At an age of four years or so, my favorite song was Simon & Garfunkel’s song “The Boxer,” which I had not listened to in a very long time, until this morning. I still remember the lyrics well, and was singing along with the song. If you’d like to hear it for yourself, here it is:
Everything was fine, until I found myself singing this part of the song: “In the clearing stands a boxer, and a fighter by his trade, and he carries the reminders of every glove that laid him down, or cut him ’till he cried out, in his anger and his shame — I am leaving, I am leaving, but the fighter still remains.”
I made it to the words “his anger and his” — before literally choking on the word “shame.” Music is a powerful tool for evoking memories, I now realize, and sometimes that can be dangerous.
I choked because some horrific, repressed memory was brought close to the surface of my consciousness by this part of the song.
Despite the picture here of “The Man Without Fear,” fear is not something I lack. However, these days, I almost never fear that which is right in front of me. I can face down bullies, and other tyrants, in my present life, especially if people I care about are threatened, and now I have a better understanding of the reasons for this: such present threats are as nothing, when compared to the horrors I now only half-remember from when I was very young. The parts I do not remember at all are blank spaces for which I am grateful, for those are memories I do not need.
What exact memory did this song dredge up, from the depths of my own unconscious? I can’t tell you that, because I simply don’t know the details. I do know that this part of that song — or, rather, my reaction to it — instantly dropped me into a nearly-comatose state for the better part of an hour, and prompted me, in that state, to do an emergency-rewrite of the software installed in my brain, re-submerging the memories that had nearly surfaced. I then wrote, and proceeded to install — yes, I view my own brain as a computer, which it is — new safety protocols to protect myself from such problems in the future. This is by no means the only time something like this has happened, and I am tired of being temporarily disabled by such events.
These new safety subroutines were written to recognize repressed memories that are in the process of surfacing, before panic sets in, but they don’t simply push them back down, as previous versions have attempted, with limited success. Instead, they break off a small, invisible piece of mind which can operate independently of, and simultaneously with, my primary consciousness. Internally, it “sits down” with the dangerous memory in question, and has a conversation with it, calming myself down without medication, until the past can be safely left in the past, where it belongs. The process leaves me tired, and the scars of memory are, of course, still there, just as Matt Murdock’s/Daredevil’s scars are visible, in the picture above. These memory-scars will exist as long as I do. However, a scar is nothing but a wound that no longer hurts, and has been healed by the passage of time, to the point where it no longer has to be dangerous. The job of my newly-installed subroutine isn’t simply to repress memories, but to actually write treaties with them, something I had never attempted before today. It was necessary. I didn’t fully leave this semi-comatose state until a treaty with this particular memory had been both written and implemented.
After emerging back into full consciousness, I tested my new software-patch — by listening to, and singing along with, “The Boxer,” more than once. I was able to do this without incident, which tells me my efforts were successful.
My new self-programming will be further analyzed, and debugged, when I next sleep. If necessary, it will be re-written altogether. I do this every time I sleep, a technique which took me decades to develop, but which has increased my ability to adapt to whatever life demands of me — in the present, in the future, and when dealing with my memories of the past, whether those memories are fully accessible, or not.
Everyone may do this sort of thing, although few are aware of it. This might be an undiscovered purpose of sleep — or it might not. Whether all people do this, or not, I am aware that I do it, and know that these metacognitive techniques are helping me get better.
I like getting better.