Wouldn't It Be Great If We Could Just Put Our "Past" To Bed?
Updated: Aug 3
I recently returned from a wonderful holiday on a cruise liner. I loved watching the glorious sunsets and one afternoon, while sitting at the back of the boat, I noticed a path of white foamy upturned water left behind by the ship. I thought, "Wow, that represents my past..."
I could imagine myself in that exact same position, just a few moments before, watching the sunset. The moment had passed and the only moment that existed was the one I was in - the present.
I then marvelled at how easy it was to see my past as something that was over - foamy water left behind. I wondered, "How different would our lives be if we could apply this simple tool of leaving our past where it belongs - in the past?"
"How different would we be in the world if we didn't have our "past" following us, like a stealthy stalker hiding in the shadows?"
I know, I know, we have been blessed with a brilliant brain that stores memories (good and bad) in order to ensure our survival as well as help us make sense of the world. But what if, for a moment or two, we didn't bring our "past" with us to every interaction or experience? What if our reality was not coloured by our perspectives? What would our lives look like? What if we didn't prejudge a person or a situation? Imagine meeting people as if for the very first time? The disagreement we had with our partner in the morning would have no residue in the evening when we got home. A traumatic event from our past would remain just that - a traumatic event from our past and not something that revisits us when we least expect it. Would we be as reactive, insecure, isolated, judgemental, anxious, angry...?
Living in the past robs us of the joy of the exquisite present moment - which is the only moment in which we exist.
I remembered a recent experience...
I was in a shop, standing in a queue and waiting to pay for my goods when I noticed a young boy (3 or 4 years old) curiously walking amongst the aisles of clothes. I could see he was lost in a world of colour, textures and superheros! He began touching the different items, walking through them and hiding in between them. He was having so much fun!
The next minute his mother shouted out, “Conner, come here, someone is going to steal you!”
I noticed his playful, happy face shift immediately into one of fear and horror. His eyes widened, his open smiling mouth shut quickly and he ran over to his mother, clinging to her.
I acknowledge that this was a mother trying to protect her son in a world that can be harmful and dangerous but it was so clear that I had just witnessed "fear" being born in a child.
Perhaps Connor will shrug it off or perhaps it's the beginning of feeling anxious around strangers or new people in his life. Who knows...
Are you defined by your past?
How does this get in the way of your present relationships, opportunities & situations?
Who would you be without your story?
Taku Kai - a friend of mine who is a recovering addict and runs a rehabilitation centre said something so profound, "You can't trip over something that's behind you unless, of course, you're walking backwards looking straight ahead."
Letting go of the past can be extremely challenging. It requires the desire to let go, an open mind to answer The 4 Questions and the stillness to wait for our wisdom to respond. It's important to remind ourselves that we cannot change our past, however, the healing power lies in our ability to question what we are believing about our past. The only way the past exists for us is as a simulation in our minds - like watching a movie over and over and over again. We are the ones who keep playing the movie, we are the ones who can eject it from the video machine. I know, I am giving away my age - video machines went out with the dinosaurs, but hey...
Here are 3 steps to help put our past where it belongs.
We start by tuning into our feelings and allowing them to find expression in our bodies. Our tendency is to ignore and suppress them because many feelings make us uncomfortable & are difficult to be with. Our feelings are our guides to our freedom as well as our partner to inner transformation. If we disregard our feelings we miss out on the valuable "whisper" they bring with them. We are feeling something because we are thinking something. As we think, we feel. Everytime we feel a tightness, a gnawing, a dread, a sadness, an anger or a fear, it is because we are thinking & believing something (knowingly or unknowingly). The way we deal with this is to "CALL IT" or wake ourselves up to the feeling by saying, "I notice there is a feeling of tightness in my stomach. I am feeling anxious". By "noticing" you are objectively feeling the sensation pass through your body until it leaves. This is very different to saying "I have a tight feeling in my stomach. I am anxious". There's a very important distinction between the two experiences. By "noticing" the feeling you acknowledge you feel anxious but you are not labelling yourself as anxious. When we state "I am anxious" we are taking on the identity of being anxious instead of noticing an anxious thought and feeling passing through. Science shows the biochemical rush which causes the feelings in our body only lasts between 60- 90 seconds. In other words, feelings are temporary and if we "ride the wave", they will pass.
