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The Past

Tree and mist
Creative Commons License photo credit: Per Ola Wiberg (Powi)

There is something that happens when we look back at the past.

What actually was becomes a little blurry. Maybe that’s because we weren’t paying careful attention at the time, or maybe the specific details are just difficult to remember. Maybe we have reasons for not wanting to recall things exactly as they were, or maybe it’s that great mystery of the Universe – Time – just doing it’s job.

What we see when we start to remember is distorted a bit. Only we haven’t distorted it in an ugly way. It’s not deformed or strange. In fact, it has become much prettier than it ever was when we actually lived it. Prettier, but still distorted.

When we access our memories they are covered in a glossy sheen that surely wasn’t there at the time we actually experienced these things. It gets added somewhere between time passing and our brains recovering this information that has long passed. The more time has passed, the glossier.

It seems to me that sometimes we enjoy our memories more than we do the actual experience of life. Because memories can be…enhanced. Just like a magazine cover that has been “touched up” a bit, we can remove that bit of shadow on this part, cover up this blemish over here, blend this in better up near the top, and make the whole thing brighter overall.

Yes, it’s still based on our life experience, but this is a much more palatable version of that experience.

Maybe we like our memories better because they are like art – beautiful, based on perception, a polished product. And our experiences are more like walking through the mud – messy, slow, and ungraceful.

Even mud can look beautiful on a canvas.

Do you find your memories to be “enhanced” when you view them?Β  Please share in the comments.

{ 14 comments… add one }
  • Positively Present February 8, 2010, 12:36 pm

    My therapist and I talk about something a lot called “euphoric recall,” which is when you remember things as better than they were or when you only remember the good parts of something. It’s a really interesting concept and fits in well with this post, which I really enjoyed by the way! πŸ™‚

  • Corin February 8, 2010, 1:37 pm

    The movie 500 Days of Summer was about this exact theme, telling the story of a relationships through recall and realizing that in reality, it wasn’t as perfect as it was in the main character’s head.

    I think selective memory is good where you just focus on the good things to reinforce your success. Why replay your failures over and over in your head like a bad movie. Who watches bad movies in real life more than once.

    I think it’s good to focus on the good as long as we pretend that the bad stuff never happened.

  • Patty - Why Not Start Now? February 9, 2010, 1:52 am

    Hi Amanda – I like the way you frame it, enhancing memories and touching them up. But I don’t think I do much of it. I’ve heard it said that because we change and grow, so does our version of the past. So I guess when I remember I’m often looking back for evidence of growth and change, or some new insight.

  • Amanda Linehan February 9, 2010, 10:19 am

    Hi Dani – I think “euphoric recall” is exactly what I was thinking about when I wrote this. Although I’ve never heard the term before, so thanks for the new information!

    Hi Corin – I just watched that movie the other night, so your reference is very timely! I think you’re right, the tendency to look back at the good things is a good thing in itself – just as long as we aren’t delusional about what really happened.

    Hi Patty – That’s an interesting lens with which to look at memories through. I think if we look back keeping in mind growth and change we will be using the past in a constructive way.

  • Jonathan Figaro February 9, 2010, 11:41 am

    I think the past can be though about once in a while to reminisce on how far we have come. But never to live within. Most people live in the past and never think of the present moment or have future goals. I think we all need to use the represent moment to think about what we want and what were happy for. Leave the past in the past, never looking back. Unless, it’s to motivate us become even hungrier than we area at this very moment.

    Nice post Amanda. We nee more positive woman like you in the world. Keep up the good work!

  • Amanda Linehan February 10, 2010, 12:11 pm

    Hi Jonathan – I agree. You can use the past wisely or you can live in it. Definitely don’t want to do the latter!

  • Grace & Peace February 11, 2010, 6:09 am

    Nice Post!

    I like to look back my past. For those happy moments, I like to cherish them once again and thankful it has been happening in my life. For those so calleed “bad experience”, I like to relinquish the role of being victim, but take full responsbility of my choice.

    I heard people said we, every single cell within us, remember the past emotions rather they are happy or sad. I guess our body is very intelligent to recall all those “peak” moments in our lives.

  • Lindsey Petersen February 11, 2010, 7:44 pm

    I am not sure my memories are too distorted as they have made me to be the person I am today.

    Lindsey Petersen
    http://5kidswdisabilities.wordpress.com

  • Meg at Demanding Joy February 12, 2010, 6:33 pm

    Sometimes the present is wonderful, but sometimes it stinks too. It’s only fair that we can use our mental bedazzler to jazz up the past.

  • Amanda Linehan February 12, 2010, 7:44 pm

    Hi Grace & Peace – Our memories can be useful to us if we use them in the right way. Sounds like you’ve got it!

    Hi Lindsey – I get what you are saying. Everything you are now has been built on the past. πŸ™‚

    Hi Meg – I really like “mental bedazzler.” I’ll have to remember to use that sometime. πŸ˜‰

  • Chris Edgar February 14, 2010, 4:14 pm

    I’ve sometimes wondered if maybe my memories take a more objective perspective on what happened in the past, without all the fears and doubts I may have had at the time. If that’s true, I guess the key is to bring that 0bjectivity into the present.

  • Amanda Linehan February 15, 2010, 6:28 pm

    Hi Chris – That’s interesting. I think if I consciously view them objectively then they can show me things that I couldn’t see in the moment I was experiencing them. Good point.

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