Read on a little before you say “Not possible!”
It’s 1975, my senior year in high school. My mom drives me to school every morning because we only have one car. I cross the street, walk across the front entry, climb three steps, approach the bank of six doors, and begin to feel nervous. Inside the front doors all the coolest guys in the school hang out in a big group.
I can’t get into the building without passing them. Everyday I’m sure I’m going to trip over the door jam (and sometimes, I do). I dread this entry ritual every day, but the other doors are locked, we all have to enter here and pass through the crowd. Each day, I slow down, take a deep breath and carefully step over the threshold. In my mind it is six inches high!
Fast forward 20 years to 1995–my high school reunion. We’re about to take a tour of the school. I feel the familiar nerves as we approach the front door. I remember the threshold! I look down preparing to step over the tricky thing that tripped me up so often in the past – and, it’s flat. Absolutely FLAT! I stare at it a minute remembering my nerves and the stumbling entries, and I wonder, “what was I thinking back then?” By this time I’d been studying Alexander Technique for about 10 years. I laugh, step through the door, and continue the tour.
Many memories of events from our past carry with them the feelings we experienced during the events. When we think about what happened in a certain way, it’s possible for us to relive the emotions from the past and bring them whole into the present moment.
Some memories are twisted and tangled and overlapped with others. Thinking of one piece of the memory can bring the whole complex of feelings from the past flooding into our bodies. If the memories are uncomfortable enough we may avoid thinking about them. However, this avoidance simply leaves the energy from the memories intact and, in effect, buried under a rock–until we mistakenly stumble and dislodge the feelings.
It can seem overwhelming when of emotions from a past event flood us with unwanted feelings. But with the Alexander Technique, we have a raft and paddle to navigate our way out of the swirling emotions.
We all have habits of movement and thought. Our habits of thinking about the past can be some of the most entrenched. Often unresolved events are like a sore tooth – every time we pass by it we must wiggle it until it hurts. The wiggling can even become unconscious and suddenly we find ourselves swamped by emotions again, remembering the details and feelings of past events.
We don’t have to stay trapped in this cycle of pain: remembering/pushing the memories down/remembering again. It’s possible to change our habits of thinking about the past in a few simple steps.
1 – Recognize when and how you think about your past
Notice if there is a dominant emotion you have when you think about past events in your life. Is there a recurring theme to these events? Are there specific emotions associated with certain themes? Do you choose to revisit “happy” memories or “unhappy” ones?
2 – Practice no judgment
You are mining your patterns and your past for information. Anything you discover you will be able to use to change your habits so all information is good!
3 – Pick a memory
I recommend selecting a memory that has some emotional charge but not a huge amount. The larger the emotional charge the stronger your thinking pattern around that memory will be. Starting small will allow you to refine your changing the past process and you can then begin to apply this process to diffuse the energy of stronger memories.
4 – Be kind to yourself
This is a new way of looking at and thinking about the past. It may feel strange or uncomfortable. You may not be successful at first and may need to practice. Don’t decide you can’t do it, or that you’re wrong, or that it’s hard. Just go on to step 5!
5 – Practice, Practice, Practice
- Before you think about your memory, ask yourself: How easy is my neck?
- Then ask: What’s changing?
- Usually an energetic shift happens – it might be a deeper breath, a feeling of space inside you, or your shoulders might drop.
- Think about your memory, ask yourself: What’s happening to the changing as I think about …. ?
- Did the changing continue changing or did it stop?
- Remember: Step 2 – Practice no judgment!
- If the changing stopped
- Start again by asking yourself: How easy is my neck?
- Continue through the process
- If the changing continued
- Take a look at how you feel about your memory
- Does it have the old familiar quality or a different one?
- Note your observations and repeat as needed
When we ask How easy is my neck? We open a place in our neuro-physical mechanism for easiness to expand. In this expanded space of easiness our bodies are able to find their true balance and our thinking can move smoothly without bumps. As we pay attention to what happens to this easiness by asking: Am I getting easier or less easy? we are able to see when our thinking has changed and is taking us in a different direction.
Ultimately, we want to notice what we are thinking about past events in our lives and how that thinking influences what we remember and how we feel. If I trip, fall, and skin my knee, I have a scab. That series of events happened and no matter what I do now that doesn’t change.
But the emotions around that event, remembering the physical sensation of tripping, the flash of fear of starting to fall, bracing for landing, and even echoes of the injury can be relived every time I remember the event or see the spot where I tripped. If I unconsciously think about that event I can recreate the emotions and physical sensations over and over. If I’m able to see that spot and pause before I travel all the way down the path of remembered injury, I have the option to notice easiness in me. I can ask: Is this thinking making me easier or less easy? At this moment I can choose a different path.
Remember: 2 – Practice no judgment! All information is good!
We want to know what happens when we think X and what happens when we think Y. When you discover the results of your thoughts you will be able to use this information and the process of observing your easiness to change your thinking habits. You will be able to stop unconsciously bringing the past alive in the present moment.
You can change the energy of your past, one step at a time!
Thanks Laura, this is fascinating. One question though. When you say, “I recommend selecting a memory that has some emotional charge but not a huge amount”, do you mean a negative memory only, so that we can practice changing it to a positive one? How do we know if it’s only a small emotional charge. Are there questions we can ask ourselves about this? I know sometimes I’m afraid of looking back because of the hurt I remember.
Hi Tracey-Jane – these are great questions, thank you!
1) Do you mean a negative memory only, so that we can practice changing it to a positive one?
Actually, both positive and negative memories can have a strong charge. Since both are in the past, it is possible to lose our sense of easing when we “go back in time” in our heads. With a negative memory we may be more aware of losing the sensation of easing as we remember the pain associated with a negative memory. Because we may like our positive memory and like the old feelings it brings up – sort of like when you hear a favorite song that was playing on your first happy date – we may not notice that we have left the easiness of the here and now and gone into the past. I’m not saying that we can’t remember the past events (good or bad) but that we want to remember them, but not get lost or pulled back into emotions we had back then.
It would be end-gaining if your goal was to turn a negative memory into a positive one. I was thinking more of unraveling the hold that the negative memory had. The memory exists, the event happened, what we can change is how we react to what happened.
2) How do we know if it’s only a small emotional charge?
By a small emotional charge, I mean something that isn’t so important, or loud in your memory. Since this is a new process you’ll be applying, it’s helpful not to start with the hardest task first. Selecting something that’s a bit easier, like learning to walk before trying to run, practicing on a memory of having supper with friends will probably be easier than starting with a family holiday dinner. I hope this clarifies that a bit.
3) Are there questions we can ask ourselves about this?
I’m thinking you mean questions to ask to test the amount of emotional charge in a certain memory?
You started to answer this when you said you’re “sometimes afraid of looking back because of the hurt I remember.” The memories with remembered hurts will have a strong charge.
For example: I can see in my mind the bad landing I made when my ankle twisted, my knee popped back and my ACL tore off the femur as I fell to the ground. I’ve worked on this one a bit because at first my whole body would shudder when I remembered this. Now, my eyes squint a bit, and I can feel my body tighten. My muscles draw in tighter around my bones. I and my body still have a “not easy” reaction to this memory but it’s not as dramatic as the full body shudder I got right after it happened.
If you start by scanning and noticing easiness somewhere in your body and then think about a memory, if the easiness stays the same it’s probably a memory without a super strong charge. If when you think about your memory, you forget about noticing easiness all together, that memory probably has a stronger charge.
Thank you. That all makes sense.