Learning to Relearn

There is one thing I know that I’ve always known, which is the one thing we want is happiness. The one goal we have in this world is to be happy. We spend hours and days, weeks and months, and even years to find happiness. And even if we don’t, either way, we work on this behalf in one way or another. Either we work to be happy or we worry that we won’t ever be. 

Another thing I know and this is something I’ve known for a long time is the mind is a truly incredible thing. We have this brain in our heads. And it’s always doing something. It’s always collecting information. It’s always looking for an angle.

We have this thing called self-preservation, which is our mind at work. And again, I go back to the idea of happiness.
I go back to the very basic emotions, which are fear, loneliness, anger, pain and pleasure. Only one of these is desirable. We all want pleasure. We want this all day, all the time. The others just suck. No one wants to be afraid (unless the fear is for an adrenaline rush, like say, at a haunted house or a rollercoaster). No one wants to feel lonely or angry and certainly no one wants to feel pain. In fact, most of our fear is that we won’t find happiness or satisfaction. 

All the mind wants is peace and when peace is not an option, all the mind does is look for ways to satiate the need or if not, at least, or at minimum, the mind looks for ways to tolerate the world by building coping skills, which become our habits. We utilize these to formulate an understanding about the way life is.

Ever wonder why people smoke cigarettes?
Is there really any redeeming quality when smoking a cigarette?
The answer is no, but somehow, somewhere, came a lesson that recommended smoking as a crutch or momentary way to ease the tension. Besides, smoking is cool, right?

Tell that to the more than 400,000 people that died as a result of cigarettes or the 41,000 that died from second hand smoke in the year 2019. But wait, everyone knows the dangers, right? Everyone knows what smoking does? And yet the number of people hooked on this goes up, and not down.
Why is that?
This is the mind looking for something to alleviate the symptoms of life.

Even if we don’t understand, even when life seems intolerable, the mind looks for protection.
We always want peace. The mind wants satisfaction, which is why everything we do is done to honor a need, a thought, a want or an idea. 

Why do people put their keys in the same place all the time? They do it because this is convenient.
We form habits and routines to simplify our day.
We keep memories to protect ourselves. We keep memories so that we can recognize danger. We keep them to recall moments of pleasure and teach ourselves what to look for.

Smells are amazing to me.
To this day, I relate the smell of honeysuckle bushes to a moment in springtime when I was young. This is both a good and bad memory; yet somehow, if I smell the scent of honeysuckle bushes, I can feel the emotion from back when I was a small boy.
The same can be said about my Mother’s perfume or The Old Man’s cologne. The scent of either of these immediately brings a picture into my head of my old living room. I hold this dearly to me now, especially since they’re both gone.

There are also smells that bring back unfortunate memories, such as the smell of Southern Comfort, Jack Daniel’s, Malibu Rum, and cheap wine. There is the old smell of hairspray from the 80’s like Aqua Net or worse is something called Aussie Hairspray. Aussie smelled like bad grapes. And this alone would not be a bad thing, except there was an afternoon party in the summertime. I tried to show my friends how much I could drink, which was fine so long as I was sitting down. But then I stood up. And then I fell back down. Then I threw up. And then I threw up some more. And then I found myself, passed out on the floor and lying on my side in someone’s living room with a cookie sheet under my face.

I later found myself in a bathroom where the girls were doing their hair. This is where the smell of Aussie Hairspray takes me. I was so sick. I threw up all over Joanne Digiavanni’s foot. And I laugh about this but yet, to this day, the smell of Aussie Hairspray is enough to turn my stomach.

I suppose my body remembers these smells as a sense of danger. I suppose this is why I cringe when I walk in hospitals because hospitals have a smell too; and most often, aside from childbirth, most trips into the hospital are unpleasant at best. My mind remembers this.

As for sound, well, sound does the trick too. As an example, I remember the cringe I felt when moving through an automatic door and then hearing this shut behind me. I remember when I started my jail program and the first time I had to pass through the door. The sound of the door rolling shut and locking behind me reminded me of the sound an exclamation point, as if to define the feeling of a judges sentence, and then slam! The door shuts behind you and there is no escape. 

