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Memory Enhancement in 30 Days
The Total-Recall Program
By Keith Harary, Pamela Weintraub
St. Martin's PressCopyright © 1991 Keith Harary, Ph.D., and Pamela Weintraub
All rights reserved.
WOMB WITH A VIEW
Are reported birth memories pure fantasy, as some researchers have suggested, or is the recollection of life's earliest experience really possible? Although you may find it difficult to believe that bona fide memories can register in the newly born, many psychologists and medical professionals claim to have convincing evidence of the phenomenon. To assist you in exploring this possibility, the first two days of the Total-Recall Program offer some simple exercises for inducing the memory — or at least the subjective feelings and impressions — of your life as a fetus in the womb and your subsequent birth.
Our first birth exercise — "Womb With a View" — was suggested by obstetrician Rene Van de Carr, president of Prenatal University in Hayward, California. To begin, learn as much as you can about your mother's pregnancy, including the details of your delivery. Van de Carr reminds us that whatever medication your mother received before you were born was also received by you, so you should consider how this may have influenced your feelings — particularly during your passage from the womb.
Mental Note — Because the second phase of today's exercise requires some preparation, please read ahead through the rest of the instructions before you continue.
For the next phase of today's exercise, choose a quiet time when you can relax in a warm bathtub in the dark without being disturbed for at least thirty minutes. Before getting into the water, turn on a radio at low volume between stations so you hear soothing static but no voices or music. Then get into the tub, take a deep breath, and get comfortable. (Unless you have a radio made specifically for the shower or bath, be careful not to place the radio anywhere near the water; avoid fiddling with the dials once you get into the bath.)
The darkness, warm water, and radio static (also called "white noise") are intended to simulate the conditions you experienced before birth and allow you to imagine yourself returning to the moment your conscious awareness first began. As you sit in the bathtub in the dark, feeling the warmth of your aquatic surroundings soaking into your body, allow any thoughts or concerns about your present existence to drift from your mind. Focus only on your physical sensations and the sound of the static in the background.
Consider the experience of your own prenatal development and birth. Imagine that your body has suddenly become much smaller and that the darkness and water surrounding you comprise your entire world. Take your time and allow yourself to experience fully the secure familiarity of this womblike environment.
After you have focused on these initial feelings and sensations for a comfortable period of time, remember — or if, like most people, you can't remember, envision — emerging from darkness into bright lights. Imagine being surrounded by people incredibly enormous compared with yourself. Re-create, at least in your imagination, your own experience of being born. As you do so, you should eventually lift yourself out of the water, dry yourself off, and turn on a light. Then find a warm and comfortable place to wrap yourself up in a sheet or blanket for at least twenty minutes, and reflect upon and fully absorb the impact of this experience.
Mental Note — Even if you don't find yourself getting in touch with the sensations of gestation and birth the first time you practice this exercise, at the very least, Van de Carr says, you should be able to enjoy a period of peace and quiet. If you practice this exercise just before going to sleep, you may find yourself having dreams that deal, in some fashion, with the birth experience.
Like the Day 1 exercise, the exercise suggested for Day 2 should help you get in touch with the general sensations of birth. Suggested by Toronto psychiatrist Thomas Verny, coauthor with Pamela Weintraub of Nurturing the Unborn Child, this exercise should carry yesterday's experience one step further by triggering still more elaborate birth-related images and sensations.
Mental Note — Please read ahead through the rest of the instructions for Day 2 before you continue.
To conduct today's exercise, you'll need a book of photographs showing the developmental progress of the human fetus at twenty-eight days, two months, three months, four months, and so on. Lennart Nilsson's book, A Child Is Born, is highly recommended, although any similar text showing color photographs of embryonic development will suffice.
Begin by sitting alone in a quiet, comfortable place, where you can later lie down and listen to some baroque or other classical music. Take your time and relax, spending at least twenty to thirty minutes looking through the photographs in the book. As you do so, imagine that you are gazing at images of your own prenatal development, and notice the impact this may have on your emotions. Stay focused on your feelings as you continue flipping through the pictures and trying to reconstruct — in your imagination, if not your memory — your experience as a developing fetus.
Mental Note — For an especially powerful variation of this technique, you may wish to conduct this exercise in a bathtub filled with warm water as you did on Day 1. Once again, take all appropriate precautions to avoid handling a radio, tape recorder, or any other electrical device while lying in the bath.
