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Healing the Scars of Psychological Memory
By Martin LeFevre
Jul 25, 2022, 5:15pm

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'Trauma' is a word that seems to be on everyone's lips lately. What are people referring to, and why is there so much of it? Can we heal ourselves of trauma?

Colloquially, I think people are referring to the emotional damage from the accumulation of bad experiences, as opposed to the PTSD that soldiers and victims of war experience. Although given the number of mass shootings in America, and the panic a backfiring vehicle in a crowd of people sets off, the country itself has become a war zone.

Is trauma different from the despair many people are feeling about the human prospect, due to the woefully inadequate response to the climate crisis, or in the USA, to the seemingly unstoppable descent into authoritarianism?

Despair and depression are forms of trauma, though post-traumatic stress disorder and the trauma that people are reporting refer to injury to the heart and mind that's more widespread and less individualistic. To the extent trauma isn't just the word de jour, it refers to a lasting and pervasive emotional and mental damage.

What can the individual do to prevent or heal themselves from trauma?

There was the insight a couple days ago that psychological memory scars the brain. We have two kinds of memory, useful and functional, and useless and dysfunctional. Useless or dysfunctional memory affects our brains, causing suffering and delimiting the brain's capacity, gradually leading to cognitive decline and even dementia.

The scars of psychological memory are obvious with PTSD victims, but to a lesser extent, the destructive wounds of experience happen to all of us. Society and the world are, to one degree or another, causing extensive trauma.

Contrast the damaging nature of toxic, useless or unwanted memories with the overwhelmingly conventional view that our family and personal memories are what make us who we are. "Make new memories," advertisers continuously tell us. And AI automatically searches our I-phone photos, which pop up with "a new memory." It's a monumental con.

The material of thought is memory, and experiencing anew requires the quieting of thought, since non-stop memories, images and words prevent direct sensory and holistic perception.

For meditation to occur, knowledge has to be set aside, while passively, choicelessly attending to the stream of thought and emotion. When the brain (not the 'I') gathers sufficient attention, the mind spontaneously lets go of the known, the psychological dimension of thought. There is then fresh perception, renewal and healing.

Contrary to both Christian and Eastern traditions, the senses are the most important thing. Normally our sensations are immediately overtaken by thought, but it's not difficult to listen without naming the sounds that come to the ear, or watch without the choice of like or dislike. Naming and choosing are products of our conditioning, but if we're self-knowing and sensitively aware in the present, conditioning yields to non-reactive sensation.

Suffering is the outcome of the mental and emotional continuity of harmful and useless psychological memory. There is no suffering without psychological thought, and there is no thought without memory. When the senses are clear, acute and in harmony, suffering ends, at least as long as thought and emotion are still.

The human brain appears to have evolved to store nearly every experience as memory. Why that should be, when the vast majority of experiences aren't worth remembering, I don't know. But we humans are psychological creatures because of psychological memory, and until we learn how to distinguish necessary from unnecessary memories, and delete the unnecessary and painful memories, we will continue to the point of trauma.

The light, shadow and color at streamside were as intense as the heat at midday, and there was immediate sensory delight in being there.

Two women who had gotten off their horses stood in the waist-deep water upstream. Two boys, who had been there before them, were splashing around the horses, which seemed unperturbed as they drank and dunked their heads in the water. One of the women scolded the boys for bothering the horses, but they seemed unperturbed by her scolding.

Sitting in the shade, the body adjusted to the heat. The movement of thought yielded in passive awareness that grew into intense attention. There came the peace that passes all understanding, and the feeling of the sacredness beyond all knowledge and the known.


Martin LeFevre is a contemplative, and non-academic religious and political philosopher. He welcomes dialogue.

Published with permission of the author. All copyright remains with the author.

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