Why We Should See The Past As The Past And Let It Go
I have a very spiritual side to me. I don’t write about it as frequently and only allude to it here and there on my podcast. Why? I like to believe it’s because I’m still figuring it all out – collecting information and new ways of seeing things before I’m ready to communicate how I feel and what I believe. But I also recognize it could be out of fear that others won’t relate or connect. One day I’m sure I’ll fully step into my spiritual side and share those thoughts more. But until that day, I’ll share a recent one.
I’m currently going through an audio workbook on, A Course in Miracles, a 1976 book by Helen Schucman commonly described as, “a curriculum for those seeking to achieve spiritual transformation”. I tried to start the course last year and didn’t stick with it. But this year, it’s connecting more and one of the concepts really got me thinking.
It stated that for everything we look at – and I mean everything – all we see is the past. It can be a difficult concept to grasp at first, but when you really think about it, it makes complete sense. We wouldn’t know what anything is, how anything works, or who anyone was if we didn’t have our memories of our past experiences. The example used in the lesson was a cup. If you saw a cup for the very first time and had zero prior experience with it, you wouldn’t know what to do with it. You wouldn’t know to pour a liquid in it, grasp the handle, pick it up, and drink from it. You wouldn’t even know you could pick it up without breaking it. We only know all these things because we’ve used a cup before, and prior to that, because we saw someone else do it.
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The importance of the past
We are constantly bringing the past into the present to make sense of it. For day-to-day life, like driving and performing at work, this is very helpful. But when it comes to the people and relationships in our lives, it may be holding us back. Because if we are constantly using the past to inform and understand the present, are we ever really seeing someone – or ourselves, for that matter – for who they are in that exact moment? We see who they are only through the lens of who they’ve been.
On the surface, it makes sense logically. It’s not like we are going to introduce ourselves and act like we are meeting someone completely new every time we encounter a coworker, friend, family member, or significant other. But, in a weird way, we are meeting someone new every time we encounter a coworker, friend, family member, or significant other. Because each time we interact, they have gone through a whole new set of experiences since the last time we spoke to them. They’ve had new thoughts, new ideas, and new viewpoints. All things that can significantly change a person. Even on a physical level, their hair has grown, they’ve shed some skin, maybe their blood pressure has increased. Their entire physiological and psychological makeup has changed. They are, in fact, a different person.
I think it’s one of those dualities in life that challenge us to find the middle. Find a way to see two seeming opposite concepts as equally true at the same time. Yes, we are all the sum of every single experience that exists in our past. It is what has shaped us, made us grow, or even gotten us stuck. We all got to be where and who we are today based on where and who we used to be. So it does make sense that we see each other – and ourselves – that way.
But that is only one side of the coin.
Not defined by our past
At the same time, we are not our past. Yes, it has shaped us, but at any given moment we are different than we used to be. With every new encounter, every new experience, and every new reaction we are changing and growing – for better or worse. We are ever-evolving.
So what if we could look at someone, and rather than only see who they’ve been, see who they have the potential to be? Imagine if we no longer carried resentment, or judgment, or anger, or disappointment from their past decisions. What if we gave someone – and ourselves – a fresh start at every moment? It’s a little counterintuitive to our current culture of sticking up for ourselves, fighting for our rights, and demanding respect. Those actions are all rooted in the past. And it makes sense – there is value in using the past to affect change in the future. But there is also no point in fighting it – arguing with it and over it. It’s done. There is only the present now… and the present is always potential for change.
Survival instincts have taught us to learn from the past to keep us safe – physically and emotionally. I’m not discrediting the value in those instincts. We don’t tell people in abusive relationships to give their abuser second chance after second chance. Nor should we. At some point, we need to recognize when others aren’t taking their fresh start and change what we have the power to change… which is only ever the present. Choose to be a different person at that moment than who we were in the past.
How much of the past should affect the present
What I’m questioning is the extent to which we continue to bring the past into the present. For as much as we are all changing and evolving at any given time, we are reluctant to see one another as different. An acute awareness of the past prevents us from seeing each other in the present where all the potential lies. When someone hurts us, the pain from that hurt lives on as a fear they’ll do it again. The same is true when someone disrespects us, betrays us, disappoints us, angers us; the list goes on and on. Past indiscretions continuously cloud the ability to see the present potential.
In Marianne Williamson’s book, Return to Love: Reflections on the Principles in A Course in Miracles, she explains that forgiveness is typically tied to guilt – we forgive someone for the wrong they’ve committed. But, she writes, “radical forgiveness is a complete letting go of the past, in any personal relationship, as well as in any collective drama.”
She explains that guilt is simply an illusion, because at each of our core is always only innocence and love, and at every moment we each have the potential to start living from that place of love. “Angry people cannot create a peaceful planet,” she writes. “The only meaning of anything in our past is that it got us here, and should be honored as such.”
It’s a slippery slope because we can twist the concept of seeing each other’s potential and turn it into wanting to change one another. And when we do that, it loses the purity of its intended intention. Instead of seeing the potential in someone, we see the change we want make in them. And no matter how you look at it and try to convince yourself otherwise, wanting to change someone is judgment. It’s a sneaky form of judgment because we think our intentions are good. We think we want the best for the other person. We think our desire comes from a place of love and looking out for them. But there’s a level deeper than that. We want to change them because we think the way they are is wrong. And that, my friends, is judgment.
It’s another one of those dualities where we must find the middle. We have to accept each other – and ourselves – for where we are in that very moment yet also see our potential for growth. Not define each other by the past or pine for someone to be different, but see each other as the possibility that each new moment brings. To love one another through all our humanness (autocorrect keeps wanting to change that to ‘human mess’… which totally works too). It’s a tall order, I know. Finding and fully accepting those middle points is difficult and will take time. But the first step is always awareness. Recognizing that our vision is often one-sided. Understanding our tendency to see each other as the past and knowing that isn’t a complete picture. Opening up to the potential that each new moment brings – to ourselves, each other, and the world around us. While also accepting that where we currently are is exactly where we need to be.
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