We think about our past more than we think about the future (never mind being in the present). Living in the past could be a way of escaping the present due to the challenges we might be facing in our lives. In other words, we cling to the past by resisting the present. Part of the reason could be our present doesn’t quite feel the same (as good) as our past (for whatever reason), and so we try to match our current state to our past. We may strive to feel better about ourselves by reliving some of those moments, but that feeling is fleeting at best, as we inevitably bring ourselves back to the present. Given the way things have been shaping up in the world today, it’s not hard to imagine why we might cling to the past, but that would imply the external events influence our inner state.
Living in denial is a form of resistance at best. We may think it’s easier to live this way, but it’s not. It slowly chips away at our consciousness even as we try to be in the present. It’s akin to having a virus running in the background. Even though it’s not front and center, we are aware of its presence at all times. It stays in the back of our mind even as we do nothing about it. Come to think of it, it’s ironic we keep things inside of us that are unhealthy for us, even if it’s much harder to live this way. In other words, it’s harder to not face our challenges head on, hoping it would go away on its own.
As I alluded to in an earlier piece, both resisting and clinging are two sides of the same coin. We have either clung to (positive) moments (vis-à-vis people, places, things) and/or we have resisted (negative) moments. We classify our experiences as good (pleasant) or bad (unpleasant). We then use our past (preferences) to inform our present experience. The problem is living this way distorts our view of the present. Instead of living life objectively, we are now living it subjectively (emotionally) through the lens of our past. It’s like watching live TV with a superimposed freeze-frame.
Here’s how we might hold onto our past. We may hold onto little and big things within us with respect to ourselves and others from our past. We may not talk to (one or more of) our family members for years because we don’t get along with them for whatever reason (and we think reconciliation is not an option). Or we had a fallout with a friend at one point of time and we keep it forever in our hearts rather than trying to reconcile with them (or letting go of the fact). We hold grudges against others (even as it feels less than great within). We subjectively (emotionally) remember things they said/did to us. Imagine the burden we walk with every day. It’s no wonder many of us are unhappy, stressed, and even depressed. We have stored all of this (mostly) negative stuff within. We (inadvertently) let the past events (regardless of significance) in our lives inform (and run) our present.
It’s one thing to recall things from our past objectively because they happened (which is fine), but it’s another thing to be carried away by those experiences in our present subjectively (emotionally) through clinging or resisting.
Here’s the thing. We think about the past (mostly), because we are not okay with it. Our mind keeps talking when we are not okay about the events in our lives (past or present). We are not okay, because we haven’t experienced the events fully. The past events keep coming back up, because it wants to be out, but only if we let it. In one way, we are (implicitly) saying we are not okay with Reality, because like it or not, our past is now part of our Reality. That’s like saying it’s not okay with us that Saturn has rings or Jupiter has storms. That’s pretty funny!
Most of the time, we are not thinking active thoughts, rather thoughts are coming to us based on our stored preferences from the past that we have used to build our psyche in our mind. The best we can do is when these thoughts come to us, we can lean back, say thank you, and let it pass through without suppressing or questioning it.
When we run the same tape (monologue) over and over from conversations about what others (or us) should have said/done in past situations, that’s an indication of how that thought is trying to release itself from our mind, but only if we give it room to pass. Dreams our another way for those thoughts to release itself to get around our resistance.
Continuously thinking about our past is keeping us from fully living in the present. When that mental chatter refuses to stop, instead of experiencing Reality, our mind now has to compete for attention with our past. Remember, it only takes 10 seconds for stuff to get in, but it can take 10 years for it to get out. The best we can do is not let any more stuff into our heads (and hearts). Let’s be grateful for our past, however its turned out for us, because no one has experienced life quite like us. And that makes us all unique.
Think of your past as a gift you gave yourself. Things might not have turned out the way you wanted, but that’s okay. Besides, life is not about getting what you want, but relinquishing control by doing your best within the parameters of what’s available to you.
By the way, you have free will, but until you embrace your past, it’ll continue to run your present and your future.
Just like it’s easier to do something than to put things off, it’s (relatively) easier to accept our past than to carry it on our shoulders at all times. Sooner or later, it gets heavy. The easier way is to simply embrace it by letting it all go. It’s easier to be happy and light than to be not. It’s easier to accept than to resist. It’s easier to love than to hate. It’s easier to stay open (to all) than to close (to some).
After all, we can’t drive forward looking in the rear-view mirror (nor should we try).