Processing the Present Moment Part (II)
We have been exploring the present moment and said that the present moment has three phases— creating, experiencing, and processing. We described creating the present moment in our February Letter[i] and experiencing the present moment in the March Letter[ii]. Last month (April[iii]) we defined processing and considered working with feelings and interpreting for meaning as components of processing. This month we will explore the other components of processing: interpreting for understanding, creating memories, and generating desires and add a few thoughts about taking action.
INTERPRETING FOR UNDERSTANDING
We said that interpreting is working with our experiences to create or become aware of something that is not an obvious part of the experience. We said that an experience occurs in a brief moment of time, the “now moment,” and is composed of the perceptions of our five senses and our feelings. We explored interpreting by giving or discovering the meaning of an experience. Let’s now consider interpreting for understanding.
We seek to understand our experiences in order to understand how we and our world work—how cause and effect operates. “This causes that.” For example, falling when I run causes pain. Yelling at my sibling causes me to get yelled at. Telling my friend they he/she is a jerk causes them to get angry at me. Determining cause and effect is a lifelong endeavor. By determining cause and effect we can avoid pain, increase pleasure, and get our needs met. Toward the end of our lifetime we want to be full of wisdom—the knowledge of what works and what does not work to get us what we want.
Understanding the experience of a now moment is accomplished by using “interrogatives,” asking the questions: who, whom, what, when, where, why, and how. Who, whom, what, when, and where set the stage and delineate the circumstances: who did what to whom, where and when. How something happened helps us understand cause and effect. Why helps us understand motivation, our own and another person’s.
For example, I had a disturbing experience. Let’s first understand then interpret for meaning. Last Monday (when) I (who) went to an informal professional gathering (where). I was talking to a colleague (who). We were enjoying a pleasant conversation (what). I said something (what). That person abruptly ended the conversation and walked away (what). I felt surprised and anxious not knowing what I did to cause that person to end our conversation.
Meaning: I can mistakenly say something that upsets another person and has potentially negative consequences. I will now search for specific behaviors that I might engage in (how) and ask if I have any underlying motivations (why) that might become active in these kinds of situations.
We routinely go through this kind of process. It is part of living and mastering life. However, let’s recognize that some processing can take a long time if we are dealing with complex issues, hidden meanings, confusing motivations, and aspects of our self that we are blind to.
Point of Empowerment: A lifetime of interpreting our experiences for meaning and understanding leads to the wisdom that rewards us with the invaluable ability to fulfil our desires, to get what we want from life.
MEMORY: CREATING, AND WORKING WITH
Every experience of the now moment generates a memory. Memories are created almost instantly as we experience the events of our life. Significant experiences generate significant memories. Insignificant experiences are hardly noticeable, but still generate memories. Events also have a context—the very complex larger picture of our life as a whole at a now moment in time. A memory contains all the components that we have been discussing: our perceptions, feelings, and interpretations for meaning and understanding, along with the context. All of this is encoded into a memory. (Experiments were conducted where parts of the brain were electrically stimulated causing a person to report many details of a forgotten memory.)
Memories are containers and have boundaries. Like cups and glasses, they hold the contents of a memory but are open at the top for new additions and subtractions. We add to and subtract from memories all the time. Memories have meanings that we can reinterpret anytime we want.
WORKING WITH MEMORY
Memories naturally become less detailed (fade) unless we “remember” them—replay them in our mind. Someone who says, “I remember the day you insulted me. I will never forget it,” needs to question his or her motivation, find their “ulterior motive,” for holding onto that memory. Perhaps he/she is a “grudge keeper” who wants justification for blaming the other person in order to avoid taking responsibility for his/her behavior.
Memories accumulate and associate according to similarities of experience and meaning. This creates firm, sometimes rigid belief systems that often need modification. Memories can be “another experience of the same old thing,” thus reinforcing beliefs. (All the times I was bullied has taught me that the world is a dangerous place, for example.) Alternatively memories can be “of something new.” These memories suggest that we make a revision to our belief system, a small, medium, or large revision. (I remember the time when I defended myself against that intimidating person. So, even though the world can be dangerous, I am powerful enough to keep myself safe.)
