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Wandering Rutted Roads September 15, 2012

Posted by nrhatch in Life Balance, Mindfulness.

Memories are straight-jackets . . . binding the past to our present.

Instead of floating freely, adrift on the endless sea of possibility, memories anchor us to one another,  keeping us moored in “safe” harbors.

Memories remind us of who we once were . . . tugging on heartstrings with insistence when we venture too far afield.

Instead of seeing the world anew, with open eyes and mind, memories filter our experiences through a clouded lens.

Memories weigh us down . . . thwarting efforts to travel light through life.

Instead of letting go of people, places, and things, memories cause us to tighten our grasp on sentimental objects, slowing forward momentum.

James-the-CatMemories hold us back . . . preventing us from reaching our full and unfettered potential.

Instead of exploring new roads and vistas, with alert curiosity, memories encourage us to circle back, again and again, wandering rutted roads.

Memories distract us . . . cluttering our field of vision.

Instead of living in the now, memories shine the spotlight backwards, obscuring the path as it unfolds before us.

Like a water-wheel, filling and emptying its buckets over and over as it turns, we empty out who we were,  to become more fully who we are meant to be.

Rather than allowing our thoughts, emotions, and past experiences to dictate our re-actions to new events, we can view life with alert curiosity.

When we let go of our automatic responses and begin to live spontaneously in the here and now, we uncover the joy and happiness within.

You must empty yourself of the past to receive the present. ~ Zen Parable

Aah . . . that’s better!

Quote to Ponder:  When one door closes, another opens; but often we look so long at the closed door that we do not see the one which has been opened for us. ~ Helen Keller


1. yazrooney - September 15, 2012

This is so beautiful Nancy. Your mother’s condition has been such a gift to you and to us, because of what you are now sharing. Thank you so much for taking us on this journey with you, and I send you much love and blessings. Yaz

nrhatch - September 15, 2012

Thanks, Yaz. Yes . . . my mother’s memory deficits caused me to read up on memories. Some memories (e.g., how to tie our shoes) propel us forward, as one experience builds on the next.

Other memories, keep us rooted where we are . . .tugging on our sleeves each time we try to move forward on “our” path.

2. aawwa - September 15, 2012

Your post got me thinking. I moved house and home over two years ago and I am still trying to hang on to the friendships from the past rather than looking ahead to new friends in my new environment. Thanks for your post 🙂

nrhatch - September 15, 2012

That’s exactly the type of memory I’m talking about, aawwa.

Most types of memory work to our advantage: Semantic (extraneous facts and words), Procedural (how to tie a shoe or ride a bike), Working (short term memory ~ e.g., remembering a phone number while we dial it), and Implicit (an aversion to a food that made us sick years ago).

The most problematic (and neurotic) memories are our Episodic memories ~ the autobiographical facts about our life that cause us to have a hard time letting go of people, places, and things that no longer serve a true purpose.

When we stop staring at the “closed door” . . . we see new worlds awaiting.

3. Irene - September 15, 2012

I think it’s more like “letting go of bad past memories” not just “emptying”. And as you said in one of your posts months ago, letting go of fear and finding the courage to move ahead in life which I hold very close to my heart. Because fear is what holds us back sometimes.

nrhatch - September 15, 2012

Absolutely! Sometimes we hang on to memories of who we once were (or even who we hoped to be) out of fear that we’ve left our “best years” behind.

Of course, if we’re always looking over our shoulder with wistful glances, that fear becomes self-fulfilling. Instead of living FULLY in the present, we are mired in a past that no longer exists (no matter how badly we wish to recall it).

4. William D'Andrea - September 15, 2012

I have a problem of not being able to forget things that I don’t want to remember. After being in this world for 67 years, there are many things I’d like to forget. However they are also linked to things I like to remember.

That’s one major benefit to me being a writer. When I have something to write, that is what fills my mind. I can put the bad memories and other unpleasant thoughts aside, and concentrate only on the work at hand. However, right now I’m in the middle of many things, and find it hard to concentrate on the writing, so many unwanted memories, throughts and pointless fears are filling my mind. I just have to try to concentrate on the writing at hand, but I am much too easily distracted.

nrhatch - September 15, 2012

It sounds like you are “in the flow of the NOW” when you write ~ the past falls away, future concerns don’t intrude. It is just YOU following the path of the story as it unfolds to reveal . . . the next word, and the next, and the next.

I find the same thing happens when I write, when I paint, when I sing, and when I dance. I am fully present in the present . . . taking one step after another as the future unfolds before me.

