The best way to rid yourself of the pains of your memories is to approach them directly.
Go to a quiet place (mine is my rooftop balcony overlooking the mountains, seen in this photo). Now close your eyes and take ten deep breaths. Try to clear your mind as you do this.
Now think of the painful memory. Bring it up in all its vivid details. Where are you? Who is there? What are they wearing? What are they doing and saying? Watch the whole memory as if it’s on a movie screen and you’re an objective observer.
As you watch the movie, scan your body. What do you feel? Where do you feel it? How does it feel? Is your gut in knots? Are you having trouble breathing? Is your body tense? Whatever you’re feeling, focus in on it. Where exactly do you feel it and what exactly are you feeling there?
Your body is a storehouse of information that your logical mind has a hard time processing. Your body is your intuition, your True Self. It knows what’s best for you if you can get quiet enough to listen.
As you focus in on the feelings in your body, ask the pain or negative sensation what it’s trying to tell you. Remain open to answers you wouldn’t expect.
If the answers are based in fear, keep asking. Your True Self never speaks from fear, only love. Keep asking until you feel good about the answers, no matter how crazy they may seem.
As you receive the loving answers, go back to your movie. Play it again. How do you feel now?
Repeat this process of watching your movie, noticing the sensations in your body, asking them questions and being open to the answers.
With practice, this can significantly reduce the emotional triggers buried in the memories.
This kind of work is difficult on any level but I have to tell you, having the pain of my past hold me hostage for so long, having it break down everything that I’ve ever built in this life, doing the work to release it will forever be the most important step I have ever taken in life. If you are brave enough to do this kind of work, don’t go it alone, seek other supportive loving people to surround you with love and belonging. Consult your doctor and psychiatrist and inform them you are doing this kind of healing. And most important of all, put a time limit on it (I give myself two hours each morning). Then do something else to regulate yourself out of the pain of your past and into the present moment: rock, dance, tap, meditate, breathe or take a walk in nature and focus on the rhythm of your steps, find something with rhythm, it can be very desensitizing.
Our ancestors knew this; many cultures embraced drumming sessions as a part of their daily lives. Babies know this: they use rocking to soothe. It’s in our DNA! I use music because for 25 years I was a classical musician and teacher. I usually use music that is repetitive in nature (minimalism), music with great structure and rhythm and slow changes, like the works of Philip Glass, Steve Reiche, John Adams and John Luther Adams (YouTube “BECOME OCEAN” by John Luther Adams).
However, in celebration of completing this work, this morning I’m listening to “The 4 Last Songs” by Richard Strauss. This work is all about stepping into the unknown, being at peace, and entering a state of eternal rest. No, I don’t feel like dying….quite the opposite, I finally feel like living! I feel I am finally laying to rest the pain and shame of my past.
At the end of a long and successful career, when a composer still has the power to move his audience with a swansong of such sublime beauty that it takes your breath away – well, you know that work is a masterpiece.
That’s the way I’ve always felt about the Four Last Songs by Richard Strauss since I first heard these sublime songs (I’ve included a link in the comments below). These songs, performed by the late great Jessye Norman, put me in a state of complete peace and serenity each time I hear them. This recording (in my opinion) is one of the greatest ever made in classical music.
The Eichendorf poem which translates as ‘At Sunset’ is fittingly the last of the four, with the first three songs all settings of poems by Herman Hesse. Beginning with ‘Spring’, the second is ‘September’ followed by ‘Going to Sleep’ – each seems to be part of Strauss’s preparations for death. The words are all warm, wise and reflective with no hint of religious consolation as death approaches, but rather a deeply felt appreciation of the world before leaving. The overwhelming effect is a feeling of serene peace.
It’s simply one of the most touchingly beautiful ways for a composer to end his career. And for me, it’s one of the most fitting ways to say goodbye to a painful past that has held me hostage for so long. This morning as I watch the sunrise in the Sothern California Desert, I weep tears of gratitude as I hear the words of the 3rd song (Going To Sleep):
“With unfeathered wings, I go into the beyond….. My soul is completely free….”
“We will not regret the past nor wish to shut the door on it.” -Promise #3, Big Book of AA
We don’t know each other, but if you are reading this we share a common thread. And I am here to tell you I support anyone of you who is brave enough to step out of their past and into their future. I promise you’ll find more souls like me on the same path!
“The knowledge of the past stays with us. Letting go of the pain of the past doesn’t mean we let go of the truth. To let go is to release the images and the emotions, the grudges and fears, the clingings and disappointments of the past that bind our spirit.” -Jack Kornfield