September 26, 2012

The Importance of Remembering

The upcoming festivities marking the 50th anniversary of News Channel 9 got me thinking about how important it is to commemorate and publically remember community milestones.  It is also a good time for us to talk about why celebrating special moments with our families is so vital. Today we are going to look at the psychology of remembering and offer some tips that will to make it easier to  remember the important times of your life.
 
Why Remembering Is Important
Taking time to remember anniversaries is important because it helps us regain and maintain a balanced historical perspective of life events. Highly stressful times can cause us to lose perspective and exaggerate the meaning of immediate experiences whether good or bad.  Regaining a reasonable perspective is essential to our ability to function at work, in relationships and in our overall mental health and sense of happiness and personal satisfaction.

Specifically, a long term perspective calms our sense of panic and helps us to re-experience hope in the wake of disappointment and loss. In other words remembering the good times in our lives helps us to realize that things are not always as bad as they may feel in the moment.

Likewise, remembering the tough times instills in us with a sense of gratitude and humility, i.e. having a long view of things helps us to appreciate how precious the good times are given the reality of tragedy in life.

The importance of remembering reaches goes beyond psychology however. Remembering, and the sense of history which emerges, connects us.  It connects us to our past and also to one another. It reminds us of our common history and traditions.  Rituals of remembering give us a sense of place and belonging.  Seeing our life as an ongoing story reveals a sense of continuity and direction which gives meaning and purpose to our existence.

Our Problem with Memory
While all of these observations may seem obvious, our ability to maintain perspective and fully appreciate life is complicated by both the fragile and faulty nature of human memory and its neurological vulnerability to stress triggered hi-jacking.  When the panic part of our brain (the amygdale) overrides our reasonable part (the hypocampus)  normal l frustrations seem like crises.   In fact, many delayed grief reactions and adjustment disorders stem from a failure to remember or take into account the influences of life traumas.  In short, remembering is not easy and we need all we need help to maintain a mindfulness.  

Fortunately, the rituals of remembering can pull us back to reality and sustain our sense of identity.  Today is Yom Kippur and we recognize on this holy day,  that remembering is at the center of its significance just as it is with all of the the holy days and sacred traditions of all the world's great religions.  Likewise, things as ordinary as celebrating the 4th of July or blowing out the candles on a child's birthday cake help to remind us of who we are and where we belong.

A Problem with Priorities
In addition to the difficulty with keeping perspective, is the simple fact that keeping perspective is not a high priority for many.  Although we all take pictures and do things to capture to the Kodak moments, what happens to those pictures ?  Many of us have boxes of photos sitting in closets.  The problem is that they aren't organized and we can't access them when we need to.  The result is that we simply forget. Here are some tips to help you both raise your the priority of remembering and to increase your ease of access to your memories.

Tips for Capturing Important Moments
1. Think ahead.  Make remembering a priority. Don’t let important dates slip by or catch you by surprise.  Circle events and anniversaries on the calendar and in your Outlook. Block time and plan ahead.
2. Take photos and videos.  Take a camera or phone to special celebrations. Make sure the batteries are charged.
3. Save little mementos  like napkins, matchbooks, corks or even written impressions.
4. Scrapbook, organize, label and file. If you keep stuff in a way that is organized, it makes reconnecting with your past a lot easier than if it is just a bunch of junk tossed in a box.
5.Take the time, to look at the photos and such during the in-between times as well. Things that are out of sight become out of mind.  Don’t let that happen. Go to the parties, participate and get in the spirit.

In one way folks know that remembering is vital. We have a national holiday, Memorial Day.  But the kind of remembering that is soulful and healing is not limited to simply honoring the dead once a year.  We need to revisit the  memories of all the important times of our lives, good and bad, frequently.  Doing so provide the fullest panorama of our life which defines who we are and reveals our purpose for being.  


The Rev. Michael Heath, LMHC, prepared these remarks for Bridge Street 9 26 2012.   www.revmichaelheath.com/  
 

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