5. Don - September 15, 2012

I think for me memory is an essential aspect of life and therefore memories are part of us. The issue is how we relate to our memories. If we are so attached to them that we become our memories then I think there’s a problem. But when we develop the ability to, in a sense, to stand outside of them and choose and control their influences over us, they become a treasure chest of wisdom and influence – after all there is a vast amount of experiential wisdom in memory. So for me there’s a kind of middle road when it comes to memory.

nrhatch - September 15, 2012

Lessons learned are often stored in both our Episodic memory and in our Procedural memory. We can forget HOW we learned to ride a bike (e.g., dad pushing us) without forgetting how to RIDE a bike.

Episodic memories are autobiographical facts which often “bog us down” (and cause us to be neurotic). I expect that we don’t need to remember all the specifics of Who, What, When, Where, and How in order to retain and benefit from the WISDOM of the Why.

When we let go of all the unnecessary extraneous details, we gain clarity . . . as the way teaches us the way.

Don - September 15, 2012

Nancy I like what you’re saying, but let me ask you: If your Dad pushing you in your experience of learning to ride a bike was a pleasant and loving action, would you define this as an unnecessary extraneous detail to be let go of? What would be for you an unnecessary extraneous detail in terms of memory? Hope you don’t mind the questions, but I’d love to understand more of how you see it.

nrhatch - September 15, 2012

Anything that bogs us down and mires us in the past.

I see people CRIPPLED by the memories they are carting around with them. They are so caught up in the “happy” (and “sad”) memories that led them to “this door” that they are paralyzed, and unable to live fully here and now.

They are unable to kick their ghosts to the curb and move forward. Their memories fill them with remorse, regret, and anger about what they’ve lost, blinding them to what they could have . . . if they only opened their eyes to THIS moment.

That said, we each need to find the right balance for US without worrying too much about THEM:


When we know WHO we are . . . we know HOW to live.

nrhatch - September 15, 2012

Let me share a SPECIFIC example:

A mother lost her adult daughter to cancer. More than a DOZEN years later, she could not attend a holiday party without being ANGRY at those present for ENJOYING themselves while she sat with her GHOSTS in the corner.

She felt that their JOY and LAUGHTER failed to honor her daughter’s memory. She felt that THEY should temper their enthusiasm for life to match her morose countenance.

It was the “pleasant and loving” memories of her daughter that caused her to behave this way . . . viewing others with RESENTMENT for being HAPPY and feeling ANGRY at them for “rubbing salt in her open wounds.”

She did not realize that SHE was the one holding the salt shaker.

So, yes, even pleasant and loving memories can be unnecessary and extraneous impediments to our journey.

6. barb19 - September 15, 2012


nrhatch - September 15, 2012

Thanks, Barb. 😀

7. sufilight - September 15, 2012


You said:

“When we let go of our automatic responses and begin to live spontaneously in the here and now, we uncover the joy and happiness within.”

Yes! The joy and happiness is always within us, it’s the mind with the memories and fears that obscures our true nature.

nrhatch - September 15, 2012

Yes! What if we woke tomorrow with amnesia and saw the world anew . . . without past hurts and resentment blocking the view?

Oh, what a wonderful world it would be! 😎

8. Don - September 15, 2012

Thanks for sharing that Nancy. I appreciate it and get what you say. Would love to engage you more on this, But, again, thank you.

nrhatch - September 15, 2012

Thanks, Don. Your insight-filled comments and questions are always appreciated. 😀

9. jannatwrites - September 16, 2012

I agree, memories do weigh us down. Like it or not, memories are a part of us. It takes a conscious effort to live spontaneously. For instance, I had an awful skiing experience when I was in 6th grade. I swore I would never ski again. Just thinking of it brings back the memories and my feelings of that day. I haven’t wavered – I’ve not been anywhere near skis since then. T

If I were inclined to be spontaneous, I’d have to override that memory and ski anyway. Maybe one day I’ll surprise myself and do it. (On second thought, I think I’ll try this on something where I’m less likely to physically injure myself!)

nrhatch - September 16, 2012

Yes! That’s a perfect example, Janna. We try X, we don’t excel at X, we tell ourselves “I can’t do X” . . . and we hang on to the memory so we don’t make the same mistake again.

It’s not so much the memory, standing alone, that causes the problem . . . it’s the interpretation we place on it.

When we control the thoughts we think, we reclaim the reins. Or the ski poles. As the case may be. 😀

10. sweetdaysundertheoaks - September 16, 2012

I love my memories. CH and I were just talking about memories yesterday afternoon and thought how lucky we were to have them to talk about, to remember. Some of my memories make me be a better person. Some have made me sad, angry and afraid. They are just there, part of me. I just make sure I live today, each day enjoying what that day has to offer.

nrhatch - September 16, 2012

Good point, Pix! Some memories help us ~ reminding us to be a “better person” (or reminding us to “run away from that Sabre Tooth Tiger!”).

