There were two incidents that lead me to write about forgetting. A few years ago, I read an essay by Robert Lynd called ‘On Forgetting’.
The essay was simple and brilliant. Lynd listed out the many things that humans are capable of forgetting, the gender differences in forgetfulness and the things that are memorable and easily forgotten. I loved the humour in this essay because it underscored all the oddities of forgetting.
The other interesting thing that happened, was when I read about Hades, God of the Underworld in Greek Mythology. Apart from the infamous river Styx that loops around the Greek underworld, there is another river that goes by the name ‘Lethe’. It’s a less-known, less mystical river which has gotten very little attention from Greek-myth fans. It is the river of forgetfulness. According to the legend, souls that drank from this river would be blessed with the eternal experience of amnesia. The drinker would enter a world of oblivion and would experience their next life without any recollections of their past deeds. The name comes from a Greek word ‘Aletheia‘ which means truth.
I realised while pondering about both the pieces on ‘forgetting’, that our inevitable trait of forgetting could in fact have been a gift from the Gods. Memory is considered to be a sign of intelligence, but I feel the opposite may be true : people who are capable of forgetting, are smarter. Forgetting, as a mechanism, is the ultimate healer for every pain. It is in fact, something that’s survived as a trait through evolution. Forgetting, is a power and like all other powers what matters is the way it is applied.
People who have the ability to move forward in life, are those who are gifted with a very dim recollection about sad things. Forgetting shouldn’t be treated as a blanket-statement: it shouldn’t shroud every aspect of our memory. We remember certain things specifically and forget others. It’s an art and it’s a precious art, so just because someone doesn’t remember something about you, doesn’t mean their memory isn’t precise. It just means they’ve moved on.
We have a great deal of pain in our past: incidents we like to dwell on and torture ourselves with. This kind of self-flagellation is often inbred and the very talent of remembering in vivid detail, becomes the weapon with which we inflict fresh wounds.
The more we re-visit sad incidents and the more we analyse and dig, the deeper the hole gets. We desperately try to find any angle that portrays us in a better light, believing that this kind of rationalising will resolve the issue, whereas not remembering at all would serve us much better. With a greater amount of contemplation, comes added layers of grief to the same memory. You have to understand no matter how we look at some things, no matter how much we change our attitude, some things remain bad no matter what.
Do not confuse forgetting with evasion, there’s a difference. You’re not trying to escape thinking about something just because it causes discomfort. It’s like this: the brain is a box. Granted a very complicated box, but an enclosed space nonetheless. If you try to dodge a certain thought from one corner it comes at you from another. There’s no point avoiding it, so escapism never works.
But, if you start filling the same space with other stuff; other priorities, other constructive things that are urgent and important, the sad things have no choice but to squeeze, squeeze, and squeeze until they’re no longer paying any rent and need to be evicted. This eviction process is simple and very subtle. You’ll realise that that memory is gone when one fine day you try to access it and you’ll see that the pain is no longer there. Yes, the experience stays, and it will guide you from then on because you have to use what you’ve learnt so far but the pain, however, has been eliminated from your brain-circuit.
Forgetting doesn’t have to be a spontaneous, uncontrollable process as it has been understood for so long. It can be a technique, something like the cognitive techniques therapists often use:
to sift through a net, find what is significant, lift it out, and let the other soggy stuff dissolve until it’s no longer substantial. In short, Forgetting, isn’t really mistreating your existing tenants, it’s about renting the apartment to new tenants.