No other word in the English language can conjure up both joy and sorrow, evoke both a smile and sadness (sometimes in the same memory). The past is something that humans have written about, study, and in certain circumstances regret. All in all, our pasts help us define who we are today; this depends on how much power you decide to give to your past, and whether or not your have the foresight to learn from your mistakes or miscalculations.
Our pasts are full of memories, some good and some not so good. That is normal. Most individuals have a mix memories that they remember with joy and memories that haunt them even into old age. The key is to harness the power of the past in order to affect our present life. That is just about the only useful thing that we can do with our past. We can also talk about the past with fond remembrance. This usually occurs in a group setting where individuals have a shared experience that they love to relive. This recently happened to me at the dinner table where my family recounted the time when I trained obsessively for a local inline skating race, only to be demolished by former Olympians that showed up with equipment and training that was no match for my inexperience. The laughs that we get from some memories are priceless, and these are the memories to be cherished and told, as long as they only enhance the present moment and don’t cannibalize it.
The Bad and The Ugly
When individuals regret the past, this can be an issue, especially if their present moments are affected by the regret. Regretting the past can cause just as much stress as over anticipation of a future event. The present moment is a beautiful place where stress does not exist. The corruption from the past can become a systemic issue for some individuals, leading to ineffective coping mechanisms (drugs, alcohol, over-eating) and even Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). PTSD can be treated with Cognitive Re-Training, a form of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy where past negative events are analyzed and detached from emotional states, thereby leading the individual to a more logical, emotion free explanation of the past event. PTSD can be crippling, a manifestation of the past that has been buried deep inside the minds of an individual who is obviously suffering in the present.
Redemption and Gratitude
The key to not letting your past control your present emotions is to be grateful for what you have in the present. We all have things to be grateful for. Just the fact that you are reading these words indicates that you have vision and the cognitive knowledge to understand what I am saying. That, in an of itself, is a miracle to the majority of life on this planet. Imagine the insanity of walking into your living room and seeing your dog curled up on the couch reading Lord of the Flies in utter disgust! Being grateful is not only the key to putting your past behind you but also the key ingredient to living, totally engaged and enthralled in the present moment. Take awe in the things around you and you will be redeemed of the past. Respect and thank the past for bringing you here, yes. But understand that the only thing that truly matters is what you do in the now.
Take pause this week and remember your past. What events specifically show up in your mind’s eye? Are these events good events or bad events? Perhaps both? Become aware of the present moment and how the past does not even enter into the equation, if you are fully immersed in it. Pay your respects to past events but do not let yourself obsess over them. Make two columns on a sheet of paper. Write down some lessons that you can take forward from your past events in one column and in the other column write down as many things that you can that you are grateful for. Understand how the past can link into your present moment, but realize that understanding the past should not be misunderstood with dwelling in it. The past should only be a tool to unlocking and understanding the present and perhaps preparing, albeit briefly, for future events.
“Lean into it!”