Why Remembering is Not Enough

09/14/2011 02:24 pm ET | Updated Nov 14, 2011

We've all seen it. Even if we've turned away, part of being a citizen of the world comes with its requirements. The question is, just what is required if we are to move forward as a people? Is remembering disaster the whole answer?

I am reminded of a sign over the gate of one of the death camps from WWII. "There is art that makes us remember, and art that helps us forget." Whether you believe you are an "artist" or not is not the issue. You and I are each charged with being an "artist of life" -- that is, one who brings forward something new through our unique voice, skill sets, talents and natural way of expressing our experience. The challenge is to ask yourself this: Is the way you are living focused on forgetting or remembering? And, if it is remembering, is this sufficient? Might there not be something more beneficial for you, those you know and strangers you might come to know as friends?

What do you prefer? If truth be told, the fact is that I would far prefer to sit by the forest, reflect on the pond and simply be before I act, so that I do not add to my list of personal regrets. When I do, it is easier to recall the lessons the natural world teaches for guidance and perspective. I sense I am not alone.

And yet, we have lives to live "out there" in the hustle-bustle of the outer reality. Let's be honest. It is challenging to live with a foot in each world, inner and outer. Remembering who we really are beneath layers of self-doubt, confusion, anger, fear, anxiety and mistrust is not so easy when pushed to the brink by demands we don't know how to resolve.

Perhaps the two realities are not as mutually exclusive as it might appear. Just yesterday, courtesy of Kathianne Lewis, I was reminded of a factoid I heard long ago, a few slipped neurons back down the trail. Apparently, there is a particular form of evergreen, with cones that do not open under routine conditions. No, it is not until a significant forest fire ravages the area that things change. When the heat of the flames soars high enough, something amazing happens. Now inflamed, this "natural oven" coaxes the cones to open, thus seeding the forest floor for new generation of "tree children" growth. Hard-wired into nature is the back-up plan for new life.

What about us? What do we do when, metaphorically, the "kitchen gets too hot"? Do we open, or do we close off our capacity to "seed" new life? Do we focus on remembering to seed new life, or to dwell in the past and cultivate more disconnection and fear, using a limited perception for an excuse to quit? It is all too easy to be a quitter when the hard stuff comes, to have a pity party and complain that nothing can be done, or to fan the flames of resentment and apathy.
Just last week, while traveling along the Pacific Ocean coastline, we came across a number of forests that had been raped by loggers, as well as fires. When you see such a brutal massacre, man-made or otherwise, it can get you to thinking. What endures loss and tragedy? What promotes life? Do we have "cones" that open at times like these?

Right on the heels of this experience came the shrine, from here to Bejing, of remembering that fateful day back in 2001. Throughout the aired footage of twin towers wreckage and untold losses, (a mere death count never reveals the entirety of what is gone to the families), we are shown the price of intolerance, hate, indifference, mistrust. To the degree that we bear witness, we are reminded that when we break connection with our hearts, with one another, we all lose. And if we think, for a nanosecond, the weapon is one or two planes crashing into a set of towers, or another into a field, or the Pentagon, then we are sadly mistaken.

The real weapon of mass destruction is not what we believe. The greatest weapon takes root in the human mind. Invisible, at first, a metaphorical forest fire ignites our thinking, each spark lit with an unkind word, a thoughtless remark, a jealous jab, a neglected child, a need for display of inflated testosterone, the grab for the ring of power, with such mean-spiritedness that it takes its toll on countless human spirits. We use our voice to unite or inflame.

Eight Basic Requirements to Help Us Heal (When it Seems Impossible):

  1. Spend time in nature.
  2. Even if you only have two minutes, even if you live in the middle of the city, locate something living. Then, do the following: Find something natural on which to focus, and ask yourself what makes this form of life thrive?
  3. Take the hint. If the tiny wrens in the fountain require water to bathe, and while doing so, use the time to play, spend an extra moment in the shower/tub before retiring and refresh yourself. Splash around a bit. See if you don't feel better. I double-dog dare you!
  4. Indulge yourself. When tragedy fatigue sets in, stop whatever you are doing. Go to another locale (even if it is to step into another room, or outside) and breathe deeply for at least four deep breaths. Remember, you are alive this moment. Pause. Find gratitude for some little thing. Keep a list. Add to it each day. Reread it before you go to bed and upon arising. If you need a laughter refresher, Google something funny. Don't stop until you are laughing. Your immune system will thank you.
  5. Ask yourself who could use a "thank you" just for being them? Thank them. Make this a daily practice. When you master this, make it an hourly practice. Escalate as needed.
  6. Know that while time helps us heal, it is not enough. Ask yourself: Where are you stuck? Ask yourself: What might be your next step to get unstuck? If you can't figure it out, get some assistance.
  7. Acceptance of what you remember is simply not enough. You are here to create with purpose. What can you construct out of what's happened that forwards life? Where might you contribute out of your skills, talents, ideas? How might you advance life for those who are here no longer?
  8. Be the seed of new life, not only for those you have lost, but for those who remain who could use some encouragement. Volunteer your heart as needed. Get off your duff. We need you out here, even more!

Your turn. What has been helpful to you about "remembering" something that altered your life? What have you found to be helpful beyond remembering? Let me know your answers. I'm listening and learning from you, my teachers.

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