We are not our past
Updated: May 26, 2020
I made a lovely dinner for the family the other day and being the responsible parent I am, served up lots of lovely vegetables, now my children do enjoy their vegetables and always have. However my daughter ‘hates peas’ and my son ‘hates mushrooms’ luckily for him there was no mushrooms in tonight’s dinner! But alas, for my daughter the dreaded green balls of goodness appeared on the table. “I’m not having any peas! I hate peas! You know that!” I replied, “yes I know you think you hate peas, but the last time you tried them was many years ago, so I suspect if you tried them again you’d change your mind”
“Impossible! I won't do it”
We left the conversation there, maybe today wasn’t the day to conquer the great pea debacle in our house.
Of course, my daughter may have tried the peas and still had a genuine dislike for the taste and texture of the humble green vegetable, but getting her to try was a step too far.
As humans we make great efforts to protect ourselves from situations, people, places, ‘things’ and the labels we have applied to ourselves, built up over years of experiences and memories that create our ‘identity suit’. We live our lives governed by past thoughts, relaying the past experiences as a label on ourselves “I can’t do that, I’ve tried before” “I don’t want to do that, the last time I did it, it didn’t work out” or “I have a terrible immune system, I always get ill”. How limiting, painting ourselves into a corner, slowly making our opportunity for life experiences more and more reserved.
We also spend time regretting our past, things we did or didn’t do, words we said or how we handled situations. Going back to the past with words such as “I wish I hadn’t done that” or “I wish I’d spent more time doing that”
Those with regrets may react to situations with their past steering their choices, some consciously, some unconsciously. Using their beliefs to steer their version of reality. And if situations don’t turn out as planned, apportion blame you themselves “I knew that would happen” or “I wish I hadn’t bothered”
Your life is a line of experiences, moments in time that are what they are, they cannot be changed, they simply are the present moment.
Our previous handling of situations helps steer a path, of course it does and in many cases our past has helped us stay alive and away from harm. I remember vividly my grandma saying “don’t take the jam tarts off the oven, they’re still very hot” being a young rebellious kid, I did just that, burning my fingers badly on the hot jam in the process. So, my past experience has taught me that boiling hot jam out of the oven isn’t to be touched. Many choices however, pave the way for great personal growth and wonderful opportunities for the future.
We all have times where we made choices that today we consider to be bad, foolish, thoughtless or inconsiderate, that is life. Our challenge is to not dwell or give gravity to these thoughts, because they cannot be changed. They are in the past, and the past doesn’t exist. It has been.
In the grand scheme of the universe, a mistake isn’t a mistake, it’s simply part of the jigsaw of life, we don’t have the full picture at the present moment so base our opinion on the limited information we have.
“what was traumatizing in the past can become medicine for the present and the future.”
John Halifax - Zen Bhuddist teacher
Regret and guilt are unhelpful emotions that try to steer your opinion of the present moment, convincing you it could’ve been better or different. Making you hold onto this false narrative and impact your enjoyment of the present.
Accept the past for what it was. Simply a moment in time that allowed you to be where you are today, accept your choices and decisions with no regret and no judgement. Praise yourself for this and take joy in a present untainted by the chains of regret, guilt and past perceptions.