I have a story to tell you. My Story. I had a recent experience that wasn’t important in the scheme of my life, not at all. At the same time, it stayed with me like a sore muscle does and as I wrestled with it, it turned out to be a significant one.
The story goes like this.. on my free day, one day, I was lounging in my night clothes till mid morning, lost in doing what I do best, research. As the doorbell tinkled, little did I know that the next two minutes would make a mark on my heart and mind, twining itself in my life story. A volunteer from the apartment society was helping the housekeeping staff to help segregate our household waste. A most welcome mandate from the municipality.
A seemingly innocuous inquiry about which of the garbage bins left outside the homes on the floor belonged to me, seemed to evoke an embarrassed response in me in reference to my attire and presence of 3-4 unknown men outside. I was politely asked to step out and identify the relevant bin. A 10 second walk seemed like a walk of shame to me as I stepped out. In that moment I felt like a school child called to task, puzzling the adult in me. After I identified it, the volunteer appeared to have determined that I wasn’t the culprit who didn’t segregate the waste and turned to speak to the person concerned. I felt dismissed and set up. The volunteer knew which bins weren’t segregated. I closed my door and went back to research, a sinking feeling in my chest. This feeling ebbed as I got involved with other activities but surfaced later in the day.
What had happened? If you are reading it, I am sure you got the same feeling as I did, it’s not a big deal. It isn’t and yet it left me embarrassed, feeling like a child who was glad she had finished her homework when the teacher had unexpectedly checked it. A child who glad that she wasn’t caught like her neighbour. I wondered what had happened and I wondered where was the adult that always is there.
Strange isn’t it? A two minute interaction evoked an implicit response from me, a response of a child who had deferred to authority, if my reflective guess is right, in reaction to a non-verbal assertion of authority from the person opposite. My most vulnerable realisation was how easy it was for me to defer, to be subservient. I felt like a child, a child with little power, little control, hence little choice. I know I am not. How words need not be spoken to evoke an automatic response in us and how 80% of human interaction remains non-verbal. How our earlier learned patterns of behaviour make their presence known in the most routine of events. How after realising this vulnerable, fragile, shamed aspect of me, it would have been easy to get angry. Angry at the person who evoked this in me. I have no idea if the person intended to do so or it was their learnt way of behaving too.
We all have what is called ‘implicit memory’. It’s actually very useful and important part of our lives. it holds along with learnings from early ages – namely womb upto 4-5 years, procedures that aid our daily life. Swimming, brushing teeth, riding a cycle, skills that tend to become a part of muscle memory. Even if you were to suffer from amnesia, these skills will remain with you wether you remember them or not. Likewise, our early interactions, even when we don’t have words are stored in our brains to aid our navigation into the world. They are learnings with conscious choice or thought and yet, for all of us they have the most impact. I believe when I look at the above experience, I think it’s a part of my implicit learning. To have a quick, automatic, unconscious behaviour gives us a clue to where it originates from. The first time I learned of this memory, it scared me to be honest. It appeared that a lot seemed out of my control. Remember being powerless is one of the most sensitive spots for me. Another implicit learning, seems like? Strangely as years have passed, I have made piece with the unknown. What helped me. We all have this memory to deal with, it’s our common humanity. We all struggle, we all rejoice it too. The smell of baked cookies, the joy of playing on a beach, the calm of our favourite place in the garden are part of our implicit memories. Not all is ineffective, not all is unhealthy, not all makes us vulnerable.
But knowing that we all share this vulnerability, helps keep my compassion in place. Helps me understand that’s the cost of being human, may be the joy of being human. May be the reason why we can always change, unlearn what doesn’t help and learn new things. That gives me hope and that makes it worth the effort to make conscious what remains under the layers of memory and that’s what it means to reclaim power back. And have choices.
Yet now I have a choice. Choice of being mindful, mindful of what is inside of me. Of how there may be vulnerabilities inside of me where authority figures are concerned. This is a painful awareness, an awareness if I listen to will help me know what I have learnt, an awareness that will help me unlearn what I had learnt if I deem it ineffective, an awareness if I heal the wound behind the learning then I grow, an awareness that I have choices other than being a child, an awareness that choices give us power, awareness that when I have power of knowing what happens in me, anyone outside ceases to have power to ‘do’ much to me.
Then I have the power to be me, in the here and now, just me.