Living in the Past Condemns the Future

The future is open, if we let it be. Replete with potential, if we so permit. The choice is ours, as is the experience that follows.
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Its January, and lots of us have been talking about what happened over the recent holidays, or, at least, listening to others doing so. Maybe like me, you've heard (or said) something like, "I thought it (Xmas, New Year's, a trip etc.) was going to be great, but then _______ (fill-in-the-blank) did or said ________ (fill-in-the-blank) just like always, and I couldn't wait for it to be over."

Seems like sentiment is pretty obvious, but actually, I'd argue that most of us are missing the point.

When we consistently project the past into our current experiences, we rob ourselves and everyone around us of the chance to be present, now. It also means we condemn the future to be a continuation of the past. Sounds harsh, huh? Maybe it is. But it's true, and this destructive way to thinking is ubiquitous.

At some point, we all have the chance to accept things in our lives simply as they are. This includes our own human failings, the mistakes and foibles of those we love, the tragedies we've survived and, yes, the suffering we've somehow caused. The past is past. All of it. Whatever happened back then, happened already. Yes, it brings us to where we are in our lives now, but we can't really be who we are right now if we let the past define us. This means, we miss out on just about everything.

Over the holidays, did you encounter any of these (or similar) scenarios:

  • Your loved one was more interested in reliving past failures than noticing how you've changed your present perspective?

  • You were so busy being angry at a perceived slight from the past that you lost the fleeting chance to make a precious connection?
  • You were so involved with your own personal history that you left no room for anyone else's story, and lost the possibility on any authentic human exchange?
  • Your version and interpretation of another person's past actions precluded you from experiencing any possibility of a different interaction, and so you don't actually know what might have happened... had you let it?
  • Despite all your hopes for a better experience, relationship, reunion (etc.) nothing changes, because deep down you can't imagine what or how change could actually be?
  • Do I sound angry? I am. But it's a righteous anger for all those who strive to show up in the current moment, fresh, carrying opportunity, vulnerable... and who are slapped hard in the face with other people's old hurts and hatreds.

    Let me be clear, I am not diminishing or dismissing anything: tragic or triumphant, painful or ecstatic. We are always accountable for our actions (constructive and destructive), and yes even our unspoken thoughts. There's no undoing what's already been done - but there is no need to continue redoing it (whatever it is)... especially when it causes suffering.

    The bottom line is simple: this instant, right now, is all we can ever really have. This is the lesson of mindfulness: to be compassionate, aware and open. It is also the wisdom of all the world's great wisdom traditions.

    Try to hold your knowledge of the past in one hand, but allow the other to open so you invite the present and touch what's here, now. This stance bridges the present and future, because we reach out open-handed.

    In contrast, if you clench your fists out of a pain-filled past, you will become fatigued with living or worse, you will strike someone in the present and cause more pain. Or, if you forever hold back, you can never touch what's right here. Neither of these options work. We all know this, but few of us dare to look at our own hands

    The future is open, if we let it be. Replete with potential, if we so permit. The choice is ours, as is the experience that follows.