I’ve written about adventures in implicit memory a while ago.
Apparently, there’s a type of memory in which everything is simultaneous – or, at least, whenever something is recalled, it feels just as if it were present.
In neuroscience and psychology, the standard terms are explicit vs. implicit memory, where the former is verbal-based and starts … I don’t remember when, but a couple of years after birth. My understanding of it is that this is the story-telling, sequential memory: we are able to say, this year X happened, later Y happened, and then Z happened. All are over now. We don’t have to relive the events as we narrate them – we may just see a few outlines, or even recall facts with very little emotional or sensory accompaniment.
Implicit memory is different; it spans many things, but for one, it holds skills – how to ride a bike; how to play the guitar. For another, it holds feeling-skills – or “ice-cubes” or “bubbles” or “nests” of interoceptive, emotional and sensory experiences, all intertwined, and recalling those equals making them present, to some degree. This is like recalling a smell – the recall is a partial re-experiencing of it; recalling a dance move we learnt – isn’t it hard to do without the body preparing to move or maybe even moving a bit?
This is mostly body-memory.
(Again, my understanding, there’s probably more to it.)
Now many things are actually like smells. States of being, moments – imprints of how our total bodymind was configured at some point in time.
There’s this fun thing called state-dependent memory – if we slip into a mood, it becomes easier to recall facts we learnt when in that mood (and I would bet it also becomes far, far easier to recall all the states of beings, smells, atmospheres, sunsets down some misty road that we felt and experienced while a relative of that mood was present). This goes for context in general – I think the original experiments were making people rote-memorise and then recall vocabulary words on land and under water. I relive this every year as the seasons change, for some reason – as soon as the weather changes poignantly, starts to express the next micro-season, I’m flooded with what I was doing, where I was, how I was feeling at that time last year – it’s almost like I get transported back.
If I’m transported far back, I can also feel like a younger self – that memory functions from birth, and before (in utero; no definitive views on reincarnation here :).
Over time, for some weird reasons, I’ve become more proficient at somewhat deliberately “journeying” in this implicit memory. It’s a useful self-management tool – it’s useful, for example, to be able to recall – physically, in the felt sense, with all sensory details – times of safety and comfort.
Not all my “journeys” are voluntary – in fact, as far as I know, most of us spend a lot of time journeying and not even noticing it, whenever something in our current (outer or inner) environment is similar enough to a past state, and that past state for some reason feels a pressure to be evoked. This is a typical case with traumatic memories, but as far as I can tell any memory that somehow hasn’t been fully “cooked” can pop up and without realising, we’re in that same aquarium, swimming in that same water, and in part responding as if we were … then.
Now I can write a lot of general and philosophical blah-blah about this; for example, you could argue that we’re kind of almost always swimming in our body memories. The world we see subjectively is made up of implicit memories, of the echoes of previous feeling and being states that remain present (we have to build on something). Etc. etc.
It also makes me think of the concept of “Citta”, from years ago when I was trying to understand some Indian philosophy, and there was this part of the mind that supposedly holds all memories and experiences. It was a bit like the subconscious, but also a bit different, without all the sinister Freudian instinctual connotations, more like a total knowledge depository.
I remember now one reason why I’ve learnt to “surf” it somewhat – not just because that process is fairly fascinating (though I’d say you need to strap your seat belt on), but because it can be useful and/or perhaps even required in healing.
Various “shamanic” healing techniques that ask you to “go back in time” and kind of “fix the past” with your imagination (perhaps with the help of the “trip guide”) do more or less that, I think. A range modern trauma therapies do the same, by evoking lived memories that need healing – and while the knot of experience becomes present again, there’s a window of opportunity to be co-present with it, and in a sense, change the past – change the feeling tone of that implicit memory somewhat.
(Listening to some lecture series by Bonnie Badenoch, on embodiment-style neuroscience and trauma healing, made me think about all this, and some of the points are from there – though I know for pretty sure that some of the neuroscience she cites is outdated and/or cliche, she clearly has experience as a therapist, and compassion.)
