Monday, October 21, 2013

The Remembering Self

In Daniel Kahneman's book, Thinking, Fast and Slow, he discusses two selves that we all carry around with us: the experiencing self and the remembering self. The two selves have different perceptions of their own happiness. Kahneman even goes so far as to claim, “Odd as it may seem, I am my remembering self, and the experiencing self, who does my living, is like a stranger to me.” 

The first thing that comes to mind when I consider this internal division is the self that reflects on personal experience after a substantial passage of time, or that has learned something new between the formation of the initial memory and reflection upon it. We can all see that our 30 year old selves view our teenage years quite differently than we did when we were living them. But what surprises me is the weight that my remembering self attaches to moments that escaped deliberation in the very distant past.

Just this morning while I was getting ready for work, I remembered with such poignancy how my three year old followed me out to the garden on Saturday morning to see what was growing. We were delighted to find the kale plants exploding and she asked excitedly if she could pick some. I said yes, and explained that you have to peel the bottom leaves away from the stalk. She understood but wasn't quite strong enough to do it herself. So as she tried, I helped each leaf along until it fell in her palm and she felt accomplished. She insisted on carrying a big armload of leaves into the house herself for washing.

It hadn't even occurred to me until this morning that that was a bonding experience; I felt so connected to her as we worked together. Her simple joy in the task was infectious. How is it that I failed to note the depth of the experience as it was happening? 

Sometimes I think my experiencing self is unbearably stupid and that that is why I need to spend so much time writing and reflecting on the small moments in my life. I never grasp their importance until later on.