Memory Triggers

When I return to places I’ve been before or repeat unique activities it often triggers certain strong memories of the past. When I go swimming I remember cliff jumping with my friends in Hawaii. When I visit my brother at the beach in Connecticut we reminisce about the wonderful parties we’ve had there. When I went out to a bar last night it reminded me of some of the great adventures I’d had there. If I have a simple disagreement with a family member it can bring to the surface some major unresolved conflict.

When living my life in the world I’m constantly triggering memories from the past which can make it difficult to stay in the present because I start comparing things. “This is so much better than that time when… I can’t believe he did that back when we… Life was so much better when…” Everything can become a comparison when I’m out of my comfort zone trying new things and that can make my meditation practice a little bit more difficult.

Another challenge is that these memories can be attached to a certain behavior. Going to a bar makes me feel like drinking. Hanging out with old friends drives me to revisit past negative behaviors. Interacting with people who have hurt me in the past causes me to indulge past grudges. It can be tempting to avoid these activities because it’s easier to be the “new Ryan” if I do, but is that really healthy for my practice or is it just cultivating the sleeping volcanoes inside of me.

One strong truth is that all of these triggers manifest with me and are not the fault of the triggers (people, places, and activities from the past). This leads me to believe that it’s better to face these triggers and observe the sensations that arise objectively. I don’t want to overwhelm myself my facing too many triggers at once. If I lose the balance of my mind than all bets are off but if I can face these challenges one by one it helps me live life more fully rather than hiding from it.

I went to a bar called “The Spotted Dog” last night and one of my fond memories there was drinking their assortment of beers that had dog names. It felt silly and fun to remember drinking “Puppy Chow” and “Dogfish Ale.” I don’t think it’s bad to remember that. My practice helped me acknowledge this with my dinner partner and then move on. Observing these sensations come up and choosing not to act on them is exactly why I practice equanimity two hours a day through meditation. The practice is meant to help me live not lead me to hide. Each time I successfully navigate a situation like this it gives me more confidence to go out and live the adventure alongside my meditation practice. I excited and optimistic about my future in this tradition.

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