The Freedom to Forget
Again, a post of Keith‘s got me thinking. As I mention in a comment on his post, maybe we need to feel free to forget.
As he discusses in a section of his excellent post on materialism, travel has a collecting side to it. We buy trinkets, take pictures, tell stories, write blogs and collect memories. I see this as almost a sense of desperation in trying to keep the reality of the travel experience alive. If we can remember it, then it really happened and it wasn’t a waste. If we can prove to others or create a document, then our decisions and lives are somehow more justified. This idea got me thinking, do we try to remember too much? Is there a freedom in forgetting as well?
“If a traveler goes somewhere and no one is there to document it, did he really go there?”
An odd manipulation of the age old philosophical question of falling trees. In the modern age of travel and media, do we need to justify what we have been doing with our time? There appears to be a drive to be recognized for our travel. Posting pictures is just one aspect. I love the attention when I tell stories of the travels that I have done and especially when I talk about coming to Germany on a boat. The unusualness of it is attracting to others and my ego glows at that attention. When I notice this effect in myself, the first thought goes to “why am I trying to travel for an audience?” Do I need a house full of trinkets with well known destinations on them to labeled a traveler? Do I need validation from someone else telling me how cool my travels were before I realize it myself?
The cliche here is that of course not, you should be able to justify your own decisions and life within yourself, and that no one else should be able to tell you otherwise. Haha, if it were so simple. I tend to agree with the cliche line, but easy is it not. Maybe the stories and trinkets are more there for me than for others. I’m ok with this to an extent, if I learned a lesson on a trip, I want to be able to remember it if I forget that lesson. So yes, even if I don’t have pictures and I was someplace totally by myself, I did go there and it did affect me.
Clinging to the Past
Everyone makes decisions, this is the basic nature of humanity. We are decision machines. Most decisions are made out of habit, which is the accumulated experience of the decisions past. When we continue to act out of habit even when we would rather not, then unsettled feelings come in. Sometime decisions are tiny pitched battles between the habit and the desire. Striking out in a new direction and leaving the well trodden path can bring some great rewards. Look at your own goals (you do know what you want right?) and move toward them.
I studied in Vienna many years ago. It was a great time in my life, even though I made some mistakes and learned some lessons on that trip. When I was back in Vienna this past spring, I spent nearly a full afternoon searching for the place where I stayed. I essentially went looking for the memories of the good times. I never did find the place, and ended up feeling a bit disappointed about that. I like going back to places I have been, especially if there are friends there. But that afternoon in Vienna reminded me to keep memories in the past and try to build new good experiences based on their lessons, not necessarily resurrect them.
Forget the lessons you vaguely remember, especially if you can’t explain why they are important. My therapist tells me if you can’t remember who said something or point at an incident that taught you something, then it is likely not even a decision you made; but something coming from outside. Take a look at those feelings and decide based on your own moral compass and feelings.
I get stuck sometimes. Especially with my bigger fears, the past affects me greatly. I am afraid to fly, because I have been for a long time based on a single incident long ago. Even in decisions where to travel, I will usually pick things that I am familiar with. These are definitely things that I made decisions based on, not society rules or external constraints. But you know what, as I grow and change I want certain things out of my personal story too. I want to forget that I am afraid of certain things. I want to move on past these fears into the joys that come beyond them.
Leave Memories in the Past
The present is the most important part of life. Memories help shape the decisions we make, but should not dictate them totally. Some of the lessons I have learned, I would rather not have learned and attempt to learn other lessons to overwrite them. The control we have over our own story should means we do not need to justify our own decisions to other people. I’ll pull out a line that came into my head one afternoon and leave it at that.
“Often when we cling so hard to something to keep from falling, that becomes the anchor that later prevents us from flying.”
Do you feel free to forget things? Are memories a burden or a support network (or both)? Feel free to comment on my esoteric rambling.
- Keith’s Post on Travel and Materialism
August 23, 2010 @ 5:54 am
Aww ok. Yeah, I read your latest and liked it as well.
August 22, 2010 @ 3:28 pm
I think a direct follow-up will have to wait. My latest post touches on the idea peripherally.
August 22, 2010 @ 12:13 pm
You are always inspiring, no worries on that account.
I remember a poem from Emily Dickinson that I had to read in college. She talked about self-inflicting pain just to feel alive. I wonder if what you talk about the emotions is like that. Our sense of “self” doesn’t seem to like the idea of losing bits; so we attempt to hold onto everything. By rehitting those emotional pathways in the brain they stay there.
Thanks for the insight and I look forward as well to a follow up to the original article that you mentioned. Still in the works?
August 21, 2010 @ 1:17 am
Andrew, I really liked this. I think there is a fear of forgetting something that made an impact an you. I think this fear is born out of sentimentality, out of ourselves desperately seeking to feel emotions since, for many, it’s how we feel most human.
Great post and I’m glad I was able to help inspire.
August 18, 2010 @ 9:38 pm
Agreed, but who has no regrets in their past? I personally have let my past control me overly, which is where I get to say; ok those past learned lessons I don’t want anymore, so I’m moving on.
August 18, 2010 @ 9:37 pm
Thanks, that quote just appeared in my head one day. It seems quite to describe where I feel some days.
August 18, 2010 @ 6:04 am
An interesting topic. I think that this is a case where balance really has to come into play. I think it’s important to be able to look back on the past — the good and the bad — and cultivate memories and learn lessons. But, at the same time, I think it’s equally important to move on and be in the present, looking into the future, as well. I don’t like to dwell on things to much; I’m not a dweller. But, if something really good has happened in my past, I do like to remember it. (Hence my huge photo collection and travel blog.) I guess I’m both a collector of memories, but also a person who’s constantly planning the next, new adventure.
August 17, 2010 @ 6:31 am
I love the quote you finished with. Perfect. Your past needs to stay exactly there- in the past. I think you have to take what you learned from the experience and then let it go with gratitude, and just live each moment in appreciation for what it is offering you now.
August 16, 2010 @ 5:34 pm
I believe that even bad decisions can lead to new adventures and outcomes, and even if the only outcome is a learning point that helps us make better future decisions, it is still worth remembering to avoid repeating an error. The risk of course is to shy away from new experiences as a result of past memories. Everything we have ever done has led us up to the current point in our lives, and if you are happy with your current point, then there is no reason to regret the past.