact or fiction, this series of literature has had a profound impact on a great number of people.

I was already in the midst of a spiritual tempest at the time I was given the first of these books. Reading them, like so many other things, seemingly coincidental  or tangential at the time, triggered the release of trapped energy patterns inside me that felt as if they were tearing me apart. In the Castaneda books, the strongest resonations and reactions came with the Nagual's insistence that to achieve Freedom, a warrior must dispense with emotional attachments. I had children, parents and other family. How could I even contemplate giving up these precious attachments? As it turned out, Love is not an attachment. The things that I fought so hard not to give up, what I now call the ties that bind, had so much more to do with the crippling amounts of guilt, grief, jealousy and false responsibility that we take on in our relationships in this world. What was pried from my protesting Self, were things that had ill-served me and made me miserable anyway. The other aspect of don Juan's teachings that sent me into a tailspin was the erasing of personal history. I simply failed to see how such a thing was possible even though it was happening to me. As I went through this process, it began to dawn on me how very much of myself continued to dwell in the past. More often than not, we imbue our memories of any given moment with the particular emotional pattern that we were then experiencing. This results in clearer, more vividly recalled events. Generally this happens during the most extreme moments in life, and though some are pleasant or even ecstatic, most times this phenomena accompanies those most painful and excruciating passages of life. We can literally re-experience those moments, feeling what we felt then in a most immediate fashion. However, we have just siphoned off a part of our finite supply of life energy to maintain an event which is no longer occurring.  Linking emotion to the past is like leaving bread crumbs on a path you are never taking again. Now is all we ever truly have. Why leave so much of our Power trapped in the past, and why suffer so when a sad, difficult or fearful event is resurrected?


Oak and Stag horn fern
Home
While all of this happened a long time ago, I still remember remembering how very painful and difficult these processes were, and how freeing ultimately. However, most times when others are describing the details of long ago events, reliving moments that will never be retrieved, my experience is mostly as I described earlier, two dimensional, a snap-shot or film. I am an observer of my own past now rather than  participant. There was a time when this made me rather melancholy, when I felt that what I had gained was perhaps not as precious as what I had given up. But I have slipped during these past few dark years, retained emotional memory patterns I aught not or let myself be pulled into attachments that do me harm. And with the work involved in the undoing of these energy patterns, I can very quickly see that a life lived unfettered by the pain of the past is a step toward Freedom. For now, this house, and this town in the state of Florida is my home. The Home I truly want though, lies outside these physical boundaries of body and place. How to get there is what I need to Remember. I knew it once, and I can only hope and strive to find that memory again. It is perhaps a needle in a haystack, but I have faith that Spirit has brought me here for a definite purpose, and brings me together with my sisters and other family members for that reason also. 

Thanks for following my rants and ravings. Blessings, until next time.
 


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