Lie down, get comfortable, and play a classical record or tape that is at least thirty minutes long. Any classical orchestral music will do, although Mozart, Vivaldi, or Schubert should be particularly effective. As you listen, focus on your memories of the photographs you studied earlier, and on any spontaneous thoughts and images they may have triggered. Don't pressure yourself into feeling anything in particular. Instead, just relax, allow your thoughts to flow with the music, and remember any feelings the photographs inspired. Then close your eyes and imagine that the music is carrying you back to the womb.
Mental Note —This exercise may or may not trigger what some psychologists call a "major birth memory." Rather than a technicolor, cinematic scene, you might simply glimpse a color or image or recall a texture or sound associated with being born. At the very least, this exercise should help you visualize what it felt like to be in the womb. This guided imagery exercise, Verny says, can help you see that even though birth was difficult, you have overcome it. It can thus inspire you to overcome difficult situations as an adult.
Mental Note —If your experience with this exercise has been a positive one, you may wish to repeat it in about a week. Often the images generated by this exercise build on each other, so that a more complete picture of your prenatal experience may eventually start to emerge. For this reason, we'll remind you to practice this entire exercise again one week from today.
THE EYES OF A CHILD
There is, of course, much more to reviving your early life memories than focusing on gestation and birth. Some of your most significant life experiences, now residing in your deepest memories, more than likely occurred in your childhood. This is a basic premise underlying much of psychoanalysis, not to mention the entire field of psychology. But it is not necessary to go through years of psychotherapy — nor to recall unpleasant or traumatic events — in order to get back in touch with some meaningful childhood memories that may have had a powerful impact on your adult life. As far as we're concerned, in fact, all that's required is a change in perspective. Instead of looking at the world through the eyes of an adult, you may, for a time at least, view the world the way you once did, through the eyes of a child.
On Day 3, therefore, you will focus on communicating on a deep, internal level with remembered impressions of yourself in the distant past. By communicating directly with the child within — the part of yourself many contemporary psychologists now call "the inner child" — you may rediscover personal dreams and goals that have long seemed lost. You can also learn to consciously share with your childhood self the greater wisdom of the adult you have since become.
Mental Note — If you have a history of psychiatric problems or feel at all uncomfortable about remembering your early life, we urge you to consult a mental-health professional before trying this approach or, for that matter, any of the exercises in Week One of the Total-Recall Program. This exercise should not be viewed as a form of psychotherapy or as a substitute for seeking firsthand professional psychological guidance when appropriate. Focusing on your childhood perspective toward reality and your own life can often generate surprisingly powerful emotions. We therefore also recommend that you take this exercise slowly and allow yourself time to fully absorb its impact.
To begin today's exercise, choose a meaningful spot where you spent at least one particularly thoughtful occasion alone as a child. If possible, go there. If the spot is too far away to visit conveniently, choose a substitute site that reminds you of the original. Or, you may simply sit alone in a quiet and dimly lit environment and visit the place in your imagination. The place you select does not need to be one you visited on a daily basis. A church, an attic room, or possibly the home of a favorite relative would be a suitable location, as would a playground, museum, backyard, pool hall, or a spot on the beach overlooking the ocean. (One person we know spent much of her childhood reflecting in the bathroom — the only room in her family's small apartment in which she could have any privacy. She went back to that bathroom and did this exercise there.) If the location you select is a large building, choose a more or less secluded spot within it, where you can sit quietly without being interrupted.
Take a deep breath, relax, and recall how you felt when you first visited this place as a child. Instead of merely analyzing your childhood feelings from the viewpoint of an adult, however, allow yourself to relive in your mind's eye your childhood experience as much as possible. To whatever extent you can, focus on the questions that were most important to you then.
Now imagine that time as we normally think of it does not exist, and that you can communicate directly with your childhood self. Exchange viewpoints with each other: As the child, tell the adult about things he or she may have forgotten, revealing your deepest desires and goals. As the adult, share with the child what you now know about life. Ask the child you once were to recall some worthwhile aspects of your personality or inner experience with which your adult self has lost touch.
Mental Note — As you practice this exercise, you may experience a sense of timelessness. You may, for instance, feel the apparent separation between past and present fade — as though your child and adult selves were both alive inside of you at once — which, in a psychological sense, they most likely are. The child's remembered insights may help soften some of the hardened or jaded parts of your adult personality. The adult point of view may help resolve some conflicted childhood feelings still residing within.
