On a recent day trip, I asked a gracious stranger to take a photo of my family. As she was about to press the button, I silently hoped my kids wouldn’t have a meltdown while we waited for the flash.
The kind stranger stood there trying to snap a photo – but to no avail. She examined the camera befuddled, and tried again. We stood there, frozen in time, while her finger incessantly tried to push the button – but the camera was not cooperating. By the time we realized the memory chip was full, it was too late. The children had lost patience and started running off in different directions.
I finally I got around to deleting the excess pictures about a month later. Anything blurry – gone; anything unflattering – goodbye! I went back years in time as I continued to delete. Suddenly, my now four-year old was a toddler; a few clicks later, a mere infant. I was shocked at my inability to remember what her face looked like at that age without the cue of a picture.
It was obvious that to make room for new pictures, I had to delete old ones. Not so obvious is that this same process is needed to manage our personal memory banks. It’s true that the storage capacity of the human brain is equivalent to the amount of memory an iPad needs to store 300 years’ worth of movies. But the brain also must filter and “delete” unimportant memories; otherwise, it runs out of space. Letting go of insignificant information is essential if we wish to remember the more important parts to life.
If we can only hold on to so much, though, why do we retain “ugly” memories? If we delete fuzzy and unflattering pictures on our cameras, why do so many of us remember hurtful things done to us when the Torah commands us not to? Why so we sometimes forget what we wish to remember, and remember what we wish to forget?
Personally, I would rather not hold on to life’s negativity. I prefer to hold onto the memory of my baby’s cherubic face. The fact is: In order to create space for simcha – so vital in living a Jewish life – we have to unload what is weighing us down.
Like most things, though, letting go is much easier said than done. Surprisingly, however, some practical tips to doing just that can be found in the basic functions of a camera.
Refocus Your Lens
The first step toward ridding ourselves of unpleasant memories is reconfiguring the way we see them.
Not only can we focus our lens, we can also be selective in what we photograph. My cousin, an artistic photographer, was once touring a foreign country. While walking through a dank fish market in a poverty-stricken end of town, she took some unusual shots. I was awestruck by the beauty she was able to capture in what some might consider despair. With her lens and perspective, she created masterful artwork with the scenery at her disposal. We too have that capacity at any given moment.
Humans have the bad habit of wasting time and energy mulling over past misdeeds others have done to us; that prevents us from being able to live our best current life. Refocus your lens – because when you reframe your past, your present simultaneously appears more beautiful.
Take New Pictures
Subconsciously, we are constantly taking mental pictures – both pleasant and not. Although the yetzer hara attempts to strengthen our desire to brood over negative memories, we must resist the urge to do so. By forgetting what happened and/or fighting our desire for revenge, we can weaken the powerful kochos trying to make us harbor ill feelings in reference to a person or event. When we don’t nourish the negative, it loses strength and eventually disappears.
New memories overpower old memories. Famous author and speaker Brene Brown shares an experience she had with her six-year-old daughter Emma. One late afternoon, they shared a boat ride on a crystal blue lake. It was an idyllic scene – they laughed, snacked, and splashed each other while the sun set behind the lush greenery surrounding them. Suddenly, Emma closed her eyes and became eerily still. Brown, terror-stricken, called out, “Emma, are you okay?”
Emma did not respond initially. After what seemed like an eternity, she popped her eyes open and reassured her mother, “Yes, Mommy! I was just taking a picture in my brain. I’m enjoying this so much I wanted to remember every detail of this moment, forever.”
It is moments like these that we all want to hold in our hearts eternally. Negative thoughts and memories, long irrelevant, are not worthy of our precious memory card storage.
Buy a New Chip
If all else fails and you are not able to delete old pictures, buy a new chip. Moving on to the next “memory chip” of life can change everything.
Dr. Wayne W. Dyer shares, “Your past history and all of your hurts are no longer here in your physical reality. Don’t allow them to be here in your mind, muddying your present moments. Your life is like a play with several acts. Some of the characters who enter have short roles to play, others, much larger. Some are villains and others are good guys. But all of them are necessary, otherwise they wouldn’t be in the play. Embrace them all, and move on to the next act.”
Don’t let your memory chip become a chip on your shoulder; rather, give yourself a new start. Holding on to moments that sting fills us with bitterness and resentment, and we take it out on other people. When we store moments that bring us pure joy, not only do we pour out good, but we tend to be less affected by the bad.
Elul is a time to start afresh, an opportunity to forgive and let go. Take advantage of this time by deleting old pictures, refocusing your lens, taking new pictures, or purchasing a brand new chip. These techniques can also be used to forgive others in preparation for Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur.
Our Rabbis teach us, “Sur mera v’asei tov – Abandon bad and pursue good.” When reflecting on our past, we should use this exhortation to strengthen our resolve to improve in the future. Focusing on the bad without using it as a springboard to improve is counterproductive. Take new mental photographs and live life to its fullest. Enjoy the greatest freedom and gift Hashem has ever given to mankind.
May we all be sealed in the Book of Life.