From the Junk Drawers of Our Memory...

In her book, Leaving Resurrection, Eva Saulitis writes about her work in the waters of Alaska, searching for and studying killer whales. We were lucky enough, on a trip kayaking in the glacial flow off Ailik Bay, to encounter these mystical visitors from the deep, a serene pod of four killer whales. I tell you from experience, they can be very elusive. One minute they’re here, then they dive and sound, coming up way, way over there. The next minute they are gone, not even a whistle or click on our hydrophone lowered into the water.

Saulitis writes similarly about memory and thought. She describes thoughts and images like photographs that resurface or haunt us as if from the junk drawers of our memory.

Many of us go about the events, tasks, errands, work, and diversions of our day without really noticing the random thoughts that dot our screens, like static on a monitor in a seemingly random pattern throughout our day. We get these images, snippets of memories, snapshots of places we’ve been, the faces of people we’ve loved, or quiet images, the park bench here, the tablecloth there, the window then. Sometimes we try to recapture them to contemplate alone or share with someone later. But, like the orcas in Alaska, the visiting memories have gone to the deeper recesses of our minds and we have to wait until they resurface some other day, if they come again at all.

Some memories are touchstones that remind us where we come from, how much and how deeply we’ve loved, what used to be important or still is. Some make no sense at all and don’t seem to mean a thing. “What made me remember that?” we may wonder, curious about what triggered that funny, passionate, or completely “charge-less” memory. What if we stop to notice and attend to them? Do you think, if we connect the dots, there might be a picture, a theme, an added purpose, dimension, or path of discovery flowing through our day-to-day lives? Could these be gifts from our subconscious for waking us up or calming us down?

Every few years or so we clean out that junk drawer in the hallway. I could be wrong, but it seems to me it would be beneficial from time to time to explore the things that have poked out from the drawer. Sometimes it’s fun to open it up and enjoy the quirky odds and ends we’ve collected there, first kisses, times we laughed so much we cried, the parade of characters in our lives. Some feelings need to be honored, given a place more special than a junk drawer we hardly notice, often forgetting it’s there.

Arlington, D.M. Solis, Copyright 2011

Journaling is a great tool for this. Another technique involves a few supplies for creating collages, whether from family photos or pictures taken from magazines. This is a useful way to visually capture the thoughts that stem from our experiences. Talking about the collages with someone else is an added way to honor them. And posting the collage somewhere in our home, whether a quiet corner or right out in the living room, takes these thoughts from the junk drawer to a place of greater awareness or importance in our lives.

 Arlington, D.M. Solis, Copyright 2011

Some pictures just need to be filed away, to address later. And some need to be tossed altogether.  One exercise Saulitis did with a couple of her traveling companions, was to write on scraps of paper the things they wished to leave behind. They even had a ceremony where they burned the scraps in preparation for a new phase of their journey. Over the years I’ve facilitated a number of similar ceremonies, reflections, or prayer services for my students, from formal “healing of memories” to college-rejection-notice-burning-parties, to retreats culminating in turning the page (and closing the book) on painful relationships, and other symbolic gestures to represent letting go of old fears or regrets that are preventing our growth in some way, keeping us from moving on.

Music can connect us to special times in our lives. Music can also bring hurtful memories to the fore. A popular retreat activity has been a CD swapping party where participants share in small groups a song or two from a CD that brings memories they’re ready to let go of, then the small groups gather in a large one, and everyone trades from several CDs they’ve brought along. On a broader scale whole groups or even schools can participate and use this as a fund raiser, contributing and selling CDs for a dollar or two. Finally, individuals can always just box up their own CDs and donate them so they’ll have a recycled use where someone else can enjoy them. 

But don’t forget to go and get yourself some new tunes, whether energizing, mystical, enjoyable, or relaxing…sounds for the next part of your voyage and your next encounter with new or ancient visitors from the deep.

 (Except where noted the images in this post are in the public domain. The orca images are government photos--I couldn't find an author. If you click on the others, I used the names of the photographers in saving the files, so you should see them. If any questions, let me know.)