Living in The Past…
[NEW Guided Meditations for you! Look into your past and future!]
Time is an illusion! Everything exists at once!
What do you think about those statements? Einstein said, “Time is a very individual experience.”
I don’t really think we can separate our past from our present or future. It’s all on a continuum at any given moment. We are all of it, all at once. Past, present, and future.
Suppose you’re having a discussion with someone about your future plans together, and they get triggered by something from their past. You’re having the discussion in the present moment, yet you’re immersed in the future, and they just had a past flashback.
I was attending a mindfulness retreat, deep in meditation, when I realized that even though I was literally practicing the present moment, it was based on my original intent to have a more mindful and peaceful life in the near future. I envisioned a peaceful future, because of my chaotic past, while practicing the present moment. Past, present, future… all at once.
Perhaps you chose a current relationship based on past (early childhood) relationships, but you also pictured a future with the person as well.
We are always time traveling within our mind.
Your mind is a mechanism for time travel! Mostly because the subconscious mind knows no time. That’s how it works. This is so you don’t have to relearn some of your automatic behaviors like driving and work duties. You simply know what to do.
The subconscious mind learns in two main ways:
- What is repeated will become habit. If you do it often enough, the subconscious begins to realize that should be part of your script and engrained in your memory, for efficiency.
- When there’s a strong emotional charge to something- we burn that sucker into our mental file. The subconscious automatically stores something that is charged with emotion- the highs and the lows, but especially the lows so we don’t die (survival mechanism).
[In this blog, How to Reprogram Yourself, I describe how to change subconscious learning and programming]
One metaphor I use is when we’re driving in our car and suddenly, we hear an old song from our past. Thanks to our mind, we’re instantly transported to the meaning that song held for us in the past. Past emotions emerge and all the memories associated with the song too.
If you’ve even heard of the concept of the Inner Child– we do have a part of us within that deeply remembers past pain and programming, and it manifests as some of our habits, triggers, and beliefs today. A trigger in the present moment is basically a (subconscious) memory of a negative past situation or feeling.
Sometimes we have to relearn or reprogram a trigger. One key feature of hypnosis (working with the subconscious mind) is time distortion because the subconscious knows no time. This is great for directly going to the source and healing past wounds!
I think a well-adjusted way of living is fully accepting the past, present, future continuum. Denying any one of them, to any extreme, results in dysfunctions.
The more we deny our past, the more we end up living in it, over and over, through repeated patterns of behavior and beliefs. I’ve met a lot of people deep in depression that refuse to unpack or approach their past. Some don’t even believe the past has anything to do with their life now. When in fact, they are living in their past a lot more often than they realize, but on a subconscious level.
Depression (past living): That’s what’s interesting and unfortunate about depression- it is said to be the result of people who are living in the past. Although, they often don’t realize they are living out all their past patterns. Stuck on repeat no matter what they do, it seems.
Anxiety (future living): It is also said that anxiety is found in those who are living too much in the future- stuck on what could happen, anticipating an uncertain future. If only those with anxiety would realize they don’t have to jump in all at once, that one small step in the direction of the future, is all that’s necessary. Focusing on one step at a time. But they see the entirety of a possible future… and freeze!
Present Living: Ideally, we should connect with present moments for mindful living. It’s a wonderful state to connect with. However, someone who lives predominantly in the present moment can become more chaotic than purposeful. I admired my mother’s childlike ability to live by the seat of her pants, from moment to moment, but this was chaotic and unsettling for a child who needed some stability to gravitate to. We need things like planning and preparing for the future.
When we refer to someone as “stuck”, it’s usually due to a lack of flow on the past-present-future continuum.
Ideally, we integrate as we go. Never denying the experience of past, present, and future, all at once. When we don’t integrate, regret, compounded grief, lamenting, and resentment begin to seep into our present and future experience.
From this perspective, it eases the pressure to “get over” your past, but instead, integrate it.
Leave the past in the past?
Someone sent me a video of an inspirational talk. It was spoken with such conviction that if I didn’t know better, I’d be hanging on every word like the gospel, except that it was all mostly false: “You don’t know how much time you have (true)… what’s gone is gone (not quite). Stop living in the past (no)… There’s nothing you can do about it (not true). Some people had terrible things happen in the past, but what’s gone is gone (not true)…” And it continued like that. The person who sent me the video was simply asking what I thought about it.
I know a lot of people who believe the past stays in the past. However, escaping the past typically involves a lot of dysfunctional coping mechanisms, such as bypassing yours (and others) emotions, which leads to a lack of emotional intelligence, maturity, and resilience. You may blame others for causing emotions to stir up or you don’t like facing uncomfortable things, so it’s their fault you had to feel certain painful emotions. They’re the problem! No.
Instead of being aware of how past pains affect them now, the person decides not to acknowledge feelings that remind them of past pain. This plays out in relationships as anger and attachment issues.
If they were hurt in the past, they’ll do everything they can to avoid similar pain in the present.
People who learn to turn off their emotions, hide them, or dismiss them, will undoubtedly deal with later difficulties, especially in relationships, so did they really leave their past in the past if it comes back to haunt them in their current life situations and relationships? No.
Sometimes people invent whole new false personas, to escape their past. This is in the form of an extra-large ego, keeping up the “appearances”, with plenty of ego defenses that may resemble narcissistic behavior. Narcissism is creating a false self and protecting it at all costs. They project their pain onto others.
The Past and Nostalgia: A positive association with the past
I love the elderly, because I enjoy listening to their stories from the past. It seems we spend our middle years trying to get over the painful past or worse, living in it. But fast forward to the end of our lives and we become nostalgic about the positive memories in the past. It can give you a feeling of comfort and happiness. I know that I’m making memories now, to reflect back on in my later years.
Scientists have found that nostalgia actually serves a positive function, improving mood and mental health!
It also nurtures a sense of self-continuity (the ability to perceive oneself as an entity that extends both backwards into the past and forwards into the future (as well as our legacy).
To access and use our inner resources requires a flow and integration between past, present, and future.
I enjoy mindfulness simply because I think of it as “neutral”- a way to pause and take stock of and integrate the past, present, and future. It fosters an ability to let go in the moment and not cling to the future or the past.
It’s wise to know that if you’re thinking about your past, your present circumstances may look different than if you’re thinking about your future and vice versa; your present circumstances may dictate how you perceive your past and future. We need to keep that in mind, because time is all in our mind.
Like the old Buddhist quote: “If you want to know what you were doing in the past, look at your life today. If you want to know your future, look at your life today.”
[Flow between the past, present, and future with my FREE Self-Awareness Journal]
NEW GUIDED MEDITATIONS: These Guided Meditations are intended to explore your past, present, and future.
THE MANIFESTING MEDITATION: Create the mindset for a better future.
PARENTIFIED CHILD (INNER CHILD MEDITATION): The parentified child is one who took on too much responsibility as a child- whether caring for siblings or a parent’s emotional state, the Parentified child needs to settle their nervous system in order to enjoy life.
PAST LIFE RELATIONSHIP: Curious if you’ve shared another lifetime with someone in your current life? We can learn so much about our relationships, through our past, even the really distant past!
PEACE AND BE WELL,