The proper function of memory is to re-member, to put the members or parts of our life back together. We often get lost in reliving the past, when the gift of memory is to knit things back together, to re-member the whole.
In my thirties, I had a powerful dream that showed me this. I was stopping by my grandparents’ home in Baldwin, New York. They lived in a small brick house, just off Sunrise Highway. In the dream, there was a serial killer on the loose and I wanted to check on the little boy staying with my grandparents. It was mid-morning and the front door was ajar. I called as I entered. No one was home. I was frightened that something bad had happened. I could sense the trouble was upstairs. The house was completely silent. I climbed the stairs, afraid what I might find. The handle to the upstairs bathroom was broken. I opened the door to find the little boy dismembered on the floor. It was a horrific scene. I woke with a scream.
It was Father John Malecki, a kind priest who was a Jungian analyst, who led me back into that metaphoric bathroom to see that I was returning as an adult to put the members of my inner child back together. He said that dreams often arrive in graphic terms to get our attention. He suggested that the dream was telling me that I was now strong enough and individuated enough to face the wounds of childhood and mend them, putting myself back together.
From the outset, we’re imprinted by our early experience. Many of us suffer as we try to escape this imprinting. Yet we have to face it, if we are to truly live our lives. It can be very daunting to undo what pain and fear have taught us. Like a dog trained to fight, some of us are brutally trained for a game of survival that someone else created. But it’s possible to remember what we were born with.
Whether smothered or abandoned, or lost or found, the unfolding of our lives has us uncover or peel away what gets in the way, so we can recover the essential nature of things more deeply. This uncovering of what gets in the way is how we learn. Because we fall down and get up again and again, we’re called to pick ourselves up, dust off our habits, and sustain our authenticity.
Because we form patterns along the way, we need to scour and break those patterns in order to stay freshly alive. Dreams, insights, and honest friends help us break our patterns. To keep us going, we need an inner practice that will help us remember when we forget. Why? So we can return when we stray and soften when we harden. So we can put to rest the things we dwell on, and come alive and participate fully in the days once more.
There are times we can feel the vastness of life and grasp a larger sense of things. And times we get lost in the details, entangled in problems and old patterns. But when love or suffering return us to the depth of life, the days become precious and familiar and everything feels new. Expanding after being small, the weight we carry lessens and the smallest effort matters again.
In Japanese lore, a pearl of a child was born in poverty and left in an abandoned hut. She managed to survive and until she realized she was all alone, the light she attracted and reflected was enough. But inevitably, she felt the weight of being an orphan. And so her lifelong struggle began. When looking in the world, she always felt rejected and bereft. When looking in herself, she felt received and complete. This is the struggle we all face. No matter what circumstance we’re born into, our trial of individuation is to see through our circumstance and remember the pearl we are.
This excerpt is from my book, The One Life We’re Given: Finding the Wisdom that Waits in Your Heart (Atria 2016).
*photo credit: freestocks.org