We carry our past around with us, and for most of us it’s like dragging the bloody bodies of the fallen on a chain tied to our hips. The chain is not just heavy, its dragging the bloated, rotting, maggot-infested embodiment of our failures and pain. Worse, we are so excited to share the view and stench with everyone. Our friends, our families share in the glory of the dead we drag behind us.
Don’t be fast to judge those who live in this space. We’re all guilty of living in the past. I’m not talking about the continuity field. Fun fact, our brains use a 10–15 second delay to filter out non-essential information. So, technically we’re always living in the past.
Even though we’re dragging the bodies of the dead, at least the past is a known event. Safe from all the unexposed realities of the future. No matter how painful the past, it’s already been experienced and that brings a sense of comfort. The adage, been there-done that holds true as a safety net.
Nostalgia in the positive events
Truly though, the past is as vague as the future. We have a tendency to distort events and will therefore always yearn for the better days. When we choose to live here, it keeps us from the reality of the present and the agony of reality. The danger lies in seeing the past as something beautiful, irretrievable and somewhere that will always be better than where we are now or something which will always decide our future.
Alan R. Hirsch describes nostalgia well and plain in his document, “Nostalgia: A Neuropsychiatric Understanding,” “a longing for a sanitized impression of the past, what in psychoanalysis is referred to as a screen memory — not a true recreation of the past, but rather a combination of many different memories, all integrated together, and in the process all negative emotions filtered out.”
Living in the negative past
Often, after we go through a negative, stressful situation we stay with it for a long time. Hours, days, months maybe years. The time we spend on it isn’t about trying to problem solve, it’s about repeatedly chewing on the regurgitated vomit of those experiences. Many times, the trigger for these events is that it occurred in some public limelight. By public, I am referring to being actively engaged with an individual or individual whom we feel matters to us. This could be a social network- family or friends, or it could be public — speaking engagement or business meeting.
Interestingly, this struggle we face may be traced back to our ancestors. If a tribal member was not able to meet the needs of the community or if the individual strode from the accepted norm, that individual was cast out. In those days to be cast out meant almost certain death. And so, we ruminate on our mistakes, or ill will cast upon us because, on a very deep sub-conscious level, it could mean death.
Living in fear of the future
As some have said, the future is going to happen, it’s coming at a rate of 60 seconds a minute. We cannot stop it, so why worry about it?
There is so much to be fearful of that, if we were to sit and think about it for a moment, we may become completely paralyzed. Not only do we face a constant barrage of news outlet fear mongering, but we also must contend with our own concerns and fears about what tomorrow holds.
How will I pay my bills? Will my kids outlive me? Is my job secure? Does she really love me? Am I good enough?
While fear is good at informing us of plausible outcomes it is a poor counsel for actions to take. Listening to fear for too long may result in inaction and lack of execution.
Unwrapping the present
Awesome. So, we’ve unraveled time bound fears and what it means to be stuck, but what the hell do we do about it? Should we just continue to stand idly by while our dreams and goals go to the graveyard of what could have been. Buried under a mass of excuses and lost chances? Or is there a better way?
Here are three things you can do, right now, to set yourself up for a more authentic life. One not controlled by fear. Not controlled by pain. Not controlled by the past. Not frozen by the future. A life lived to its fullest.
1. When you feel overwhelmed, anxious or mired down by the onslaught of life. Stop. Breathe in. Breathe out. Just breathe.
- I get that this might sound out there, but its effective. The calm, stress free body breathes from the belly. When we are stressed our body responds by tightening everything and we begin to shallow breathe. This causes a vicious cycle of more stress, shallower breathing and so on. When we stop and simply breathe we are offering our bodies a moment to relax. In turn, our brains will calm as well and we will create a healthier cycle. A review on Harvard Medical touts the benefits of deep breathing stating that “Deep abdominal breathing encourages full oxygen exchange — that is, the beneficial trade of incoming oxygen for outgoing carbon dioxide. Not surprisingly, it can slow the heartbeat and lower or stabilize blood pressure.”
2. Find a state of flow by finding the novelty in the complex. The more of your brain and body you use to complete a task the more likely flow is to achieve.
- Technically, flow is defined as an ideal state where you feel your best and perform at your best. In a state of flow, you will be completely encompassed in the present moment. Time may go by completely unnoticed as you are completely engrossed by flow. We’ve all experienced it at some point in our life. When you were a kid, flow state was natural. You could do just about anything and become completely lost in the moment. Creativity at its peak, sucking the very marrow from life. “In flow, concentration becomes so laser-focused that everything else falls away” Steven Kotler
3. If something has hurt you or is bothering you, move toward it not away. Accept everything with the calm of a warrior, because that is what you are.
- We will all experience pain and fear. This is natural. What is also natural is the tendency to move away from pain and fear. To be authentic and embrace the now, we must meet these fears and the pain head on. Now, I am not saying that we should focus in on the problem at hand per say. What I am suggesting is acceptance. In white water rafting one of the things you are taught is that, if you fall overboard simply move your feet to the direction you are headed and actively give way to the rapids. The same holds true if you are sucked in to a rip tide. When you go with the rapids and rushing water you will find a sense of ease and trust. Allow the feeling to exist. Allow yourself to live in the moment, the way things are without trying to alter the experience. In this place, live the moment without judging it, holding to it as an absolute truth, or fighting it. Each moment will occur exactly the way it is. And just a storm, each moment will pass.
Wrapping it up
Stop living someone else’s story. You can fight. You can cry. You can focus in on all the reasons why your life has been or is shit. Or you can say to hell with it all. I accept this place and time and I have the power to overcome.