Meditating on the Past

All art by C.F. Tunnicliffe

“Things without all remedy should be without regard: what’s done is done.”

William Shakespeare, Macbeth

For me, paganism is a dedication to consciousness. There is no aspect of my life in which that’s not a possible consideration. I have felt for a long time that I never want to find myself in a position where I’ve done, or said something, and I have no idea why. At college, way back when, I minored in psychology. All that reading up on Freud’s views of the unconscious, our repressed desires and animal drives. I decided that I was going to do my level best not to have my actions directed by inner forces beyond my conscious awareness. On the whole I do ok with this, but it means I think about everything, a lot. I pick over my actions and intentions, question my own motives, watch for dishonourable inclinations and try to maintain full control over myself all the time. It’s not easy. Sometimes it’s impossibly hard, and I slip up. I speak sharply, I have a diplomacy fail, I fail to read what other people are signalling. Life is complicated.

One of the hardest areas for me has been dealing with my past. I suspect this could be true for other people too. Things we learn as adults, we know we have learned, and are fully conscious of. However, many of our assumptions about what is normal, are established in our minds in those first years. The years most of us can’t remember properly. Our model for relationship, our sense of self… it all begins in infancy as we absorb unquestioningly everything we are exposed to.

It’s one of the reasons that abused children go on to be abusers – it is all they know how to do. Our expectations of how others will treat us, our assumptions about what matters, our values, and priorities can all belong to this hazy infancy time as well. Deep meditation is a way of poking about into what memory remains, searching for moments when it all began, for realisations, for the key turns of phrase that shaped expectation or defined self. Sometimes it can dredge up unsavoury things. Other times the results make a lot of sense. On occasion, it can be downright dangerous.

Meditation is imaginative work. We can imagine ourselves back into the children we were, trying to see with adult eyes the influences that shaped us. However, the mind plays strange tricks. It can become hard to differentiate between a thing imagined and a thing remembered, leading to false memory syndrome. If we go looking for specific answers to our identities, we may easily find them –not because they are real, but because our unconscious has blithely invented them for us, or speculatively filled in the gaps. No matter how hard you try to pin down your unconscious, some bit of it will be off like a gleeful two year old, smearing something messy over the walls of your psyche.

There is one technique I have found that helps me hold clarity around this issue, distinguishing raw memory from contemplative work. I think in third person when I am meditating on some aspect of my own life. I remember in first person. Thus if I remember something that has a third person voice on it, I know that was something I played with that might, or might not have any other reality to it.

I’ve been doing this since my teens, which is probably as well given the breadth and depth of both my inner fantasy life, and my deliberate meditating. It also means that when poking about in old wounds, I can hold a little bit of distance. She did this, and she did that, and she heard this and felt a certain way about it. I am not there now, it belongs to who I was in another time. That deliberate separation also protects me from becoming too enmeshed in older emotions which is also an advantage.

Sometimes it takes years of poking to pin a thing down. I’ve carried for a long time the feeling that being thin equates to being loveable. We’re not talking slender here, we’re talking thin to the point of dangerous fragility. I was a buxom teen, despite my best efforts in the other direction, and have never achieved the kind of thinness I think is called for. Other, more adult, rational and conscious bits of my mind know that being so very thin would not be good for me, and would not make me attractive. But this thin is not about sexual attraction, it’s about being loved. That’s one thing that makes me think wherever I got it, was early on. Poking around over years, I couldn’t pin it down to a single word. I was a slightly rounded child, not fat, but painfully self conscious about it. Why, even when very young, did I want to be the kind of thin that would suggest risk of death?

I got my answer yesterday. It had everything to do with how my child mind interpreted things that probably had nothing to do with me. Sometimes, the things we learn from our environments are not the things anyone meant us to learn. I saw that thinness and fragility in others brought out protective urges in adults. To be that valued, that cared for I would therefore have to be that thin. Probably thinner. I’ve always looked solid and robust, people have tended to assume a coarseness of emotion, a lack of subtle sensitivity alongside that. My body is big, there is no point treating me as in any way fragile. So I recognise the child in me, who wanted to be a delicate little flower, and wasn’t able to be that, and felt like a failure as a consequence. I don’t know if I’ll ever be at ease with my own skin, but this piece of the puzzle takes me a little bit closer to it, I think.

Nimue Brown is an author, dreamer, folk enthusiast, parent, wife to the most amazing artist -Tom Brown. She has her own blog as well as patreon. Exploring life as a Pagan, seeking good and meaningful ways to be, struggling with mental health issues and worried about many things. She has published many renowned books on Druidry including Druidry and the Ancestors: Finding our place in our own history and Druidry and Meditation.

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