Examine whatever haunts and traumatizes you with detachment.
A young lady manager confided in me that she was bullied and harassed by her boss. So she quit her job and joined another organization. But she says she can’t shake off her painful memories of being harassed. She has become very wary now in her relationships with her new boss and other male colleagues. “I am always imagining that the world is full of crooked, cruel men,” she lamented. She wanted to know if she could get rid of her debilitating memories.
Now, memories are funny things. They just crop up – often randomly, without any ostensible trigger. When they are about painful situations that you have been through, such memories can weigh you down for days and weeks on end at times. Because they are difficult to deal with, you will want to shut them away. But they refuse to budge. This is why painful memories linger on and continue to haunt you.
There is an effective way to deal with them though.
When I am confronted with a painful memory, I let the event replay in my mind completely. I allow all the characters and emotions – the anger, grief, guilt, or any other feeling associated with the event – to play out and examine everything, and everyone, clearly. In such times, I play the role of a witness, a fly on the wall, who is watching the entire proceedings dispassionately – just as someone watches a movie. Every time I do this, I find myself detaching from whatever has happened, even if the event has affected me deeply in the past, and, perhaps therefore, I am able to forgive the way I have been treated by someone or even by Life itself.
Memories are just a way of your mind dragging you to live clinging on to the past. And as long as you are living in the past, especially revisiting traumatic times, you cannot enjoy the present. The only way you can deal with debilitating, painful, draining memories is for you to be aware and understand their futility.
Of what use is a memory of someone having betrayed you? Can you go back and change things? Does feeling guilty over a mistake you committed – however grave it may have been – ever going to help you undo what you did?
I have struggled too, for a long time, over memories of being called a cheat by members of my own family (I have recounted my painful experience in my Book, Fall Like A Rose Petal). For months and years I grieved over trying to understand why my family failed to understand me. Then one day, during my mouna (silence period) session, it suddenly occurred to me that my pining for understanding from my family members was making no sense to them. I owed them money. And until I repaid them, the label of “cheat” was unlikely to be ripped off me. That’s when I concluded that revisiting the memory itself was futile. Unless I gave my family what they wanted – money – there was going to be no closure to the episode from their side. And since malicious words once spilled, erroneous labels once stuck, baseless opinions once expressed, cannot really be taken back, it would never matter, not to me, not any more, what my family thought of me – even after I repaid the money! That’s really when I understood how futile it is to hold on to painful memories.
You too can make peace with your painful memories. Just examine them with detachment. And you will, pretty soon, realize how meaningless it is to hold on to them.
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There’s opportunity every day to do something meaningful or experience something beautiful – if you really want to.
Most newspapers this morning are commemorating 25 years of liberalization and reforms in India – of the unusual partnership, between then Prime Minister Narasimha Rao and Finance Minister Dr.Manmohan Singh, that changed India forever. Seeing all the coverage about this epochal Budget speech of July 24th, 1991, I asked myself, what was I doing 25 years ago, around the same time?
A flood of memories came rushing back.
I remember, Vaani and I had just moved to Trivandrum on July 10th, 1991. I was working with India Today then. Since my senior colleague Ramesh Menon was transferred to New Delhi, I was asked by my boss, the venerable Prabhu Chawla, if I would like to shift to Kerala as the state correspondent for the magazine. I grabbed the opportunity. We moved into the same apartment that Ramesh had lived in. He and his wife Geeta had left behind some cane chairs that would be the only furniture in our home for many, many, months. This was our first home – for Vaani and me. We had been living with my parents until then – a decision that I quickly realized I should have never taken – for almost 18 months after our wedding in February 1989. So, to be on our own was a big high.
It was a beautiful time, very intimate, very romantic. We were 24 and 25 – Vaani and I. I barely made Rs.4,500/- a month as salary. We had no refrigerator or mixer or grinder. Vaani often made a simple, but delicious meal of kappa and puzhukku-ari kanji, with green chillies to go with it, for dinner. We slept on the ground as we did not have a bed or a cot. We spent memorable weekends doing up our home with artefacts that I would pick up from my travels around Kerala. Each month, we saved up a wee bit to buy appliances or furniture or linen for our home.
Our son Aashirwad was only a year old. When he was just six months old, we had tonsured his head so that his hair would grow richer. So, one Sunday, I decided to take Aash for a haircut – his first – on my Bajaj Cub scooter. I can recall that day so vividly. Aash was so excited. And so was I. It was a big feeling to be a parent, to be living in an independent apartment, to be raising a family with Vaani.
Soon after, for the next 15-odd years, I immersed myself in building my career, and later our business. My memories of the time I spent at home during this frenzied phase are not as vivid as I would like them to be. It wasn’t until our bankruptcy struck, and Life forcibly slowed me down, that I realized how much I had missed in the years that I had been toiling away – mindlessly, possibly avariciously. While I do remember random work-related, mostly stressful, events, I don’t have too many home or family memories from everyday moments to lean back on. That’s how I learnt this lesson, the hard way, that pretty soon, you will arrive at a point in Life when all you will have are memories. And so, it makes great sense to create beautiful ones even as you live, often barely getting past, each day.
This means, on a daily basis, no matter what the stress, no matter how packed your day looks, no matter what the situations or contexts you are placed in are, create one beautiful moment or participate in the one that is available to you. For instance, always kiss someone dear goodbye. Or pause to see a sunrise or sunset. Or feel the rain as it comes down instead of rushing away indoors. Or look someone – a random stranger – in the eye to thank them for their kindness. Or just make it a point to have 5 minutes with your family, without looking at your smartphone, daily.
Treat this time that you will dedicate daily to create memories as your true ‘Selfie’ time. That is, time for yourself! Time, that you will upload to your memory, to draw upon, when you have nothing but lots of time on your hands but no one to spend it with!! I didn’t do this for a significant part of my Life. Thankfully, I no longer regret it – because I have evolved to understand that regretting is a complete waste of time. I say it here now, just so that, in case you are living your Life the way I used to, you can awaken and go make some time to make memories.