Remembering and not forgetting can seem like the same thing. For me, they are different. Remembering requires effort and intent. You have to do something to ensure remembering happens. Forgetting is automatic; we forget with time in the absence of remembering.
Not forgetting, therefore, is hoping to remember. But Seneca defined hope as “an uncertain blessing”; so for everything important, not forgetting is a gamble I will lose. To prune that risk, I aim to always remember instead of to not forget.
My strategy for pulling this off was to build a lazy-man’s digital journaling habit, over time. I deposit stubborn thoughts into Google Calendar; then set arbitrary, recurring reminders. Groundbreaking, right? On second thought, my habit looks like a bad knock-off of Leo Tolstoy‘s “A Calendar of Wisdom“.
In any case, some reminders drop by daily, but most visit every few weeks, months or years. I don’t need to care about the schedule, which is why it works for me.
My entries tend to include:
- troublesome dreams, and real life observations;
- intriguing ideas, quotes and advice;
- breakthrough theories from incessant rumination and introspection;
- hurtful and traumatic events (yes, life is messy);
- and random magic, when I notice it ✨
This habit lets my entries find me — wherever and whenever I am — instead of forcing me to find them; which would not happen consistently in real life.
Every reminder is an invitation to reflect. An opportunity to mine old memories for new insights. Insights extracted, thanks to more experience, nuanced perspective, and broader context — gifts graciously bestowed, by that charitable benefactor called time. Each insight is a dot, reaching for connection to other dots. More reflection begets more insights, more dots, and more connections. Connections I use to map my psychological terrain, so I can navigate out of the cold, dark wilderness of confusion; into the cosy bosom of understanding — a nice place to be.
Equipped with understanding, I am empowered; to rewrite my made-up stories, with clarity, healing and compassion — for myself and others. New narratives, replace the old. Villains become heroes, and mysterious saboteurs are unveiled when I look in the mirror. Understanding gives me more control of what happens next, and guides me to the serenity of acceptance.
Notwithstanding the benefits of remembering, sometimes it’s good to forget. Remembering only good things would be a mistake. Remembering bad-for-you things, would be folly. The bad-for-you things keep us stuck, confused and traumatised for way too long; and catalyze difficult or impossible to repair injury to our psyche. The trick is to figure out which artefacts might be good to always remember; then welcome the sweet unburdening of forgetting the bad. Perhaps we should always remember, sometimes forget.
So, why write this love letter to remembering?
Because remembering is one gateway to transformation. Remembering kindles reflection; reflection sparks understanding; understanding ignites acceptance; and acceptance forges transformation.
This idea aligns beautifully with words a dear friend spoke to me, in conversation a few weeks ago:
We can’t be a supporting character in our own story. We have to be the protagonist.
This pure and cogent nugget of wisdom, landed with a resonant thud at the centre of my soul that night. I woke up contemplating — three sunrises later — how do I become the protagonist?
Becoming the protagonist has to be the human analogue, to a caterpillar metamorphosing into a butterfly. We forage the ingredients of transformation — insights, lessons, experience and perspective — carrying them on our trek out of the wilderness. We cocoon at the bosom, to rest and recover; then dissolve our former selves, combining with the foraged ingredients. We and they, become inseparable; solidifying into something new. We emerge rejuvenated, but also different from the organism we once were.
By the end of this transformation, from one version of ourselves to a startlingly different other, we gain new capacities. Suspiciously, we have wings; and miraculously, we can fly! A capability our former selves could never imagine — and why would we? There is nothing about the caterpillar we used to be, that suggests we might one day fly.
Suddenly, we are no longer marooned in the backyard garden that was our entire universe. With each flutter of our liberating new wings, our world expands. The horizon recedes, and more becomes possible — like starting with a blank slate. We finally see a world that was always there, but obscured; behind a veil and beyond the reach of our former selves. From our new in-flight perspective, caterpillar problems look like tempests in raindrops.
How things begin, is not how they end. Seven hundred and sixty-seven words ago, I thought always remembering was about holding on — to whatever was important to remember. I now realise that remembering is just the first step on a journey THROUGH transformation, TO letting go — of who we were, to become who we really are.
I am learning how to be. In the chaotic and messy middle of life, we are challenged to accept and confess: we are the authors; we choose the protagonists; we write the narratives; and we tell our stories.
Always remember, we have to fly.