I was at the jail on a voluntary basis. There was no threat, but yet, there is a memory I have from my old past. There is a connection to my old history. There is a time when my hands were cuffed together and I was led down a corridor. I heard the door shut behind me. I heard the exclamation point sounding out loud, as if to sentence me and my body felt chills. Although the threat is gone, my memories recall the feeling of desperation and being caged. I remember the echoes coming from the hallway. And I remember the echoes of a man vomiting into the toilet in his cell, which seemed like it lasted forever.

Sounds can connect us to memory. They can connect us to old times, bad times and good times as well. For example, music has a way of bringing me back to some of the best times of my young life. Music can take me right back to where I was. Music can heal me or hurt me, but above all, music has a way of allowing my emotions to move freely. All I need is to hear it and music can take me away.

Then there’s touch, like say, the feel from my Grandmother’s hand and how soft her skin was to me. Her hands were like a warm chenille blanket and a simple touch upon my face could immediately bring me joy or ease the pain I felt for the moment. There is the feel of the ocean breeze and the sand beneath my toes. I associate this with memories of victory, solace, redemption and the perfect surrender of old tensions that I let go and allowed the ocean’s tide to wash away.

And then there’s the taste, which I associate to memories like the first time I recall when my Mother allowed me to drink a glass of cold iced tea. No one in the world could ever mix the tea like Mom did. I’ve been trying to re-master this for decades but no one makes anything like Mom does. 

The mind is an amazing thing. So is our memory; although, the truth is memories can lie. Memories can be colored and shaded with emotion, in which we often exaggerate the details because of the feelings we attach to this.

For instance, I have a few memories from my childhood. There are memories I have from the days when I was in school. I can remember moments of tragic humiliation and if I think about this, I can literally hear the outburst of laughter from other kids as they laughed at my shame.
Safe to say these memories are only debilitating to me. Safe to say these things which I hold personal will never happen again, yet, I still have fears that reach back to this history. I have fears of being exposed or laughed at and humiliated. I have fears that my mind holds onto in order to keep safe or provide a warning if danger comes too close. 

The mind is amazing.
This is not a bad thing. This is a trained circumstance. This is why we create coping skills and living habits, so that we can maneuver and tolerate the world to the best of our ability.

Some of our training is not always helpful. Some of our training holds onto inaccurate lessons, which we have molded throughout the years and adhered to out of fear that something will go wrong again.

I’ve learned this more and more as I tried to move out from behind my own shadow. I learned this when I wanted to address my old, unresolved tensions and learn to adjust to my settings in life. I wanted to improve and deviate away from my depression. But how?

The mind is a countless set of pathways that connect to emotions and beliefs, memory, concerns, wants and needs. Everything we do is done to honor this.

I used to cringe when I saw people from my past.
I used to cringe when I’d hear names of people that I interacted with during old business times. I associated them with my insecurity and assumed what they saw (or remembered) was the reflection of what I believed.
I assumed their opinions of me. I assumed they remembered what I remembered, which is biased on my part; and therefore, I created a strew of opinions which were mainly inaccurate.

Quite recently, I interacted with someone that remembered me from my late 20’s. I had a falling out with a group of friends. I thought this person hated me. It was interesting to learn that her interpretation of me was nothing similar to what I thought. 

“I always thought you were a really good person.”

This is not what I expected to hear.
Know why?
It’s because memories can be swayed by emotion. Memories can lie to us and feed us the wrong information. 

When I wanted to learn how to heal myself from my past, I had to learn how to challenge my assumptions. I had to learn to challenge my old opinions that used to bully me into episodes of insecurity. I had to ask myself questions and realize that sometimes my memories lie and my emotions are carried away. More importantly, I had to learn to make new connections in my thinking so that I could create new memories and new beliefs. Otherwise, I would always stay as I was.

This is what helped me the most. 

The mind is truly an amazing thing. The only reason why people do not work to improve or change themselves is because the mind doesn’t believe this is possible; therefore, the mind goes back to default settings.
The goal from here on in is to create new settings; this way, if we backslide, we never have to fall so far, which means we can move forward, as long as we put in the work.

So, it’s time to go work . . .

3 thoughts on “Learning to Relearn

  1. This is a great post. The mind really is amazing how a smell or taste can bring up right back. It reminds me of the books by Marcel Proust titled “In Search of Liar Time” in which the famous opening passage has the narrator describing all the memories that suddenly arose when he tasted a madeleine cookie dipped in his tea.

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