High Summer. Hot sun on my back and the warm air full of childish shrieks and parents' chatter. We mill around in a kaleidoscope of bright colours then file out along the high rails. The taste of raspberry sorbet lingers on my tongue; the smell of sun cream battles with the enclosure's dust and dung.
Close up they are bigger. Far, far bigger. Every wrinkle in their skin is clear, I feel the breeze as they move the air with their ears. The scent of them, musk and wildness, overwhelms. My outstretched hand holds banana, skin and all, resting on my palm. A great grey anaconda gracefully unfurls, and two fingers grasp the fruit with delicate precision. A dribble of wetness, a tickle of whiskers; a snort. I feel and smell his breath as he furls up that trunk again and neatly pops the morsel into that cavernous mouth.
A moment only and the elephant moves to the next hand and the next treat.
That is an example of an anchor memory.
An anchor memory is a weapon you can use against negative thoughts that run like vampire squirrels on acid through your mind, driving you crazy with feelings of worthlessness, despair, guilt and shame. It is our version of Harry Potter's Patronus Charm.
In the Harry Potter books, the Patronus charm acts as a shield between you and the Dementors (forces of dark depression and despair). In real life it acts a little differently but to the same effect.
"Concentrate on a single very happy memory," says Professor Lupin, in Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban. "Allow it to fill you up; lose yourself in it – then speak the incantation."
We don't need an incantation (although some therapists recommend that you come up with your own dismissal phrase for these unhelpful thoughts), but we do need to grasp our anchor memory - it helps to have lots to choose from - and allow it to fill us up utterly, so negative recollections and feelings are swamped by it and forced (at least temporarily) out.
Go back to my memory of feeding the elephant for a moment. Can you see how every sense is involved? That's the trick. You need to have scent, taste, sound and sensation involved in this memory: it needs to be all encompassing, so it surrounds you totally and you are protected on all sides. More than this, it should be a magical moment; a moment that glitters and sparkles for you.
When we mine our past for happy memories, we tend to think of significant occasions: the birth of our children, a family celebration. But actually, memories that are most useful here are those perfect moments when we lost ourselves utterly.
So go back, find some memories and immerse all your senses in them. I promise you that even the darkest life contains enough magic for this. Then practise. Like every spell, this takes practise.
A Moodscope member.