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letting go … forgetting … or?

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Letting go or forgetting? Or maybe none or both; that’s always the problem with looking at the world through polarity glasses. Thing is that I find myself again and again at a loss to remember details of past events. Not just major chunks (what did I do in my 30s and 40s, for instance), but also more recent ones such as what happened a year ago and what I said to “X” just a couple of months ago.

In his near-death memoir, labouriously dictated from within his locked-in body, Jean-Dominique Bauby writes:

I am fading away. Slowly but surely. Like the sailor who watches the home shore gradually disappear, I watch my past recede. My old life still burns within me, but more and more of it is reduced to the ashes of memory.

It could be that the receding of my past is a result of twelve years of Zen practice with its emphasis of awakening to the present, of seeing the past as history and the future as mystery, of not clinging to what is no more. Another explanation may well be that I’ve spent so much effort in sorting out the past — including a doctoral dissertation on autobiographical learning — that I’m simply done with the past, that details don’t matter as much as broad themes and essential insights. Alex Nelson describes a process in which a person

develops a sense of personal autonomy and authority over their life. This awareness accompanies a critical review of how their values, feelings, ideas and imagination have given shape to their life.

It’s also conceivable and probable that I’m simply “loosing it” as my body ages and the brain’s slowing down. Or …?

sources: Bauby, J-D. (1997). The diving bell and the butterfly: a memoir of life in death. New York: Vintage, p. 77. Nelson, A. (1994). Researching adult transformation as autobiography. International Journal of Lifelong Education, 13(5). 389-403. image:


7 responses »

  1. “done with the past” is most appealing – what liberation!

    • Not as easy at you make it sounds, nancy. but so it is with all matters “liberating.” Each carries a certain loneliness. The one liberated leaves the heard and has to chart his/her own course on unfamiliar terrain.

      • yes indeed, the intrepid explorer, standing on the threshold of the next moment of life not knowing what lies ahead. a moment whcih requires courage to fully embrace. step or stay. it is not easy to take the first step…(thanks to David Whyte and John O’Donohue for inspiration to take me to the edge of my life).

  2. hi peter
    whatever explanation there is for your memory losses, im sure that it presents teachable moments to those close to you….

  3. I like how peaceful and reflective you are about it. So many people berate themselves for forgetting. May you forget the unimportant and remember the essence.

  4. “What is past is not dead; it is not even past. We cut ourselves off from it; we pretend to be strangers.”
    Christa Wolf: “A Model childhood”

    (The first sentence is an acknowledged borrowing from Faulkner’s “Requiem for a Nun”: “The past is never dead. It’s not even past”.)


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