My Memory Ain’t What It Used to Be

I count on and trust my senses and my memory. After experiencing several optical, auditory, and kinesthetic illusions, I’m not quite as certain about my senses as I once was. So, if I’m dedicating illusions to memory and then trusting those memories today, wouldn’t that present a distorted view? Why do I trust them so much? Doesn’t make much sense.

“People tend to place greater faith in the accuracy, completeness and vividness of their memories than they probably should.” (Simons1)

Ya think so? As I’ve managed to survive into my sixties, I appreciate how fallible my memory is – especially when someone challenges my recall of an event with their recall of the same event. Sometimes it seems we’re talking about an entirely different event. As a defense mechanism, memory just ain’t what it used to be.

3 Misconceptions about Memory

Let’s consider three misconceptions about my memory and the truth about them based on scientific study of the phenomenon by the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign2.

  1. Misconception – Human memory is like a video camera that accurately records information for later evaluation.
    • Truth – “We’ve known since the 1930s that memories can become distorted in systematic ways. For example, University of California professor Elizabeth Loftus and colleagues have managed to introduce entirely false memories that people believe and trust as if they had really happened.”
  2. Misconception – Memories do not change once the experiences are embedded in memory.
    • Truth – “We’ve known since the 1980s that even memory for vivid, very meaningful personal events can change over time. Our memories can change even if we don’t realize they have changed. Cornell University psychology professor Ulric Neisser showed that personal memories for the Challenger space shuttle explosion changed over time”
  3. Misconception – The testimony of a single confident eyewitness is adequate evidence to convict someone of a crime.
    • Truth – “Even confident witnesses are wrong about 30 percent of the time. That means that if a defendant can’t remember something, a jury might assume they are lying. And misremembering one detail can impugn their credibility for other testimony, when it might just reflect the normal fallibility of memory.”

“The fallibility of memory is well established in the scientific literature, but mistaken intuitions about memory persist.” (Chabris1)

If I can’t count on my senses or memories, what can I count on? Perhaps it depends on why I depend on them. For the most part, I rely on my senses and memories to validate reality – in defense of my beliefs. What will I do now that I know my memories and senses cannot be counted upon to give me accurate and truthful information?

What to Do?

It seems to me a bit of skepticism might fit well into my equations – along with a little humility towards others. I’m learning how okay it is to allow others to challenge my perceptions and memories – useful fodder for awakening in me an awareness of who I am beyond illusions and misunderstandings.

I don’t have to be right, ya know! Life will continue with or without my understanding of it. Perhaps it’s okay to be incorrect – now and then… 😉


  1. Union College psychology professor Chris Chabris and University of Illinois psychology professor Daniel Simons coauthors of “The Invisible Gorilla.”
  2. “What People Believe About How Memory Works: A Representative Survey of the U.S. Population.” Online or from the U. of I. News Bureau. University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

The Transformation Option

I make lots of choices. Most concern defense of what I already believe and know.  Inside my First-Second Degree of Illumination safety bubble, my choices seem real: What will I have for breakfast? Will I drive or walk to the store? What will I wear to the party? These are choices of defense: Which defense feels like it satisfies my needs at this time? Yet, all these apparent choices freeze my conscious awareness well within the bubble. One day, I realize I want to explore what might exist outside my ever-shrinking bubble. I seek transformation. How might I do that?

A Transformation Catalyst

Inside the bubble, my attention is focused on defense in its many guises. When challenged, I’m ready! Defensiveness kept my ancestors alive when they lived on the plains of Africa and their neighbors considered them food. Today I lock my doors and pay for a police force to protect me and mine. Millions of years of no change.

Consider what that fear thought train does to me. It sets me up to live within an ever-shrinking bubble of fear and justified wariness. Since I’m keen to spot danger – and I assume my neighbors live with the same fearfulness – I protect myself and my family from everyone else to the degree that we’ve become dangerous to each other. Fear continues to breed fear, generating rings within rings of ever-solidifying defense. Safety first and always!

To break out of that limitation bubble, I must deal with my defenses. Formidable as they are, there must be some way to get past them. Perhaps a catalyst.

A chicken egg has a hard crust to protect what’s inside from outside influence. Great defense! And yet, as long as the shell remains intact, I get no omelet for breakfast. So, I apply a catalyst that conflicts with the shell. I strike the egg against the fry pan. The defense gives way and the contents become available for me to create a tasty omelet. Breached defense resulted in an omelet for breakfast.

At the point of impact, the egg was faced with a conflict. As long as the egg remained undisturbed, it would remain an egg, its contents forever locked up. In overcoming the egg’s defense, I offered the egg another option – to become something else. Transformation!

I define transformation as a thorough or dramatic change that remains after the action of a catalyst. The change affects all levels of consciousness though usually appears in the physical and psychological levels.

The Transformation Option

Sometimes in my life, things seem to be going my way. Important people agree with me, my food agrees with me, I agree with me – I feel like I’m on track. No challenges. All quiet on the western front, so to speak. Egg shell intact, safe. I don’t realize it yet, that while I’m busy attending to my sense of well-being, a transformation is forming. Why?

