You Can’t Change the Past? Oh Yes You Can!9 comments
There are discourses in our culture about the benefits of “moving on” from our past. “Not dwelling on things” and “understanding that we cannot change what has already happened.” Also, there are discourses saying that “if we worry too much about our future we miss out on the beauty that is going on around us.” Plus “we never know what is going to happen, so why worry?” We are invited to instead live in the present, when indeed it is the only reality. The past and the future are not happening now and focusing on the present is the way to healing.
The guilt and worry are the major problems when ruminated over the past and future. These discourses understand the suffering in feeling guilt over the past and worry about the future is what affects us most of all.
Many years ago, when I was first learning mindfulness with a friend, we wondered when was time to plan the future or review the past if we were supposed to stay in the present? After some reflecting, reading and questioning our teachers, we concluded that if we can do everything mindful, we can even plan for our future mindfully. We can sit down and plan a trip, all the while breathing and being present with the research, information and decisions.
In the same vein, we knew the benefits of recapitulation, a practice of reviewing the day each evening. While recapitulating, we go through the events of our day without any harsh judgments. We may come across something that we did that we’d like to change or improve on, but after we make the decision to be different– the judgment is useless. Even though it may take a while to decide how to be different, the second we decide the first way was not what we wanted, we can let the judgment go.
People often tell me that they like their harsh judgments because they make them strive to be better person. I disagree, deciding to be a better person makes us a better person. Not beating ourselves up. Judging ourselves can make us feel so bad we are practically immobile. We don’t feel good enough to succeed and it stops us from trying. Sometimes the worry and the guilt take up so much of our energy that we have no more energy to make the change. (Just Make a Decision)
The other benefit of recapitulation is that we can review what we appreciate about ourselves and our life. Reflecting on what we appreciate can encourage and support these good things in our lives. Sometimes we get stuck seeing the glass as half empty. When I am working with someone who see the world this way, I invite them to write down two things each night that they are grateful for. This is an amazing practice that seems so simple but can really make a difference. Anyone can do it and it will build their skills in seeing good things happen to them throughout the day, making each day better and better. We can try to notice the good in our lives, but there is something special about writing down these things that drives it home.
About this “you can’t change the past discourse”….
I have a secret for you. We can change the past. We change it by changing the meaning we associate with it. One time I was in a workshop called: Receive Your Childhood Shamanic Training with Paula Denham at the beautiful High Pond Retreat Center in Bristol Hills, NY. After two days of shamanic journeying to go within to learn about our past and mission for the future, Paula lead us through a life changing journey. (What is a shamanic journey?) Hand and hand with our trusted Spirit Teacher, who we had been working with for two days, we were to walk through significant events in our past. We were not instructed to see them in a new way, just walk through them with our teacher. It was amazing how in this context so many of us did see it different. People saw abuse, the death of their parents, the death of their child, bouts with cancer, and divorce in a whole new light. No longer the victim of any of these things they moved past from the fear and guilt about them. The intense emotion usually associate with them disappeared. They were free from the pain of them. One woman realized that she sailed past her cancer, like she forgot it in the sequence of her life, since it no longer held the same meaning, it ceased to exist for her. She was laughing as she told us, “How do you forget cancer?” Then hearing herself saying, “I am happy to forget cancer.”
People can write and imagine new endings for their past and this drastically shifts the energy of those memories. We can rewrite the past. This is what we do in Narrative Therapy: negotiate new meaning around our past. Instead of just being a victim of trauma, we notice our response to it, and then think about what those responses say about what we hold precious, what we give value to. This gives us a place to stand outside the trauma. Thinking of the trauma is like a half memory, and then understanding how our actions express what we hold valuable (and stand up for) despite the abuse is the second half of that memory. Having a whole memory rather than a half memory drastically transforms how we see the situation and feel about ourselves. It is just like changing the past.
Jodi Aman / /