“Freedom is what you do with what’s been done to you.” ~Jean Paul Sartre
Still plagued by your past? Then this post is for you. But only if you want to be free, only if you want to know the open-heartedness and enthusiasm for life that come with making peace with the past.
As you probably know, sometimes events from the past have a mind of their own. Memories keep recirculating when all you want is for them to disappear. You are way more emotionally reactive than you know is good for you. And you are limited by distrust, neediness, and a stunted view of what is possible for you.
If you know your past is still nipping at your heels, read on. Because you will discover 10 facts that may just be the key to unlock the door to your full, unbridled, joyful, infinitely sane expression of you. Be free of the past, and you can go on and simply enjoy your life.
A Personal Example
How do I know? From first-hand experience. For many years, I had a very rocky relationship with my parents, filled with anger and resentment about the past. My mind screamed about the “should have’s” and “ought to be’s.” I kept an endless list about what I deserved, but thought I had missed out on. There were periods with no communication and many arguments as we tried and failed repeatedly to find a way of meeting. Until I saw the light.
In a moment of insight, I took responsibility for my own happiness. I saw that my anger was preventing me from experiencing the ease and well being that I desperately wanted, so I stopped feeding it. No more stories about what should have been, no more blaming or waiting for solutions. My identity as the wounded child disappeared, and what was revealed? Happiness. Peace.
The story of what happened in my past didn’t change. But what I gave power to totally changed. I stopped dwelling on the past. I stopped justifying the anger, and now, 15 years later, I have trouble even remembering the details of events that used to agitate me to no end. I am so much more drawn to ease and simplicity. Yes, my relationship with my parents has improved beautifully, but that has been a side effect and not the primary driver. What I wanted more than anything was to be free of the past and happy in the now. And, yes, I am free of the past and so deeply happy in the timeless now.
10 Life-Changing Facts
What happened to me is, without question, possible for you. Apply these 10 life-changing facts to the sticky residue from your past. See clearly, get unstuck, and move forward free and unencumbered.
1. The past isn’t really about the past.
When you look with great clarity, you will see that there is no actual thing called the past. Everything that happens happens in the present – it can’t be any other way. Memories of events are thoughts occurring in the present. Anger or hurt about the past is happening now. Your present moment experience in the now is what keeps the past alive.
What is amazing about this understanding is that it shows you that the way out of your suffering is always in the present. You can change your perspective – now, focus on something different – now, feel your feelings – as they are right now.
2. Memories are not the problem.
A memory is a thought, and a thought has no power or meaning whatsoever, unless you give it power or meaning. You have many thoughts about things that happened long ago, and these thoughts cause no problems. But some thoughts are sticky. You have an emotional reaction to them and you think them over and over. You may even have beliefs related to them, for example, “I am justified in thinking this” or “I need an apology so I can move on.” This keeps them very much alive, affecting your ongoing experience.
If you want to be free of the past, lose interest in these sticky thoughts. Know that it doesn’t serve you to repeat them and that thinking they are justified only delays your freedom. Be prepared to take a look at the pure experience of your feelings without the layer of thinking that solidifies them (see #6 below).
3. “Healing” means letting go so the thoughts and feelings don’t impact you.
Your goal is to neutralize the story from the past so it loses its power over you. It becomes transparent, with no meaning and no effect. You change your relationship to your thoughts so they don’t sit like a dark cloud over you. Your goal is not to:
- Make yourself forget about the past (impossible)
- Stuff or ignore your feelings (creates other problems – addiction, anyone?)
- Wait for an apology or acknowledgment (postpones happiness)
- Wait for time to heal all wounds (you may need more than time)
- Wallow endlessly in your emotions (oh, so painful)
- Redo the past (you can’t change what happened but you absolutely can change your reaction to what happened)
Keep holding as possible: freedom…peace…sanity…freshness in the moment…fully alive now.
4. The path to healing opens up once you are fed up by how the stories about the past impact you.
As I’m happy to say as often as necessary, what you focus on is what will grow. If you cultivate sadness, regret, and revenge, then they will become your reality. As an alternative, be very willing to see through these stories as much as is needed. Be open to energy moving through your body rather than staying stuck. Prepare yourself to feel differently. Contemplate not defining yourself by thoughts about the past.
