Physical spaces carry powerful memories and connections for me. I have a photographic memory so when I remember things I usually see a snapshot of how I remember a place and the people there. I can sometimes remember smells or the temperature or ambient sounds but I always see the space. Physical spaces also carry great emotional significance for me. When I think of physical spaces, I remember how I felt and what I was thinking about there. And when I return to especially significant places, I am usually hit by the wave of emotion I associate with that place.
This may sound strange or mystical but I think it is actually very human. From the beginning of time, humans have designated some spaces as memorials and some spaces as altars or sacred spaces. We have strict societal rules over how to behave in cemetery or a sacred building or even a secular space like a state capitol. We protect and honor these sacred spaces. Wars have been started over desecrated places. We assign strong cultural and personal associations to physical spaces.
There are physical spaces that hold such joyful, beautiful, alive memories and feelings that I get excited to visit them over and over. There are physical spaces that hold such awe, reverence, and spiritual connection that just visiting them makes me feel whole and full and sure. There are physical spaces that carry memories of disgust and physical spaces that carry memories of humor.
There are also spaces which once held happy memories that are now tainted by more recent experiences. When I used to think about those spaces, they were bright and clear in vibrant colors. Now when I remember them, they are tinted grey and the image looks distorted or just off somehow. These are difficult spaces. The memories and feelings are confused and complicated and I now shy away from returning to or even thinking about those places.
Last weekend I returned to a space that I have been hesitant (maybe even afraid) to return to. It is a cinema in a part of town that I used to visit often to unwind and reconnect with my husband after a long work day. Almost all cinemas are sacred spaces for me but this one has especially strong emotional memories. Now there are new associations with that place (and even that whole section of the city) that are dark and hazy and when I think of them, I feel trapped and claustrophobic.
I did not know if I was ready to return to that part of town or to that theater and the only reason I did was because some friends invited me to join them there. Of course it ended up being a really wonderful evening. Talking, laughing, discussing, learning, enjoying – so many of the things that make me feel full and alive. And as the evening progressed, I felt the tightness of the dark, claustrophobic memories loosen and shrink to allow space for new joyful memories to grow. I felt my new experience of the space replace the wounded memories and return to some of the original happy associations I have with the place. Now I have new sacred, beautiful, joyful memories in a formerly desecrated place. I can now remember this space with healed memories.
Last year I committed to myself to not allow past painful experiences dictate decisions of the future. It has been a guiding courage in a confusing and complicated year. Last weekend I chose to step back into a place that has difficult memories. I chose to create new memories over living trapped by old memories. I chose to return to a formerly painful space rather than allow past pain keep me from living the joyful, affirming, growing, full life I want to live.
Forgetting or blocking bad memories does not often bring healing. Part of healing is working through wounded memories. It is acknowledging and grieving the pain, loss, and brokenness but still allowing those memories to live. And for me, part of healing is reclaiming sacred spaces. It has been finding new associations with places that have felt dark, forbidding, and sometimes too painful to return to. It is finding new joy or refreshed joy in a conflicted or formerly painful place.
Next month I am returning to country that has difficult memories for me. It is unusual for me to not have a good experience traveling so this particular place is very unique in my memory. I have been trying to look at my upcoming trip as an opportunity for redemption. A chance to create good memories and have joyful experiences in a place where I have not had good associations. Hopefully I will have some good experiences to loosen the memories of bad experiences. Hopefully it can also become a healing space.