You can't step consciously into the next phase of your life unless you bring consciousness to your past. Life moves fast—so fast that much of it seems to disappear behind you. You forget what you've accomplished. You forget the good things that have happened to you, the ways you've come closer to other people and to your true Self. And just as you lose sight of the positive moments, you often bury your discomfort about charged or difficult moments. Or, if you remember them, you beat yourself up about them, or try to justify yourself, or find someone other than yourself to blame. Any of these reactions simply lodges the discomfort more firmly in your unconscious.
When you have a charged conversation, or get your feelings hurt, or create unhappiness for another person, your subtle body registers it and holds onto it. The memory gets layered in your neurons, and eventually, into your muscles. Back and neck pain is notoriously linked to unprocessed emotions like anxiety and anger. Unless you acknowledge and consciously clear the emotions, they accumulate like sludge. That's why we often have strange feelings of discomfort, or nervousness, or seemingly unmotivated anger. When you hide or bury or in some way refuse to look at your charged emotions and thoughts, they leak out sideways, and they literally sabotage your best intentions, create pain in the body, and affect the way we speak and act.
Recapitulation—the process of recalling a charged event, bringing it to consciousness, feeling remorse if appropriate, and then letting it go—is actually a form of inner housekeeping. Just as taking a shower can revitalize you when you feel exhausted, a thorough session of recapitulation can give you new energy. As you acknowledge your accomplishments, admit your mistakes, and consciously let go of them, you free yourself of the emotional residue attached to them.
Nearly every tradition offers some form of recapitulation process. Whether we call it 'confession' or 'karma cleaning' or 'wise reflection', or even 'searching moral inventory', the purpose is the same. Recapitulation is our way of clearing the underbrush out of our inner field. When you make up your mind to look clearly at your own unconscious actions, or the inner murk that can hide your less savory motives, your self-honesty can all by itself dissolve a lot of the sludge that you carry around your heart.
The miracle of recapitulation is that it creates a natural current of self-awareness that can bring transformation all by itself. The more you get in the habit of looking back at your day or week or month, and clearing your discomfort or charge, the more automatic it becomes. Eventually, the self-clearing process will be something you do regularly, the way you brush your teeth or clean your house. And, just the way you enjoy the feeling of a clean environment or clean sheets, you'll learn to enjoy the openness and freedom that comes when you've looked at and offered up the residue of charged events in your life.
How to Do It
One secret of recapitulation is to do it inside a safe container, with a basic attitude of self-acceptance. You can practice recapitulation with a partner, or even with a group of trusted practice buddies. Working with other people is powerful if the group can create a shared space of compassionate witnessing. The people in your group should be able to act as clear mirrors for each other rather than being judgmental of one another's failures or envious of each other's success.
But it is equally powerful, and often more convenient, to do your recapitulation process alone.
There are four parts to this process.
- First, spend a few minutes summoning a feeling of loving presence and acceptance. One way to do this is simply to recall a moment when you felt truly accepted, by another person, or in nature. Then, create a sense memory of the feeling of being accepted, and let yourself sink into the felt sense that arises. Another way is to ask, out loud, "May I (or we) feel how deeply we are accepted by the universe of which we are a part." Creating a felt sense of acceptance helps give you the courage to take the second step.
- Write down events, words, and ideas that have particular charge for you. Some of these will be positive, and worthy of gratitude and celebration. These are important. But for this exercise, the real charge is often in the relatively negative events. Write just a few words to note the event. Or, write the story of what happened, including what you or another person did or said. Do this as objectively as possible. Describe your feelings with the same objectivity—were you proud? Angry? Ashamed? Scared?
- Read through the list. If there's something that you need to apologize for or somehow 'fix', note that. Resolve to take any actions you need to in order to release the energy bottled up in a past event. Decide that you'll do your very best not to make this mistake again.
- The next—and crucial—step is to tear up the paper with your negative list, burn it, or otherwise dispose of it. As you do, have the conscious thought: "May these negative events, feelings, and actions be dissolved, and may no harm come to any being because of them."
Brain science tells us that when you want to change a habit or a way of thinking, its important to consciously create a different neural pathway. The most effective way to do this is by associating a thought with a symbolic or actual physical action—in other words, by physically doing something that expresses your desire to change. The simple act of recollecting, writing, and then destroying what you've written will actually create an experience of having dissolved the negative thought or act that you want to release. And when you work with recapitulation, this principle can go a long way toward helping you change unconscious patterns and painful habits.