Leave The Past Behind

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“Sooner or later she had to give up the hope for a better past.”
-Irvin Yalom

We have this unique human ability to keep the past alive in our minds and in our hearts, arguably a good thing when this past was filled with love and joy, definitely a bad thing when this past was filled with trauma and pain. One reason to keep the past alive, as Yalom cleverly points out above, is because you simply cannot accept how things went down, so you continue to wrestle with this past in a misguided attempt to get a different result.

There is no question that the past informs present reality, but the inability to let go diminishes the present, turning it into a second class citizen and putting your past in the driver’s seat. As long as your past is a living, breathing entity it will divert some of your attention away, attention that is needed if you want to live mindfully, since mindfulness means bringing 100% of your attention to the present moment.

Just by using your reason you can summon up the courage to decide that it’s time to leave the past behind. If what you really wanted all along was to be happy, you’ll realize that this ardent desire is the very thing keeping you from being happy. Where before you may have been powerless and couldn’t control the things that happened to you, now you hold all the cards to decide how you want to be in the world, and by staying stuck in the past you are keeping yourself from happiness and self-actualization.

The way to instill meaning into a painful past is to decide upon the most ideal conditions for your happiness now and then activate with all of your being to make it happen. Then you can make the argument that your past is responsible for your present, a present full of love and growth without any regrets.

It might feel like the things that happened to you were so unfair and wrong that you can’t let go. But you can come to realize that deciding to let go is the ultimate act of power. We are not talking about forgetting, we are talking about changing your relationship to your memories so that they no longer feel viscerally alive and no longer exert any control on your present.

You can’t change what happened to you but you can change your reaction. There are people who spend their whole lives bitter and angry about what happened to them. They want so badly for things to have been different and this sense of injustice keeps them holding on. If you can summon up the courage to really grieve and let go, you open up the possibility of making your present just as good as how you wanted your past to be, and this is a risk worth taking.