What are the actual facts? What really happened in the past? The famous duet, “I Remember It Well”, sung by Maurice Chevalier and Hermione Gingold in the movie, Gigi is a perfect example of how subjective memory can be. In that song, an elderly couple reminisce about the details of the night they met. In essence, they cannot agree on anything – the color of the gown she wore, whether the moon was shining or not, what day of the week it was, etc. The last lines of the song, the “take-away”, is that the feeling of falling in love, of still being in love, is the dominant emotion. All the rest, in the bigger picture, is relatively inconsequential.
In telling and retelling a story to ourselves and others, the details may very well get altered and eventually believed, as the story morphs through time. The 1950 Japanese film Rashomon, directed by Akira Kurosawa, showed this in such a powerful fashion, that the term “The Rashomon Effect” was subsequently coined: related to the notorious unreliability of eyewitnesses, it describes a situation in which an event is given contradictory interpretations or descriptions by the individuals involved.
Can we re-write a piece of our history? Why not? Historians do it all the time. One of the chief features of hypnosis is a “suspension of the critical factor”. A good hypnosis session can engage the imagination to re-imagine the events in our stories. We can create a new meaning. In NLP (Neurolinguistic Programming), this falls under the general heading of “reframing”. Reframing is an extremely useful tool in therapy and personal growth. Occasionally, this idea evokes a reaction from some scrupulously honest souls, “Isn’t that lying”?
There are two basic types of reframing – “context” and “content”. An example of context reframing is, you will not be popular if you tell bizarre lies to your family and friends, but you will be if you use your imagination to write a fictional best-seller. According to NLP, the content of an experience is whatever you choose to focus on.
“When the three-year-old daughter of the author asked him what it meant to tell a lie, he explained in grave, fatherly tones (taking due account of her age and understanding) it meant saying something that was not true on purpose, to make someone else think something was right when it wasn’t. The little girl considered this for a moment and her face lit up. ‘That’s fun!’ she said. ‘Let’s do it!’
The next few minutes were spent telling each other outrageous lies.
—Introducing Neuro-Linguistic Programming, Joseph O’Connor and John Seymour
Making Meaning out of a Series of Events
The events and impressions of a lifetime are grouped in meaningful relationships. In and of themselves, they have no intrinsic meaning. It is only in how they relate to each other that they begin to take on significance.
A leaf falls from a tree. A fox crosses a road. A person smiles. An ocean wave deposits a starfish on the beach. These are bare facts. As our minds begin to assemble them into some meaning, there is an automatic search for how these events are connected—as well as for more information. Stories start to emerge from the gathering of details.
It seems that the unconscious is the level of mental activity where archetypal images and patterns are stored and noted. Generalizations are made by experiencing repeated patterns. i.e. “leaves usually fall in the autumn”, therefore when a leaf is observed falling, an immediate cross-reference is made. If a leaf falls, that means it is no longer connected to the tree which it was once part of – it is now, in a sense, dead. As the natural sequence of cause and effect emerges from stream of consciousness, it is noted that the dead leaf begins, over time, to disintegrate and become mulch, which is part of the fertilizer and nutrition in the soil, allowing for new growth to take place…
However, we can take the same series of events and organize them to tell a different story; to assign a different meaning, or lead to a completely different outcome or realization. The ancient alchemical process of turning “base materials” (lead) to finer materials (gold), can be invoked. Alchemical hypnosis may involve taking what appears to be dead and rotting into what Buddhist teacher Trungpa Rinpoche calls “the manure of experience”.