Wednesday, October 12, 2011
"He woke to a sense of longing for someone who should have been long forgotten, but who remained a part of him even though he did not desire or seek it. Her passing was not gentle, more a small hurricane than an idyllic interlude, leaving behind a mountain of debris and jumbled memories in a mixture of ecstasy, anxiety, bliss, dread and exasperation. In all things related to love, she was either cruel, crazy or just messed up, yet, for all he wanted to forget that she ever existed, her memory had been permanently imprinted in some very fundamental region of his brain, where nothing would wipe the memory of her smell, the touch of her hand or the feeling of her skin."
There is something deeply curious about his inability to forget her. If you read Oliver Sacks’ wonderful book "The Mind's Eye" you will realize that the brain has specialized areas for complex tasks, such as reading, recognizing people, interacting socially, and why not... loving. Love is not an exclusively human trait, as anyone that has a dog can attest to, and it seems reasonable to assume that evolution has provided animals in general with a specialized area of the brain that handles all of the complexities of falling in love. Surely some people have developed this area of the brain to a greater degree, like virtuoso musicians or gifted painters. These are those who fall in love with the greatest abandon, are hurt more deeply when the relationship comes to an end, live to be satellites of others, and make sense only as a function of love.
Maybe the region of the brain that specializes in love is also the seat of our courage, since there is no true love without courage, but perhaps it is more likely that the seat of love is the same as the seat of hate. This may explain why we can so easily tear our loved ones to pieces, or transition so dexterously from complete bliss to consummate hate. Love and hate are perhaps two sides of a coin, with which we can purchase our purpose, driven by a primeval impulse as universal as our capacity to speak, read, cry or laugh. This may explain also why the people we love or hate are so deeply imprinted in our memories, since they triggered strong emotions that carve neural pathways that will remain with us to the day we die.
In this process, some people are imprinted into our brains with a sort of indelible ink. We cannot forget them and we are bound to either love them or hate them, with little free will. I remember a woman who called her ex-husband after 7 years separation, a couple of months before she married again. She called to tell him that she was finally over him, no longer hated him and no longer wished him a constant plethora of maladies. She called, not to make peace with him, but to make peace with herself and let him fade into oblivion. I wonder if she was successful, for indelible ink is very difficult to erase. Maybe we are destined to secretly love or hate these unforgettable people for the rest of our lives.
There is a group of Tibetan monks who meditate thousands of hours and achieve a state of inner tranquility and peace that, apparently, allows washing off these long lasting imprints. They call it Mind Training, but it is hardly a practical solution in our culture. For the rest of us, there may be hope some day, though, for science will allow us to back up the affected portion of the brain, to be restored upon a critical emotional breakdown, thus restoring our capacity to love to its pristine state, giving us a chance to love again, unimpeded and unmarked, again and again until death or a restore do us part.