Now I’ve had a tendency over the years to be “knocked out” into involuntary “trips” from time to time. Over time, I’ve learnt to navigate that territory somewhat, even though I had no clue what it was – sometimes it seemed a bit like places shamans or people on psychedelics go. Over time I also figured out that sometimes I get thrown in there because there are some lost soul-parts somewhere, floating. At least, sometimes when I get hold of them, I am released onto dry land.
Now, for all these years I’ve been wishing and hoping, to some degree looking for a “trip guide” – someone who could help navigate that territory between sensory body-memories and body-imaginations, understand these processes, and even if not, provide a safety net the way folks do for friends who take psychedelics … in fact, the reason that these trips sometimes happen to me is a major reason why I’ve stayed away from psychedelics – I felt I don’t need more of those. I need someone who understands them, can help navigate them, and can help provide a safety net (one of my fears, apart from the fear of dying, was always “getting stuck there” – in the otherworld, in some state of mind in which I do not wish to dwell eternally).
I was thinking about this today because, while I’ve avoided therapists based on the experience that in my case personally it seems safer and more cost-effective to pull myself out by other means (such as finding good friends and basically learning a lot of psychophysical navigation skills myself, from books, from experience, since I didn’t find anyone who could teach me properly), I’ve had one chasing me down offering trial sessions, which for a change didn’t seem useless – I reflected on why not, and I realised: among other reasons, because she’s acting as a trip guide – maybe not a guide as I’m not sure how much of the territory she shares, but some kind of follower-with-a-safety-net.
Basically, someone in whose presence I can dive in to my shamanic soul retrieval trips (I’m using this as a metaphor, I don’t claim any New Age or old age shamanic expertise, although I think a lot of the stuff is very equivalent) and the person is there as a witness for me to leave a word trace, and sometimes to steer the direction away from cliffs and towards potentially significant details. Asks questions to clarify the map.
I was quite pleased with that.
At some point I wondered whether this kind of “trip guiding” or “accompaniment into the netherworlds” exists as a profession – if there are folks that I could just ask to “walk with me”, me doing my own stuff that my soul for some reason thinks is necessary, but with some additional safety and supervision (as far as this is possible).
I also thought that at this stage I could probably do part of it for others.
I have vivid memories of a friend doing this for me once or twice – kind of incidentally, and the healing effect it had. As far as I can tell, one of the episodes fixed a major issue (hand eczema and hand-related visions, which I didn’t realise were connected before then) forever … or at least until 3 years later, as I write this.
I haven’t really been able to request it, because on the one hand I couldn’t express it – what actually had happened – on the other hand, I think really not everyone can do it … or maybe anyone can, but not unprepared. And few people are prepared.
I’ve sometimes let this loose on new acquaintances, friends, partners – folks get confused, scared, have no clue what to do. The friend who did it for me had extensive – though informal – experience in similar matters herself; she basically half lives “over there”, as I think of it.
Now, I keep thinking – still no full, detailed certainty on what this is, but I think a good part of it is surfing in implicit memory. I don’t remember if the Sanskrit “Citta” was personal or impersonal – I wonder if additional, impersonal elements come in, kind of like from Jung’s collective unconscious (and again, heck, what is that?).
Then there’s the tendency of felt, kinaesthetic or interoceptive or emotional implicit memory bundles to just free their artistic hand and evoke associated images, perhaps colours, impressions, sounds – maybe just to express themselves better, more brilliantly and effectively.
Makes me think of Gabor Mate’s interpretation of Ayahuasca trips, in some interview. I think that’s how he understood both what happens, and why it can be healing.
I’ve been invited to trips like that, sometimes fairly enthusiastically, but as said, it seems that my boat is journeying already without that – and with what I know about my personal wave-surfs of implicit memory, the bigger problem (than evoking it) is having a safe and healing environment to deal with what is seen, and to know what to do when things become present (or when you travel in time). From my own experience, I would say this second part is absolutely required for this kind of travel to be useful (and not destabilising). I do think it’s harder to come by.
And I still don’t know what the correct name for “it” is – I don’t think it’s therapy, because (most definitely) not every therapy does this. I don’t know if every shaman does this (I don’t think I’ve seen a real one). I’d like to have a name for folks who know how to do it.