Helper and healer, I cheer - Small waifs in the woodland wet - Strays I find in it, wounds I bind in it - Bidding them all forget!
~ Kenneth Grahame, The Wind in the Willows, The Piper at the Gates of Dawn (Ch. 7)
Consciousness is often described as a stream, like time is described as a river. In which case, memories would be those things floating about in it like debris and psychotherapy rather like trawling.
But is this what consciousness is? And is remembering necessary to healing?
My work with EMDR has allowed me to observe (in a kind of time-lapsed photography way) the relationship between memory and healing. In EMDR, “reprocessing” is remarkably quick, catalysed by using bilateral stimulation (originally, in the form of bilateral eye movements). The therapist asks the subject to recall a traumatic memory while simultaneously calling attention elsewhere. At some point, the intensity of the traumatic experience subsides and the memory slips into the background, to the “back of the mind” so-to-speak. The subject becomes a dispassionate observer of the experience as its hold simply lets go, drifting back to its natural place in long-term memory.
It is remarkable that EMDR can effectively loosen the hold of a past trauma that may have torturted someone for years.
My hypothesis is that EMDR works because it facilitates moving a memory from the front to the back of the mind, a shift that was arrested because of a trauma interfering with forgetting. It is a process I find similar to meditative practices (and this can include anything from formal sitting to swimming or chanting). The key seems to lie in the activation of dual attention.
If this hypothesis is correct, consciousness would be more like a double-edged sword than a babbling brook, and memories-- whose eclosion into awareness can be as sweet as longing, or as intrusive as lightning-- would have as much saliency as present experience. Though fore-grounded by recall, their natural place is in the background, forgotten.