Ask yourself, "What am I thinking and believing that is making me feel this way?" When you sit quietly enough the answer will come up. Put your thoughts down on a Byron Katie "Judge Your Neighbour Worksheet" and begin to question each statement.
I'll share a personal example so you can get a better understanding of how it works.
My son is in Matric and the workload is relentless. He recently had to hand in a project and there was a tremendous amount of stress, shouting and staying up late to get everything finished. After I dropped him at school I noticed I was clenching my jaw and had a knot in my stomach - an anxious feeling. So I paused and CALLED IT! "I notice my jaw is tight, my stomach has a knot and there is an anxious feeling moving through me." I didn't ignore it because I know that an "off" feeling is a sign that I am believing something that is causing my suffering. I very quickly realised that my stressful thought was "David needs to do well in Matric".
The 4 Questions are:
1. Is it true? (Yes or No)
2. Can you absolutely know it's true?
3. How do you react, what happens when you believe that thought?
4. Who would you be without that thought?
Then, try and find turnarounds (opposites) of the original statement that could be as true, if not truer.
When I got home, I switched off my phone and made sure I had no distractions. I sat down and starting doing the work:
1. Is it true David needs to do well in Matric?
2. Can I absolutely know it's true?
If I really sit with this question and wait something else comes up. My 'thinking mind' wants to say YES, OF COURSE. He is a white male living in South Africa. There are very few opportunities, he has to do well in order to get into University. I wait...
What does "well" mean? How well? At what expense? Mental health, self esteem? Academically? Socially? While I am his mother and "know" what is good for him and his path, do I really know? No, I can't say I do...
My inner wisdom brings me all these alternatives and I can no longer go with a Yes. I answer No - I cannot ABSOLUTELY know he needs to do well in Matric.
3. How do I react when I believe "David needs to do well in Matric"
I feel very stressed, overwhelmed and panicky. I feel my mind spinning and thinking of all the things I need to do to help him. I see how I am in his business all the time - asking him if he's working, what he's doing, if he needs help,etc. I then wait to see if images of "past" or "future" come up. Oh yes, there it is. I see MYSELF writing matric, I feel the pressure I felt 33 years ago. I am taken back to that stressful time in my life. Images of "future" then slip into my mind's eye of David not getting into Varsity and experiencing setbacks and disappointments I have experienced in my life.
4. Who would I be without this though? I would feel calm, at peace, trusting in the process and very much in the present moment. I would be in my business.
Turnarounds: "David needs to do well in Matric" (find opposites that are as true or truer).
1. David doesn't need to do well in Matric - I can see truth in this. By saying "needs to" it brings in a desperation. He doesn't "need" to. Perhaps he "wants" to and that feels so much better. I can find examples that support this turnaround.
2. I need to do well in Matric - This connects directly with my past and my need. I see this stressful thought is actually all about me, and my own PAST experience of matric. I see how I am projecting my past onto David, now. I can find examples that support this turnaround.
By using Inquiry we can go to past experiences, connect with our higher, wiser selves & release the thoughts related to the experience, one worksheet at a time.
What I do know for sure is that unless we question thoughts & beliefs from our past, they will continue to impact our present.
"If you want shame and depression, get a past if you want fear or anxiety get a future" - Byron Katie
The last step to help us put our past where it belongs is by practising Mindfulness where we consciously bring our awareness to the present moment. We can train our brains to be less distracted by thoughts of the past. The process is to choose something to be present to - our breath or sounds or a bodily sensation.
Then we focus on these two parts:
1. Start noticing when our mind has wandered (building the "noticing" muscle).
2. Once we notice our mind has wandered, gently bring it back to the present by focusing on either our breath, sounds or bodily sensations (building the "returning" muscle).
We can help this process by introducing a daily Mindfulness meditation practise which has huge psychological as well physiological benefits.
Byron Katie has gifted us with "How", now it's up to us to put our past to bed.
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