Mental Note —You may wish to enhance this exercise by playing music that you originally heard as a child. Allow the music to remind you of your childhood and use it to emotionally connect you with your own remembered past.
On Day 4, you'll use old photographs to help you recapture hidden memories of your early life. To carry out today's exercise most effectively, you'll need to gather together as many photographs as you can from your childhood and young adult life.
Mental Note — If you find it impossible to gather the old photographs you should ideally use, you may still conduct this exercise by visualizing specific scenes from your early life as though they were photographic slides being projected on your imagination. Simply substitute these imagined scenes for actual photographs while following the instructions below.
Begin today's exercise by finding a private and comfortable spot at home where you can relax without being disturbed while looking at your face in a mirror. Place the photographs you've gathered to use in this exercise in a pile before you. Then take a deep breath and, as you let it out, allow yourself to let go of any superficial tension you may be feeling in your body. Gaze at the reflection of your face in the mirror and, as you do so, let your thoughts drift over the present-day circumstances of your life.
Rather than focusing your attention on highly specific or factual details of your present situation, focus instead on your more generalized emotions. Consider any ways in which your feelings toward your present life circumstances may seem at all familiar. We are not referring here to the fact that these emotions are bound to seem familiar because you experience them daily in your present life. We are referring, instead, to the ways in which your current emotional circumstances may hail back to the emotional ambience of your childhood or teenage years.
If you find yourself currently feeling a sense of compassion toward the less fortunate, for example, you may wish to consider the ways in which this feeling reminds you of similar feelings you may have had in the past. Perhaps you felt compassion toward some of the less popular children in your class or neighborhood, for example, or perhaps you felt like an "underdog" as a child, and vowed never to allow others to be treated as poorly as people treated you. If you find yourself feeling preoccupied with attaining financial security and collecting material things, on the other hand, you may connect this feeling with a sense of financial insecurity during your youth.
As you look at your face in the mirror and consider the present circumstances of your life, don't dwell in convoluted analytic detail on whatever feelings you experience. Simply review them, as if from a distance, relating them in a general sense to your early life.
For the next phase of today's exercise, turn your attention toward the photographs you've gathered. It is not necessary to review these photographs in any particular order. In fact, we recommend that you review them randomly to increase your likelihood of generating spontaneous and less predictable memories of your childhood and young adult life.
As you review the photographs, which will probably show scenes of your development at various stages, occasionally glance at your reflection in the mirror. Consider the fact that the person you see in the mirror is the same individual as the child in the photographs. Pay special attention to any feelings of nostalgia generated by reviewing the photographs. And note, especially, specific memories triggered by — but not directly depicted in — the photos at hand.
Take your time and allow these memories to become as vivid as possible, noticing the emotions triggered in response to these memories and relating these feelings — if it is comfortable and easy for you to do so — to any sense you may have of yourself in your present-day life. Spend at least thirty to sixty minutes reviewing the photographs and carrying out this phase of the session.
Complete today's exercise by putting the photographs away and making a conscious effort to let go of your feelings about the past, at least for the time being. Then go for a walk or enjoy some similar, easygoing activity to balance the emotional intensity of your photo replay.
THOSE WERE THE DAYS
On Day 5, you'll balance the more internally focused exercises of the past four days with an interpersonal approach to reviving early memories. To carry out this exercise, you'll need to get in touch with a friend with whom you've had a relationship since you were a child or young adult. If such a friend is unavailable, simply choose someone who is available and who has known you for as long as possible. You should get together with your old friend in person, if you can do so, though this is not absolutely essential.
To conduct the exercise, you should ideally get together in or near the place where you and your friend first met. You might, for example, take a walk through your old neighborhood and visit your elementary school playground; you might even sit on the swings. You might go back to the roller-skating rink where you first bumped into each other or visit the summer cottage community where the two of you first learned to swim in a lake.
We understand, however, that arranging such a symbolic rendezvous may not always be possible — especially for friends who live in distant geographical locales. In this case, you and your friend can conduct this exercise in an extended telephone conversation or arrange to meet in some other location convenient to you both.
Let us be clear, however, that the focus of today's exercise is not merely to get together with your friend and passively reminisce about days gone by. It is, rather, to communicate with someone who really knows what kind of person you were as a child or young adult.
Excerpted from Memory Enhancement in 30 Days by Keith Harary, Pamela Weintraub. Copyright © 1991 Keith Harary, Ph.D., and Pamela Weintraub. Excerpted by permission of St. Martin's Press.
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