Time Traveling to Change Your Past
Ionce worked with a woman named Rachel who was at a transition point in her life. She had just made the decision to abandon a lifestyle of clubbing and partying. Instead, she committed herself to a daily spiritual practice, eating only raw foods, and other positive changes. Despite her commitment, she found herself resisting the change and could not understand why. She knew this new lifestyle was exactly what she wanted, yet there was a deep-rooted fear holding her back.
Buried within her implicit memory lay the answer to her troubles. Working together, we wandered into her past to visualize the events that took place when she chose this new way of life. She remembered her old friends abandoning her because they could not tolerate her “extreme” raw food lifestyle. A series of these experiences led her to believe the raw food lifestyle meant having no friends.
Inevitably, being a social creature who craves human connection, she found herself scared to embrace that way of life. By bringing that implicit memory into her awareness, she was then able to shift the meaning she created for those events.
To help Rachel choose an empowering meaning, I guided her to visualize the healthier future she wanted to live in. When I sensed her desired future had been validated on an emotional level, I verbally steered her back into the past. At first, it was a shock for her to go from a place of joy to a place of darkness. But from that place of joy, she saw the experience in a different light.
Suddenly, in what can only be classified as a light-bulb moment, she realized her friends hadn’t abandoned her; they gave her the space to live her purpose. “They gave me the wings to fly,” she ecstatically realized. By changing the meaning ascribed to those past experiences, she no longer saw them as negative moments in her life. For her, the past had been altered. The “reality” itself changed because perception shapes reality, and perception is based on memories that constantly lie to us.
How Your Brain Turns an Experience into a Memory
“Every special date and anniversary, every advertisement, every therapy session, every day in school is an effort to create or modify memory.”
—Dr. Joseph Ledoux
Memories create the series of habits, associations, and patterns that make you who you are today. Like it or not, you are a product of your past. Your present is molded by it, and your future is dependent on it. But the past doesn’t have to define you. It isn’t real. Your memories are as plastic as your brain and you can learn how to erase bad memories. With a proper understanding of memory, you can manipulate it to let go of the past, push through your fears, and experience the bliss of Fearvana. There are three steps involved in the process of converting an experience into a memory:
1. Acquisition: Acquisition occurs when your brain, working in conjunction with the bodyguard at its base, receives and processes external stimuli. As you read this paragraph, your brain is starting to form a neural network based on the information it’s acquiring.
2. Consolidation: Most of the information that comes into your brain is lost in short-term memory, but some of it becomes a part of your long-term memory. To implant an experience into your long-term memory, neurons are connected through pathways that collectively form large neural networks.
These are physical maps that materialize as structures in your brain representing a memory. The process of strengthening these pathways to build the construction of a memory network is called consolidation. How each memory (whether a happy or painful memory) is consolidated depends on various factors, including how much attention you paid to the event, the emotional impact it had, and the number of senses it engaged. If you simply skim this, it will fade away from your memory. If you focus on the content and apply it, you will gain the experiential memory required to consolidate the knowledge into your subconscious.
3. Retrieval and Reconsolidation: Retrieval is when you pull a past experience from your brain and bring it into the present. During retrieval, your brain activates a neuron that triggers the other neurons in that particular memory network. If a part of a memory is activated, such as the sights, sounds, or tastes you experienced, it lights up the rest of the neurons in that network. This is why the song “When You Say Nothing at All” triggers the memory of my ex-girlfriend. Reconsolidation is what occurs during retrieval. It is your brain drawing information from various regions and putting these pieces together as a consolidated memory to bring into your consciousness.
The efficiency of each of these steps is dependent on many factors, including genes, health, stress levels, and belief systems, to name a few. Regardless of where you are now, though, your memory is plastic, so it can be improved and healing of memories can occur.
There are two kinds of memories you have the power to mold: implicit and explicit memory.
What did you do yesterday evening? To answer that question, your brain activated the neural network of yesterday’s events and retrieved that memory map to tell the story of what you did. You actively brought the past into your present awareness. This happens both when you’re casually thinking about or dwelling on the past. The conscious direction of your mind into your past is known as explicit memory.
On the other hand, if you were to put down this book, step outside, and get in your car, assuming you know how to drive, would you have to think about it? The reason you can drive with such ease, or walk through your home, or even know how to walk for that matter, is because of implicit memory. Implicit memory runs on autopilot without your human brain.
When you entered into this world as a helpless infant, these memories were responsible for your transformation into adulthood. In fact, researchers believe that in the first year and a half of our lives, we only encode memories implicitly. According to Dr. Daniel Siegel, the three features of implicit memory are, as follows:
1. You don’t need to use focal, conscious attention for the creation of implicit memory.
2. When an implicit memory emerges from storage, you do not have the sensation that something is being recalled from the past. (You don’t think about the first time you learned how to walk every time you walk.)
3. Implicit memory does not require the participation of the hippocampus (the human brain’s role in memory).