“Those Old Emotions…”

You smell a familiar perfume
From a girl you knew long ago
On a holiday weekend
And you know…

That you’re there once more
In some forgotten story
From your private library
Of things that you’ll remember
Then it comes back again, those
And it brings back, those

~   The Spoons, 1980′s Hit Song

In the 1950′s, Dr. Wilder Penfield established McGill University’s Montreal Neurological Institute where he conducted pioneering brain research on epilepsy.  While stimulating the exposed brain tissue of a fully conscious woman, his patient recalled celebrating her birthday in vivid detail – when she was 4 years old!   She recalled the smell of the smoke after she blew out the candles, the names of her guests, and what she received for her birthday.   All of it was stored in her memory.

In the masculine journey, this poses a problem and an opportunity.   Since it’s true that we don’t forget significant things (though retrieving memories can be a problem), all sorts of memories, accepted facts, beliefs,  joys, pleasures, and sorrows going back to our earliest moments lie dormant within us.   When they are pleasant memories, it’s wonderful to reminisce about them.  But when they are painful and traumatic, especially in childhood, we often have to push them away and block them from our consciousness.

If these traumas – wounds to the heart – are not healed, their emotional charge will play themselves out in our lives.  Not all wounds must be dealt with, as they are grieved naturally over time, but, if they are significant, then they do need to be expressed, grieved, and released.

Having a safe place to do this work of letting go, be it in the presence of a circle of men, a trusted confidant, pastor, counselor, therapist, or through prayer, art or writing, is a necessary part of the journey of emotional health.   Having someone safe to whom we can bear our grief and release our sorrow is an important and vital step in the journey of becoming a whole man (or a whole woman for that matter).

It takes courage to do this work, but ultimately it is freeing and the most satisfying spiritual work a man can do.


For an example of the power of memories, please see:



  1. by TAMMY

    On November 29, 2011

    What an important message for all of us to read. Sometimes, we think that we cannot escape the burden of painful memories or that we do not DESERVE to escape them. So we live as a victim, in fear, distress, emptiness, and confusion. Or else, we think we’ve buried the pain deep enough to move on, but, as you point out, the memories are not really buried; they are just in disguise as destructive behaviours such as rage, abuse, alcoholism, eating disorders, etc. We can let the pain control us or we can take back our control and do the work to let the pain go so that we can live the life of joy and service that Christ intended for us. Your words provide hope and inspiration, Pat.

  2. by Patrick O'Connor

    On November 29, 2011

    You say it well, Tammy. Thank you for your comments and inspiration

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