I once attended a conference at a retreat center in the Rocky Mountains. We were given a long break one afternoon to relax and renew our spirits. I decided to go for a walk by myself.
A little way down a secluded, dirt road, I spotted horses in a corral. I carefully approached, so as not to frighten them. When I neared, I breathed in horse smells. With the scent of the horses and the corral came something I didn't expect – a flood of memories.
I took another breath and vividly recalled visiting my grandparents' guest ranch every summer as a child. When I was a teenager, I worked on the ranch. Some of my happiest childhood memories involved horses.
I inhaled deeply. I recalled hot afternoons of pulling saddles and blankets off perspiring horses then brushing down their backs. The pungent smell of horse sweat filled my mind and let loose a flood of memories I hadn't recalled for many years. I thought about the soft touch of a horse's nose sniffing my hand for a sugar cube, and the warmth of a furry neck as I put my arms around it and hugged it close. Even manure smells brought back good memories – thoughts of hours spent in corrals saddling, bridling and working with horses.
For two hours I let myself think and remember and feel. The memories worked some kind of magic inside me, healing and rejuvenating. I recalled day-long horseback rides, valley vistas of tall grass and pristine mountain creeks running beside horse trails carved in red earth. I fondly remembered those mornings I rose before dawn, saddled up a horse and scoured forest land searching for wandering horses, let out to roam and graze at night, to round up and bring in to the ranch before breakfast.
Until I smelled the horses, I had almost forgotten. And it occurred to me that these memories are important. They give me energy and new life. I should never lose them and I'd do well to visit them from time to time.
Memories are both helpful and hurtful and we decide which to keep alive.
Some people look back and feel guilty. Again and again they remember their failings and mistakes. They scrutinize these painful memories in detail. Like a child with a bag of marbles who holds them up to a strong light, one by one, examining their chips and flaws before carefully placing them back. When they take time to remember, they choose memories that are flawed; memories that evoke guilt and regret and steal peace of mind.
People similarly revisit memories of past loss, or personal rejection or any number of other hurts inflicted upon them over the years. They bitterly remember each incident and relive old feelings of loss and grief before locking the memory back into a secure place where it can be easily retrieved. The memories they choose to call up leave them sad and forlorn and rob the present of its power.
I don't suggest that you ignore pain. Feel it, understand it and do whatever is necessary to heal from it. Guilt, mistakes and pain are part of living. But why cultivate a habit of regret or bitterness? Those memories you choose to visit day after day will either flood your mind with strength-giving energy or drain it of power to live.
Choose wisely which memories to call up. Pick memories that will rejuvenate your spirit with new life. Revisit them often. You earned them, and they are a treasure nobody can steal.
-– Steve Goodier (Life Support System)