Learning to forget | The practice of lightness

Maybe it’s just my age and stage – my brain is pretty full these days, my synapses fire more slowly and my long-term memory is less coherent. And of course, everyday I’m living/learning something new. What to do? I’m learning how to forget more effectively. A form of housecleaning, but much bigger – identity re-structuring. Though I’ve never been a true hoarder, I have been a ‘collector’ – of life stories c/w the associated materiality of memory stuff that institutions often call their archives. I have maintained two distinct but related collections: the memories themselves, stored in various interactions (flashbacks, internal smiles or grimaces of embarassment, remembered conversations, visualizations, etc.) and the ‘stuff’ these memories are associated with (letters, objects, places, dates on calendars, photos, etc.). Even though memory scientists tell us our memories are only ever partial, many of us still insist on our own versions of truth, calling on objects and translating images to provide our ‘proofs’. All for naught I’ve learned finally – all remembering is subjective. That is the only fact.

Studies also indicate that it is younger and older people who have the greatest difficulty in forgetting (Wickelgren, 2011; SciAmMind Jan/Feb, 2012). I’d like to say that I ‘decided’ (forever aspiring to be rational) to houseclean, but in fact identity re-structuring is like emergent sociality – it arrives with each and every shared ‘doing’, our day-to-day living and being selves. It has *just* happened – I’ve *just* learned what the practice of letting go, forgetting and culling is about. One analogy is weight loss – shedding mental kilos and gaining cognitive and emotional fluidity and suppleness. Because like many people I know, I live too close to the edge of feeling ‘overloaded’ – personally and professionally.

In many respects, everyday living requires forgetting.  But what are the criteria for personalized forgetting? And what does the ongoing practice of forgetting look like? I’ve started with the material stuff – my life’s archives. I’ve stared at boxes of correspondence, old journals, silver serving dishes, a harris tweed jacket, so many books, kids’ toys, and more, asking myself … is there anything here that actively inserts light, beauty, laughter, learning and knowledge into my today? Is there anything here that enacts some piece of my life I don’t already ‘have’ in my mind-body? And the answers are inevitably no. Nothing more or less rational or irrational – subjective and reflective. Every garbage day another couple of containers. We might think we keep stuff because it is ‘identity’-making and relationship-forming. Other people depend on us keeping ‘our’ shared stuff. Nope. Memories as objects and remembering are *only* subjective, only ever mine to curate, never ‘ours’.

Not so long ago they were blankets of self-assurance. Now they’re suitcases I no longer want to pack, store or move. It seems I finally have ‘enough’ meaningful rememberings wired into my long-term lobe arriving when called or occasionally unsolicited and in ways that assure me of my aliveness and vibrancy.  A graceful outcome of time passing that comes with being human. Phew. A chunk of work is completed – weeding, purging, simplifying, cleansing, easing my life, ordering, organizing, letting go.  I’ve learned how to forget and though I’m still learning to unlearn, I can visualize my middle-aged self as an amazing being of lightness.

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