Our past is full of demons.
We were hurt when we were children, whether it be from a screaming parent or a childhood bully, and many of us can still feel that keen sting into our adult lives.
There is no one that gets through this life without having a few stains on their soul. Life is hard—and every so often, we dwell on the “way back” stuff that originally made life so damn hard for us. The past can hurt much more than the present, making it difficult to create a better future.
Many people live in the past. It may not seem like it, because they walk around in the present—but every once in awhile, we’ll catch a glimpse of someone reenacting a damaging event from their past that will give us insight into how trapped they really are there. A customer will snap at a server at a restaurant for not taking care of them quickly enough, making up for the absence of love given to that person by their parent when they were young. These cycles just keep going.
What I’ve learned is that we can very easily be defeated by the past—if we let ourselves. We can let our past traumas get the best of us if we are not too careful. This is the real tragedy: perpetuating the pain and heartache of the past, bringing about a much darker future than we ought to have.
We can either be defeated by our past or excel into a better future, all depending on the choices we make. I would prefer the latter.
So, how do we overcome the ghosts of our past?
We live fully in the present. We become an active participant in our lives, rather than passive observers. We skillfully engage with the present moment, navigating our perception toward the highest possible good. We transcend our ego, the part of us that wants to hold on to the past to affirm its flawed identity.
I have a little trick: take the time to look at the part of our personality that we would prefer to neglect. The ugliness. The fear. The envy. The selfishness. The sadness. Observe the parts of ourselves that are less tolerable, and then tolerate them. When we do this, we expand our perception, bringing the unconscious into the conscious—and from here, we can step more deeply into the beauty of the present moment. The more we understand about ourselves, not conceptually but experientially, the more we are capable of freeing ourselves of the past.
We don’t remember things from our past because we have to; we remember things from our past because something was left unresolved. If we remember something for more than a year and a half, bugged out by some strange experience that we had, it’s probably a sign that we should look much more closely at that experience. This way, we can find out what’s troubling us—in the active present—and use that knowledge to excel into a happier future.
I’ve had plenty of past experiences that stayed with me in an unhealthy way. It’s no picnic. I’ve been haunted by the ghosts of my past, the painful moments that have stuck with me—and it’s taken a great deal of work to understand why these experiences have stayed with me, and to learn how to overcome them.
What I’ve tried to do is cultivate my capacity to pay attention, to observe myself in action without judging or being afraid; and if I can really do that then my past no longer has power over me. I can make free choices and move through the world according to my heart’s deepest desire.
So, we can either be defeated by our past or excel into a better, happier, healthier future—and we achieve the latter by stepping fully into the present moment through activating our latent capacity to pay attention.
If we can learn to pay attention to ourselves, then we can also pay attention to our shadows. The scary things from our past seem like a movie—something that just happened, instead of “happened to us.” We mustn’t take the past personally any longer, and that’s the real secret. Pure observation trumps ego, every damn time.
Meditate. Read. Journal. Play. Conversate. Look. Listen.
Expand the horizons of our own perception, and the past will be…well, a thing of the past.
Zen Story: a Buddhist way to Let Go of your Past.
Author: Samuel Kronen
Image: Unsplash/Blake Connally
Editor: Yoli Ramazzina
Copy Editor: Nicole Cameron
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