I’m as guilty as everyone else—I can easily get hung up on the past. I’m trying to change; to, once and for all, leave behind the “I should haves,” “Why did I do that?” “Why didn’t I do that?” “I can’t believe she did that to me.” “I’ll never forgive them.” Please feel free to add your comments to mine, because, by acknowledging such phrases, we can realize how we are unconsciously tied to, lied to, and ruled by our past.
As the saying goes, “we can’t change the past,” and yet, what do we do? We choose to spend countless hours dwelling on, rehashing, and reliving it. As much as we fixate on any past event, we’re never going to be able to change it. Despite this, we repeatedly beat ourselves up whenever we dwell our previous experiences.
I’ve reached a point in my life where I’m asking why do this to ourselves. At times we can have moments of clarity when we pause and realize how foolish we’re being—I like to say we’re all brilliant with hindsight. Think about the time and energy you waste every time you dwell on and relive the past not to mention the additional stress such thinking creates. To what avail? I’m not advocating ignoring the past; it can provide valuable insight, if we use it correctly, into the why of our actions/reactions today.
Just as we know the past, we can’t know the future. Yet, we look to it as our ideal: “In the future I’ll be: rich, famous, thin, successful, happy, etc., etc., etc.” Again, please feel free to insert your own phrases (you know you can). Through our continual dwelling on the past and the future we create the stories of our lives, and for most of us, we become trapped in either one or the other of these two realms with their false realities. Yet, our lives are happening right now in this moment, and we usually are unaware of it.
True, the past informs who we were, and the future will reflect who we are and what we do today. But they don’t define us. My suggestion, whenever these past/future moments arise, is to take a breath and approach them as an outsider, a neutral observer, someone without an emotional attachment. Again, just try to observe with no emotional involvement.
Use this moment to examine a past event; again, I’m not encouraging you to dwell on it. Think back to the last fight you had with your spouse or best friend. Chances are your reactions came from your perceptions of the situation as well as your ego. Now, take a step back from the “I was right, and they were wrong” mentality. Remember, we all have a right to hold different opinions, but to lay claim to the truth is a false assumption.
I always like to think of two of Byron Katie’s questions during such reflections: “Is it true?” followed by “Can you absolutely know that it’s true?” Just by adding “absolutely” changes your answer. A point of view is just that—a point of view. It can be true, it can also be false, and yes, partially true. What is so important about being right or, for that matter, attacking someone who doesn’t share your outlook?
With the above thoughts in mind, take time to examine the cues that generated the fight. What were the circumstances surrounding the disagreement? Could the argument really have revolved around you being criticized by your boss at work or perhaps, being struck in traffic for an hour and a half?
Yet, we are apt to quickly blame the other person. At the time, did you pause to consider their perspective and their cues? Might they have just received troubling news or had to pay for an unexpected expense? Again, what I am asking us to do is take a step back, hit pause, release ourselves from our egos, let go of judgment, and our personal perceptions of the event.
By doing so you might discover a perspective you didn’t have at the time. You could realize your reactions came from a long-held belief that served you at some point in your life. But upon examination, you realize it no longer works for you.
The positive outcome—you let go of a belief that has been holding you back, adding additional stress to your life, and draining your energy.