I’m wondering if we can ever truly let go of our past.
The past is not tangible—it’s not something physical that we can see, hear, or touch. However, it exists in our memory and manifests as thoughts and emotions in the present moment.
As those memories sprout up in our heads, we make every effort to cut their roots. Ultimately, we all suspect that for a happier life, we need to let go of the past.
However, can we really let it go? Oftentimes, it appears to me that we can’t. The refuge that the past has built in our minds seems indestructible. It doesn’t necessarily have to anchor us down when we recall it, but inevitably, it will visit us again.
That said, perhaps the question is not, “How can we let go of the past?” but rather, “How can we make peace with it?” How can we accept the past’s existence without suffering from it?
To start off, we need to understand the nature of our mind, so we can change our relationship to it. Our brains are known for storing information. Everything that we currently experience is saved inside our minds. We might then retrieve that memory during an experience that has yet to come.
Just like the heart’s job is to beat; the mind’s job is to think. Only in moments of utter bliss or presence does it go silent (as when enjoying scenery or meditating), but it can’t be silent 24/7.
So unless we’re trying to solve a jigsaw puzzle or watching a movie (or doing anything else that captivates the mind), our mind will inevitably begin to think. Unfortunately, the past is easy prey. Since it’s known, thinking of the past is the mind’s favorite hobby. It’s like going through administrative calculations for the hundredth time: why did this happen? What else could have I done? How else could it have been? What will happen next?
Regardless of what awakens the past in our heads, how we perceive the awakening of a memory makes all the difference. The thing is, when a memory abruptly arises, we take it seriously.
Now, it’s imperative to recognize whether we recall the past because we must take action or just because the mind is doing its job.
Just like Mother Nature, our system self-regulates. That said, if the past is haunting us, there might be something we need to work on. Consequently, when you reflect on the past, ask yourself these three questions:
>> Did an external event cause me to remember that thing that happened in the past?
>> Did my mind retrieve a memory just because it’s doing its job?
>> Or is there unfinished business I need to take care of?
If there’s unfinished business—even if with yourself—by all means, check how you can take action and fix what’s gone awry. Either way, for the past not to anchor us down, we shouldn’t fight it—but we shouldn’t take it too seriously either.
The past is like a book that has influenced us but now sits on the shelf. Every once in a while, when we pass by the shelf, we might glimpse the book and recall the beneficial lessons that it offered us. Occasionally, we might surf through the pages quickly, check out what we underlined, read some favorite passages again, but eventually put it back where it belongs.
If we deal with the past similarly, we ultimately make peace with it. Whether we like it or not, every moment that passes away becomes a new story. The past and the future don’t exist in the sense that we think they do. All the numbers, calendars, and clocks are only a means to facilitate our lives. We can’t possibly meet others, set appointments, or go about our day without the concepts of yesterday, today, and tomorrow. But we always end up getting stuck in time psychologically.
If we understand that time doesn’t truly exist, we can recognize that right now is the only time there is. Every passing moment is in the past. Realizing the insubstantiality of the past, we can understand its nature when it encroaches upon us. We understand that it’s either a reaction, a mere passing memory, or a call to action.
The path upon which we are walking is not a road—it’s a set of bridges. We need to accept that oftentimes, we might stop for a second and look back at the bridges behind us. Accept their presence, take a glimpse, but to keep walking is the practice. Most importantly, know that the bridge you are currently crossing will also become a sight which you will look back on in your past.
Author: Elyane Youssef
Image: Author’s Own
Editor: Travis May
Copy & Social Editor: Callie Rushton