When we were a younger couple, we cared for our little children. They tended to make noise, which helped us know where they were and to some degree what they were up to. When things got quiet, we’d ask each other, “Where are the children?” Meaning – “What are they up to?” Quiet was usually an indicator that we should go check on them!

Peace – meaning the absence of conflict – may be an indicator that I’m solidly within my safety zone, the bubble, primed and ready for a challenge to my defenses. Perfect time to “check on the children” – to seek out and find the transformation option. Scary? Yes, when viewed from behind “the wall” of my fears. No, when viewed beyond fear, as one would in the realm of awakened consciousness in which one realizes the illusion of fear.

Getting past my fear barrier may mean cracking my protective egg shell. That may mean facing such fears as embarrassment, ridicule, wrongness, and defeat. Or, it may simply mean getting over my need to be right all the time. I have many relationships that offer a plethora of opportunities for conflict. Each conflict offers me options, one of which is the transformation option. Will I recognize it when I see it? Will I choose it when I recognize it? I wonder…

  • What’s on the other side of my shell?
  • How will I get past my fear that keeps me inside my shell?
  • Why do I fear transformation?
  • Who will enjoy that delicious omelet on the other side of my fears?

What Drives My Causal Process?

Is need the universal causal element in my First and Second Degree Illumination bubble? How can I identify needs and bring understanding to my causal experience?

Sometimes it seems I’m going in circles, trying to figure out why I keep recreating the same conflicts resulting in the same need for resolution.

In my repetitive reality, I apply accepted patterns from the past to present process regardless of appropriateness. I run the same patterns of needs over and over, hoping for a different outcome, yet expecting only one.

I think, What comes from a thing is a reflection of what it came from. And what reflects comes more of the same.

Perhaps my ability to choose has a hidden agenda, one that seems to contradict itself: I can not not choose without comparing. When I turn what I choose into something I need to defend, I could be defending that choice forever! As my defense responses become automatic, I can no longer re-choose that thing. I can only choose to defend it or to defend my defense of it. My only apparent freedom is in choosing whether or not to defend my defense.

The Need for Value

I create ways to experience and “measure” who I am as value compared to the values I assign to others. In the bubble, I constantly compare and compete over values. That value is assigned by me and makes conflict possible. My judgements of right/wrong, good/bad, of sufficient value and insufficient value. Then with reasons based on agreement, I justify the value of my existence compared to…

My perceived lack defends my need for gain, my need to compare loss and gain, my need for conflict over loss and gain, my need for purpose within my reflexive bubble existence. All a zero-sum game in which need supports more need that in the end results in nothing. Do I see smoke and mirrors?

How can I change a second degree bubble defense into a genuine third degree choice? Once I defend what I choose, my freedom to choose again about that is either to defend or change. And once I’ve chosen I automatically defend for or against other defenses.

To break the defensive cycle, I might ask some questions to elicit options and help pull Self out of the reflexive quagmire:

  1. What else – could stop my need to defend?
  2. How else – could I  behave than defensively?
  3. Why else – could I be non-defensive?
  4. Who else – could I choose to be when not defending?

Third Degree Life-Change at Second Degree Markers

My life moves through stages of understanding I identify as markers. Stressors identify life-change markers. I define this type of stressor as my interpretation of a situational event in which my mental stability becomes significantly disrupted due to stimulation of unresolved core emotions. Examples of common life-change stressors include job loss, illness, divorce, and death.

Within the First-Second Degree bubble, my mind acts to defend statements I believe to be true. For example, “I am a baker.” When I perceive that someone threatens my identity as a baker, I may take offense – a Second Degree activity. The stronger my defense, the more I feel the stress of the threat. Marker stressors hold the greatest degree of defense – experienced as physical, emotional, and/or psychological pain. They also hold the greatest degree of opportunity for awakening. When I lose that identity – job loss, in the baker example – I may be faced with a life-change stressor – at an awakening marker.

When faced with a life-change marker, I’m at a Third Degree choice point!

Questions in this Third Degree window of opportunity that challenge my assumptions of truth, can open the possibility of awakening to what lies beyond my current limiting fears.

What questions might I ask? How might I start one or more lines of inquiry for awakening when I encounter a life-change marker?

Read more Third Degree Life-Change at Second Degree Markers

Separation as Sacrifice of Self

Separation hurts. I don’t like it. I think it would be SO cool to be whole and to live in wholeness, oneness. You might say I aspire to that great and lofty goal. Besides, it sounds pretty amazing to say, “I AM WHOLE.” Especially coming from a background in which one is expected to earn their way in the world – honoring the struggle. It’s what I’ve come to believe in. And yet, now I question, “Is it true?” Hmmm… I wonder…

What I believe in, I defend. When my belief in being separate is challenged, I defend it by imagining “me” separate from “not me.”

I don’t see my behavior as defensive. Rather, I view what I do as being proactive towards self-preservation and my only means of saving myself from disappearing completely. To me, the sacrifice of “me” was in the becoming “not me.” I felt compelled to separate self from oblivion.

Read more Separation as Sacrifice of Self