5. You get a jump-start on releasing the past when you take full responsibility.
Once you see that the ball is totally in your court, you have set the stage for deep letting go. Your happiness is your responsibility alone, not anyone else’s. You might be very familiar with feeling like a victim. But this is a passive, unempowered position, leaving you waiting for words or actions from someone else, something you cannot control.
Taking responsibility means being open to recognizing how your own internal landscape is feeding your suffering. What thoughts make you unhappy? What feelings are stuck in your body and heart? How do you make yourself suffer by recycling negative memories through your mind? Being stuck in the past means that a part of your heart is closed. Take responsibility for going right into those bruised and tender places. Read on to find out how.
6. Telling stories keeps the past lodged in your mind, heart, body, and spirit.
We tell ourselves all sorts of stories that bring trouble to our lives. Want to be trouble-free? Here is the medicine.
- Notice how entranced you can be by the stories of drama and victimhood that appear in your mind.
- Just for a moment, let yourself lose interest in these thought stories. (see #2 above)
- See that what is left is a pattern of physical sensations, maybe gripping, tension, or burning. You may never have noticed these sensations before, but they have probably been there for a long time.
- Now notice this: You are aware, and these sensations are appearing in your awareness. They come, go, and change, but here you are: aware.
- Take the perspective of awareness, and the sensations have the freedom to be. They aren’t ignored or suppressed. You aren’t so busy in the story that you don’t notice them.
- Now notice: Are you suffering? No, you are simply experiencing sensation as awareness.
This is freedom – no attention to the story, experience appearing and disappearing with ease. You: unchanging, clear, undisturbed.
7. Beliefs about healing can get in the way.
Besides getting stuck in the story, you might become aware of beliefs you hold about what needs to happen for you to let go. These are simply more thoughts that keep you distracted from the heart of the matter. Here are some possibilities:
- “I feel justified in staying stuck because I was wronged.”
- “It is someone else’s responsibility to make this better for me.”
- “If I let go, I’m somehow approving others’ bad behavior.”
- “I need an apology.”
- “Life is unfair.”
- “It was so bad that it’s not possible for me to heal.”
You life begins now, in this very moment…and now…and now. You can always start anew. Don’t feed these limiting thoughts, and you won’t need them to disappear. Proceed to discover that you were never not whole, that a part of you has always been untouched by the world.
8. Relationship troubles relate to your past.
Unless you see through all of it, you are a product of your past and the ideas you have formed about how relationships work. This keeps the past alive in the present. Do you fear rejection or commitment? Do you feel you need approval and attention? Do you isolate or push people away? Do you need to be on top and in control? Do you have difficulty trusting? If these tendencies cause you problems in your relationships, here is your opportunity.
Untangle your thoughts and feelings about the past, and live in freedom from them as you move forward.
9. The middle path is the intelligent path.
Dwelling on what happened and leaking your feelings all over the place will keep you suffering. Hiding, indulging, or stuffing your feelings doesn’t work in the long-term. Instead, bring intelligence and clarity to your direct experience. Cultivate a fire for peace and ease that serves you well.
10. Finding out who you are is the ultimate freedom.
If you define yourself by your past, you will be living as a fraction of what is possible for you. Say you think of yourself as wronged or abused or victimized. Or you see yourself as having gotten the short end of the stick.
Defining yourself by what happened doesn’t help you now. It’s like wearing clothes that never fit. Is it time to take them off?
It’s easy to believe in a mistaken identity. It feels so true to think we are the result of what happened or the sum total of our thoughts and feelings. But the truest thing about you is that you are aware. Life presents a passing array of experiences – thoughts, emotions, events, people. These all arise in you but are not you.
Live as the awareness that you are – fully alive, here, not in conflict with anything. Know who you are, and the pain of the past will barely be a ripple…on the surface…of the immeasurable vastness of you.
Do you have a question about being free of the pain of the past? What have you learned that has helped you? Note: This is the seventh in a series of posts on Life-Changing Facts. Here are the others: fear, attachment, habits, healing the inner critic, happiness, and anger.