Others drag us back . . . and we become “lost in thought,” forgetting to embrace the joy and happiness this moment offers.

When recurrent memories make us sad, angry, afraid, or frustrated . . . they are best brushed aside. Like cobwebs.

Or dust bunnies. Ooh . . . bunnies! 😉

11. kateshrewsday - September 16, 2012

I LOVE the idea of being ready to receive the present, Nancy. Very inspiring.

nrhatch - September 16, 2012

Imagine what life might me like if we were all fully present in the present of the present! Aah . . . that better!

12. Andra Watkins - September 16, 2012

I love to remember good things, but dwelling on past failures and shortcomings gets me nowhere.

nrhatch - September 16, 2012

Often our most intrusive thoughts and memories are the least productive. Far better to let them drift away into the ether.

13. Pocket Perspectives - September 17, 2012

“wandering rutted roads”…says it perfectly….even good shock absorbers can’t withstand rutted roads…better to just stay off rutted roads, as intriguing as they might, at times, seem. Nancy, this is an extraordinary post…thank you.

nrhatch - September 17, 2012

Sometimes intrusive thoughts churn so fast and furious that it’s a wonder butter doesn’t appear!

14. Three Well Beings - September 17, 2012

I really do value the direction you are encouraging here, Nancy. I don’t necessarily dwell on the past, but I can still be mired in tradition and fall into ruts. I’m reading this a little later than posted, but the timing is perfect for me! Thank you! D

nrhatch - September 17, 2012

Glad that the timing worked out, Debra.

As many have noted, we benefit from some memories . . . life would be emptier without them. But we have to remember to set them aside long enough to really breathe in TODAY.

15. bluebee - September 17, 2012

We need those memories, but not to he extent that they block out the light – sometimes, it’s difficult to find the balance.

nrhatch - September 17, 2012

That’s the key . . . finding the right balance between enjoying our memories and getting lost in the past.

16. 2e0mca - September 18, 2012

I feel that memories come in two generic types. Those that form part of our learning such as the one that tells us fire burns and wasps sting. And those that form our opinions of types of people and things.

It is the latter type that we need to be aware of for they can limit us. Just because one person of a particular ‘faith’ (for example) does us a wrong, we shouldn’t ‘tar’ all others of similar beliefs with the same brush – People are individuals and the next person like the one who let you down, may well go on to become a lifelong friend.

When does a memory become experience or vice versa? I chose when possible to travel by train rather than plane – my memories of the most recent commercial flights has been of unpleasant waits in terminals, badly behaved adults and children on board and consistently late flights (oh! and airlines adding in extra charges for things that should all be part of the service). Those memories have opened my range of choices rather than creating paralysis. I will still fly when I have no choice but will happily choose train (or indeed car) for other journeys. When something bad happens I always say – “Put it down to experience and carry on” 🙂

nrhatch - September 18, 2012

Well put, Martin. That’s it . . .we need to be wary of relying on “the past” to interpret people, places, and things or we are merely re-acting rather than living in the NOW.

But, when past experiences demonstrate with consistency that something is not to our liking (e.g., plane travel), we should use that knowledge to do what you’ve done ~ expand horizons by considering other ways to get from HERE to THERE.

Perhaps a slow boat to China? Or travel on the Orient Express.

17. colonialist - September 18, 2012

So … what you’re saying here is that we should spend so much time building memories we don’t get a chance to look at them? Heehee.

nrhatch - September 18, 2012

Yes! Exactly. You’ve distilled this down to its essence. 😉

If we’re busy making memories here and now, we can enjoy them when we are OLD and GRAY . . . unless, of course, we lose them along the way. In which case, we are out of luck.

18. Perfecting Motherhood - September 18, 2012

Memories can be good or bad, and sometimes you tend to remember more of the bad than the good. Other times, your brain actually blanks out whole periods of time (good and bad) to protect you. That’s what I have with my childhood up to about age 10. I remember very little of it before that.

But there are memories I hope I keep my whole life, especially when it comes to wonderful moments with my kids. I’ll love to share them to my boys as they grow up. They often ask me how they were as babies and things they did. It’s interesting how human beings want to know all about their past.

nrhatch - September 18, 2012

Those are memories worth sharing . . . I love telling my nieces and nephews what their personalities were like before they remember having personalities at all. 😀

Perfecting Motherhood - September 18, 2012

Good one! Personalities show up very early on for sure.

nrhatch - September 18, 2012

Sometimes we reveal quite early how we are apt to interact with the world ~ our “true nature.” Experiences may shape us . . . but much of who we are is there from the start.

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