Learning to forget

In studying, each day something is gained.

In following the Way, each day something is lost.

Lost and again lost.

Until there is nothing left to do.

Not-doing, nothing is left undone.

You can possess the world by never manipulating it.

No matter how much you manipulate

You can never possess the world.

– Dao De Jing 48

Melancholics and Cholerics are both characterised by enduring impressions. We take things to heart and hold them there for a long, long time.

Having a “long memory” might be a blessing in some circumstances, but it can become a curse if enduring impressions are allowed to dominate our experience of life.

Just because an impression endures does not mean that it is true, significant, or otherwise deserves to be entertained.

I have impressions or memories from my entire life, going back to Preschool. These experiences often come to mind unbidden, as if to remind me of some important lesson.

For a long time I believed that I had to do something, learn something, understand something in order to dispel these memories. As the opening quotation suggests, I thought there was always something to gain.

But what I’ve discovered is that no matter how much I learn from them, no matter how much I analyse and reflect on them, they will not go away until I put them away.

When you’re troubled by bad memories, past failures, insults and injuries or regrets, it’s easy to feel trapped and closed in by them, especially when there is no recourse or remedy for the original circumstances.

But as a friend taught me recently, it is possible to simply “let go” of these painful thoughts and memories. Not only is it possible to let go, but it would be impossible to hold on constantly to these impressions if you were to try. No matter what troubles you, it won’t be on your mind in unrelenting detail 24/7.

Even so, it seems that letting go of impressions is a skill that must be cultivated by Melancholics and Cholerics for the sake of our peace and happiness. For me, a more cogent term than “letting go” is forgetting. If I try to let go, I feel like I still have to watch or experience the impression I’ve let go of.

But forgetting is more complete, and consciously forgetting is turning out to be an invaluable skill.

This is not to say we should always forget everything unpleasant or ignore problems. New challenges are always arising, and I think it is important to experience difficult emotions as they come.

But between forgetting everything and holding on to everything there must exist a balance.

To be honest, I’ve always hated being told to “let go”, “forget about it”, and indeed all well-intentioned references to “finding balance”.

Perhaps I resented them because they mostly came from Sanguines or Phlegmatics who rarely form lasting impressions in the first place, or from the occasional Choleric who really wanted to say “I don’t care about your problems; why not try to be more like me?”

But seeing a fellow melancholic put it into practice is encouraging and illuminating. It shows that letting go really can be done; against all experience and instinct, forgetting really is an answer.

 

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