There's something almost mystical about the way our memories work. A sight, sound, smell or taste can bring back a swarm of recollections that transport us through time. In an instant, we are overcome by powerful visceral sensations that leave us caught between past and present.
That's how I felt returning to my Alma Mater this past weekend. It had been over 18 years since I stepped foot onto the Hampshire College campus. And while my college years were quite formative (truly transformative), I was struck by the many details which I had let slip from my conscious mind.
It wasn't just memories flooding my thoughts while I explored the campus and surrounding areas. But the pull of familiar sensations rippling through my body as I walked past the entrance to the music and dance building. Or smelled the sweet and earthy New England fall air. Or tasted the strong bite of the tap water.
I felt like I was 18 again. And I was overcome by a strong need to prove myself - to impress my peers. A pattern I carried and strengthened thru my college years. Hampshire was the place I sought redemption for the pain and hurt I suffered as a result of my struggles in remedial reading.
Not only did it strengthen my critical thinking skills, but my Alma Mater also boosted my ego. It was where I began to prove my intellectual prowess as I battled with the limiting belief I was stupid. And I fell into that old pattern of proving myself like a lost jigsaw piece reunited with its puzzle.
I felt a shift of energy within me as I interacted with fellow alum. I held pride in "having the answer" to a difficult question. But my boosting did not provide satisfaction, instead, it alienated me. Because underneath the surface was an underlying message easily picked up on by my peers that put us at odds. My behavior said, "I'm better than you." A dynamic, which goes counter to my values.
This experience highlighted for me the power of familiar yet distant triggers. I lived an entire lifetime over since first stepping foot on campus. And yet, 18 years later there was an undeniably powerful pull of my old pattern.
It's like the way we revert to childish ways when returning home to our families after moving out. Or the professional who takes a prolonged leave from work and falls back into her old ways when attending a meeting at her new job. We have both changed and remained the same.
But unlike when we were our past selves - the college student eager to prove herself, the professional focused on exerting her right to have a seat at the table. We have a newfound awareness which we can choose to leverage for our benefit. We can rewrite the pattern on the spot.
For me, that looked like focusing on my breathing and showing college-aged Ariana compassion. Placing a hand on my heart or discretely stroking my arm to self-comfort when I felt the urge arise to prove myself. Rather than blathering on in a vain attempt to show off my smarts, I strove to acknowledge the feeling without fueling the old pattern.
The triggers that cause us to revert back to old patterns aren't always as obvious as the ones I experienced visiting Hampshire. They can be more subtle, a single phrase or tone of voice uttered in a meeting. A random smell or not often experienced taste. And suddenly we find ourselves re-enacting scenes from our past rather than being aligned with our values in the present.
Luckily, we all possess the ability to interrupt and redirect old patterns in the moment. We just have to commit to being aware and intentional while also giving ourselves grace to be human. College-aged Ariana would have judged and scrutinized myself - 18 years later, I laugh and smirk, breathe and remind myself of Pema Chödrön's quote, "This moment is complete just as it is; I'm complete just as I am; Things are whole and fine just as they are."