Memories contain a recording of feelings. We call this the “emotional charge” of a memory. Memories with intense positive (pleasurable) and intense negative (painful) feelings have great impact and can influence us for the rest of our lives. We try to repeat pleasurable experiences and avoid repeating painful ones. Painful memories seek healing—removing the negative emotional charge of a memory. If we don’t process painful memories we will repeat the circumstances of the experience until we heal the pain. Also, we need to consciously process painful experiences to remove the emotional charge so that we do not have steadily accumulating painful memories which disturb our sense of well-being and our positive feelings about life.
Removing the negative emotional charge of a memory is done by using our understanding of experiences to reinterpret their meaning. For example: My boss yelled at me. Instead of saying that I am inadequate as an employee (and possibly as a person), I can understand that people take out their frustrations on others. Since my work performance is pretty good, I can now say that his behavior means that he is taking out his frustrations with his family on me and not that I am an inadequate worker.
Point Of Empowerment: Removing the negative emotional charge from a memory is important because if we allow these memories to accumulate we may begin to feel that life is “not worth much” and could feel depressed.
Practice: Process negative feelings shortly after an experience to remove the negative charge by feeling the feelings and accepting and making peace with the pain of an experience. Work with understanding and meaning.
GENERATING DESIRES FOR THE FUTURE
We have said that our desires, influenced by belief and expectation, create our future.[iv] We say, “I never want that to happen again.” Or, “I want to experience that again.” These are common phrases that we use that create desire from experience and project it into the future. Our wanting is desire. Our experiences automatically and naturally create wanting or not wanting, whether or not we are aware of this creation. Therefore, as our experiences create desire, they create our future.
Experiences teaches us what we want and what we don’t want by the way they feel. We are biologically hardwired to seek pleasure and avoid pain. We therefore automatically desire to repeat pleasurable experiences and avoid painful ones. Paradoxically, the more painful experiences we have the more we know about what we don’t want. Knowing what you don’t want implies knowing what you do want, but we have to make the conscious choice to go from what we don’t want to what we do want. We can become clear and aware of our desire.
Memories of our experiences create desires for the future. We say, “I remember when that happened and I don’t want to repeat that experience again.” Or, “I remember when that happened and I do want to repeat that experience again.” These statements about memories are the ones that generate our desires for the future.
As we interpret our experiences we classify them into two categories, the good/pleasurable ones to repeat or bad/painful ones to avoid. Simply put pleasure means “good” and pain means “bad.” Yet we may behave in strange ways as we sometimes seek pain and avoid pleasure. Why? We need to understand that there are actually many deep reasons for this. For now let’s just be aware that we can seem to go against our biological programing and challenge ourselves to stop when find ourselves seeking pain and avoiding pleasure.
Practice: Process, process, process and use awareness to intentionally choose your desires. State, “I now choose . . ., a desire that will create my future.”
INITIATING CHANGE, TAKING ACTION
As the result of processing our experiences we become clear about what we desire—what we want and what we don’t want. We may have discovered that we need to or want to change something. Do we need to change our thinking, beliefs, attitudes, or our approach to something? Do we want to create new circumstances in our life? We take action to initiate change so that we do not miss opportunities for pleasurable experiences and repeat painful ones. Initiating change by taking action is not technically part of processing but is a natural result of processing. Use your understanding of cause and effect to show you what actions to take. Identify an effect (what you desire) and take action to put a new cause into motion. It has been said that nothing changes until you do. We change by making new choices and by following through by taking action.
This month we have explored ideas that take us further into processing our experiences of our now moments. We considered interpreting for understanding, working with memory, creating our future with desire, and initiating change. These tools enable us to create the rich and fulfilling life we seek. Next month we will conclude these series by learning how to use what we call the Challenge For Your Growth as a tool to simplify the processing of your present moments.
i February Letter https://iifsd.org/library/newsletters/february-2019-letter/
ii March Letter https://iifsd.org/library/newsletters/march-2019-letter/
iii April Letter https://iifsd.org/library/newsletters/april-2019-letter/
iv January Letter https://iifsd.org/library/newsletters/january-2019-letter/