Monday, October 07, 2013

Editing Your Experience

What do you think it means to edit something? We are familiar with the term from writing where, to most people, it means fixing the language and formatting so that the message is clear and presentable. But we might also know, somehow, that the Oscars have categories for sound editing and for film editors. Do they also fix errors and clean things up so the message is clear and presentable?

When we edit our experience, we are stuck with the content of our raw material in precisely the same way that editors are stuck with the story, image or sound they are editing.  While minor cuts might be made, with care and discretion, most of what counts has to stay.  The editor can change the format or the grammar, can pull some parts into focus and let others blur, but the content remains. This is roughly the same as what happens when we look back at our past experience and make an effort to understand it in a new way.  What happened in the past cannot be changed.

That doesn't mean you cannot make big changes in your life by editing how you represent the past. We give Oscars to editors precisely because editing changes how we assign meaning to something. When you edit a memory, you create new meanings out of old stories.  Those means then change all the things in your future that would have been connected to the old story.

Everything we do is generated by a combination of our conscious thought, our habits of thought, our emotions and other conscious and unconscious processes, and the influence of our environment. It's a complex mixture of forces that we cannot decode consciously. What we can do is change the emphasis we give to different forces as we represent the experience in our memories and communication. That changes what the experience means to us.

It takes courage and detachment and purpose to retrieve a significant memory and consciously edit what comes to mind so that it offers a clearer and more useful message. It is difficult to hold two memories at once: the edited version and the original. That's why so many people work with coaches or therapists to edit particularly strong memories. A person detached from the memory can help you hold your intention. But only you can get close enough to the existing memory to change it.

You are not just the author of your own story. You are also its editor.


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