Let’s talk about our biographies. Everything is memory or rather memories. The biography is not only the images that I remember, but also what is engraved in my body, in my emotions, the intangibles, the values of the time, the priorities, the interpretations that were made of the events, and so on. There are countless things engraved in our memory that form part of our biography. See the article: Memory, a double-edged blade.

By Jordi Jiménez

It seems to all of us that what we remember about our lives is more or less what happened because we were there in the first person, we experienced it directly, we were not told about it. Well, we have some bad news: in many cases our memories “trick” us. It is as difficult to guess the past as it is to guess the future.

Let’s take it one step at a time. First, when we are children, we see only a small part of what is going on around us. A 10-year-old child, for example, is interested in his games, his friends, and the typical things of his age, so he does not ‘see’ an infinite number of things that happen in his own house, between his parents or with his brother if he has one. It is as if his attentional horizon is narrower and his perception does not extend beyond himself. Moreover, what he perceives is filtered through his child’s perspective, which is not only smaller, but also lacks the cognitive capacities to understand and place aspects that he can perceive, but which he will not be able to connect with his mental content. And this is the unfortunate state in which we record our tender biographical memories.

Of course, there are always events that are burned into our memory and that we recall in detail and with great vividness for years or forever. But these are usually special situations, of great significance to us, which made us feel something special and profound, or perhaps brought about great changes in our lives.

But apart from these special memories, most of our past is dubious, even if we find it hard to accept. On the one hand, we have the conditions under which the memories were recorded: limited attention and cognitive capacity to record all the relevant details of situations. On the other hand, we have subsequent experiences that modify these memories, interfere with them, and mix them up in different ways. And this does not only happen in childhood. In adulthood, our memories are also transformed as new experiences “interfere” with them. Let’s take an example.

I love her (or him, as the case may be) unconditionally, madly, she is a very special person, she is “the” person, the only one in the world, my better half with whom I will share my life. Nothing can stop us because we are an invincible team and our love is above everything. She (or he) is that being of light that complements me, is pure magic in movement, is the flight of life towards the infinite.

She (or he) is gone. After the difficulties that have piled up day by day, we have made great efforts to overcome our differences, but it has not been possible. Maybe it is for the best, maybe life has put us on the learning path and become better, but now the time has come for us to go our own way, each one of us.

A few years have passed and I have met someone else. Now I know it was a good decision to leave that relationship. The truth is that it was a bit suffocating, even a bit possessive. There were good times and it was an interesting experience, a necessary learning experience for future relationships. But that’s over now, I’ve met… Yes, yes, yes.

Yes, yes, we have to admit that many people have had similar experiences. What seemed to be a great hope ended up being a failure, and as time went by, the memories were not the same as they were at the time. The memory is modified by my present situation, and by my present feelings, which are the result of the experiences accumulated since then. It is the now that changes yesterday, sometimes subtly, sometimes obviously. This can also be seen when one has been writing a kind of diary of experiences for several years. As time goes by, when I look back at those notes, I find that they seem distant, perhaps naive as if they were written by someone else, someone I recognize in me, in my past, and that it is “me”, but a different me. The man we call me. “Look at what he wrote back then…” I say to myself with a condescending smile.

So, it is quite inevitable that the experience lived and accumulated after certain events will make me see those events of my past in a different way from how I lived them at the time, with very few exceptions. The internal time of consciousness is different from the external, linear time of the clock. The internal times are completely intertwined: the present affects the past, the future affects the present, and the past affects the future and the present. There is almost nothing in our memory that is like a video or audio recording that remains still, fixed, and unchanged for years. Our consciousness is dynamic and constantly changing, and this includes what we have lived.

But this apparent disadvantage is also good news. The mobility of our past mental content allows us to do something very important: to transcend that past. It is precisely this dynamic of consciousness that shapes our memories according to our accumulated experience that allows us to reconcile with our past, to understand it differently, and to integrate and connect what was not understood. In short, we can break the chains of what is still holding me back today and make it difficult for me to move forward.

We approached the previous example of the broken love relationship from the point of view of the unreliability of memory, making a bit of fun of memory for its lack of fixity. But we can also look at it from this new perspective. It is this lack of fixity that allows the person to overcome the rupture, to understand the past relationship from a new point of view, and this is precisely what facilitates the emergence of a new relationship. If this past relationship was well understood, future relationships will take this learning into account. And for this, there is nothing better than a good biographical study as described in Luis Ammann’s work Self-Liberation.

So, it is not so much the unreliability of memories that is important, but the fact that it is this unreliability that allows us to overcome our past, to reconcile ourselves with our mistakes or with what they have done to us. What to do with those who have hurt us, to integrate the contents and to be free of the burdens of the past to move forward into the future cleanly and consciously.