Freeing Our Minds: So We Don’t Feel Caught in A Place We Don’t Want to Be

In every life, there are moments (or months) that feel endless, when we don’t like where we are but fear we can never get to somewhere other than here, sometime other than now.

 

This is the nature of fear. It can hold us so tight in its embrace that one moment can seem eternal, and we forget all but a tiny fraction of who we are and what we are capable of being.

 

One such moment happened years ago, when I was hitch-hiking in Europe. Today, during the pandemic, it seems incomprehensible that anyone could have traveled so openly. At one point I was hitching from southern France to Sweden with Ingrid, a Swedish friend I had met in Nice, France. I was actually escorting her home, as she had run out of money to fly or take a train and I didn’t have enough to lend her⎼ and I wasn’t ready to say goodbye. The fastest and easiest route was through Germany. We decided to stop off in the capitol, Berlin, and found a ride to take us there.

 

It was 1966. Germany was divided into 4 zones: one controlled by the Union of Soviet-Socialist Republics, one by each of the main Western allies⎼ the U. S., Britain, and France. Berlin was similarly divided but was located in the East or the Soviet zone.

 

When we arrived at the border between East and West Germany, we found it to be a scene out of a war movie. It was heavily fortified. On the Eastern side, not only were there East German troops but Russians. An American troop convoy, with several truckloads of soldiers, had arrived just before we had, and the border guards were inspecting the vehicles before letting them through. This was the height of Soviet-American tensions from the Cold War. Just four years earlier was the Cuban Missile Crisis. Five years earlier, the Soviet-Russians ordered the wall between East and West Berlin to be built to stop people from escaping Soviet oppression.

 

Two border guards stopped our car and told Ingrid and me to get out. We were led inside a cement block building where we were searched and asked to take out our passports. When Ingrid opened her passport, her photo fell from the page to the floor. At that moment, everything stopped, and we froze in place. A large female soldier took Ingrid’s arm and led her to a back room. I was told to stay put.

 

While I was waiting, the driver came in with our back packs. He said he was told to continue on without us and left, wishing us luck.

 

Here we were, stuck at the East German border, with no ride, my friend being questioned in a back room, the authenticity of her passport now doubted by authorities hostile to both our nations. Any attempts by me to ask questions about Ingrid’s status were rebuffed.

 

And it was getting late in the day. Hitch-hiking across the border was difficult anytime, but at night, it could be dangerous….

 

*To read the whole post, please go to the Good Men Project.

Memories Are More Like Stories or Myths than Numbers or Files

It is easy to think our memories are simple and accurate representations of reality, that they are like files that we put away in our mind for times when we need them, or like a bank for safekeeping the past moments of our lives. If we want memories to be a resource to utilize, we have to trust them.

 

But in fact, memories can change. Research shows that every time we access them, they are influenced by or adapt to the situation in which they appear. They are somewhat fluid. So how do we trust them if they change?

 

As we age, it’s not just our memories that change, but everything else about us, our bodies, thoughts, emotions. Memory is complex and there are many different types, mostly depending on how we “store” and “retrieve” them.  I am thinking of long term, autobiographical or declarative (meaning facts or episodes of past events that can be ‘declared,’ spoken about or replayed) memory.

 

Maybe memories are more like myths or stories than numbers or files and they guide us in both obvious and more subtle ways.  One memory I have is from 1970, but I am not sure about anything from this time except the broad details.  I hitch-hiked from New York City to Berkeley, California, and  back. It was soon after I returned from the Peace Corps in Sierra Leone and was trying to figure out what to do with my life.

 

Sometime early in the trip I met a yoga instructor in Berkeley. I thought of him as almost a mythical being who seemed to flow through life in tune with the world, and I started to pick this up from him. Synchronous events or meaningful coincidences happened frequently while I was there. By chance, I ran into someone from college, who had been in the theatre group I was once part of, and we spent a wonderful afternoon together. I met and stayed with one cousin and by chance ran into another. Whatever I needed, I found.

 

One day, I decided to hitch-hike to Mendocino to find a woman who I had grown up with. All I knew about where she lived was that she was living in a commune and that there were communes in Mendocino. I got a ride to a small town most of the way to my destination. But then nothing. No cars, no rides.

 

I was beginning to think my whole plan was crazy. How could I imagine I could just set off without knowing my destination and just arrive there? Then a car stopped on the opposite side of the road. A woman emerged from the car with a small backpack and soon put out her thumb. After maybe a half hour, we looked at and smiled to each other. I crossed the road and we started to chat.

 

She asked where I was going, and I told her I was looking for a friend named Susi (not her real name) who was living in a commune somewhere in or near Mendocino. She said she lived in a commune in the area. A housemate of hers, named Susi, had just left for New York to meet up with a friend who had just returned from the Peace Corps. Me.

 

Just then a car stopped for her. She told me the name and location of the commune and then left with her ride. I eventually got to the commune, stayed for a few days, and then returned to Berkeley. It took a few months before Susi and I got together….

 

To read the whole post, go to The Good Men Project.