We all know them. You might be one of them. A lot of people are, because there are people who have either experienced difficulty for most of their lives; or they faced one big event that included very high levels of betrayal or pain or fear. I’m talking about the people who aren’t happy today because of something in their past, be it as sharp as a violent parent, or as diffused as a marriage lost to ‘drifting apart.’
The good news is that we are under no obligation to re-live those painful, scary or sad events. We call them ‘big,’ and therefore we claim to ourselves that they are somehow especially compelling; that we have to think them. But that’s just a story we tell ourselves. That’s not literally true.
When I say ‘stop’ thinking about that, people say ‘I can’t help it.’ But that’s hilarious, because they don’t need to ‘help it’ as though it takes some kind of effort. We need to remove the effort we’re putting in, by stopping ourselves from assembling the narratives in the first place.
We don’t make a narrative go away by replacing it with a second narrative that tries to justify the first. Remember: we put work into these narratives. I’m saying be peaceful instead. It’s much easier, and by living that way, we are left with more energy with which to build a bigger life.
The only reason we believe we have to think certain things is because we do think those things a lot, and your brain gets good at anything we ask it to do a lot. So thoughts like that are like a big valley in your head, caused by the largest amount of flowing water. That’s the route most of our thinking travels, and that can create illusory challenges that don’t exist in the real world.
If our attention is skipping across our brain, it’s more likely to settle in the widest, deepest valley, which is created by the greatest amount of thought. But that doesn’t make that concern/belief/suspicion inevitable. Hardly. They’re still just our thoughts. Who else would be thinking them?
We aren’t chased through our own consciousness by past events. In reality, what is really happening is that we are going into our consciousness, way down into the basement, where we keep all the painful stuff. And then, again by habit, we dig through years–layers–of different thoughts. We could choose to think about any of it. But without consciousness, we grab the same sheets of paper we often do, and we re-read them again, all the time complaining about how bad the story is, and how much we don’t like it.
I remind you that life remains filled with other filing cabinets which are filled with other thoughts. Even more importantly, our actions in the present are creating brand new pages in the story of our lives. If we’re choosing to think back, and to select a painful event, how is that the fault of the world? Or the people who were involved in the thought? Why does something that happened ten years ago need to be thought of today, and how do the people in those thoughts hold any responsibility for our recollection of them?
Time exists only in our head. But in reality, we are always alive now. We are never alive any other time other than the moment we are in. And we can take that current moment and we can think about when we lived. We can take our aliveness and we can invest it in remembering, and therefore in re-living, past events. But why would we do that when those events are painful?
We only do it because we think we must head to those deep valleys in our brain. But our brains change as we use them. The less time and energy we spend on recreating the past in our imagination, means the more time and energy we will have available for moving our lives forward today.
We all benefit by preventing ourselves from worrying about days gone by. The real question is: if we had just been someone else, and we just died and got reincarnated into who we are right now, we wouldn’t care what our body had done 10 years ago. You would assess its capabilities in the present, and we would use those to move ourselves forward.
There’s no reason we can’t do that ourselves, right now. Just do not invest energy going to collect and replay old memories of unpleasant events. That is not the fault of the people in those stories, nor is it proof that there’s anything wrong with us. But the pain about yesterday, that we’re feeling today, is 100% our responsibility, because no one chooses what we think about other than us. That’s why the thoughts are painful. They’re telling us not to think them.
Forget about worrying about the future or regretting the past. Be alive today. Because it’s what you choose to do today that will create where you get to start from tomorrow. Your past is over. It’s your future that’s open to change. Start living like you know that’s true.
Have yourself an awesome day.
A serious childhood brain injury lead Scott to spend his entire life meditating on the concepts of thought, consciousness, reality and identity. It made others as strange to him as he was to them. When he realized people were confused by their own over-thinking, Scott began teaching others to understand reality. He is currently CBC Radio Active’s Wellness Columnist, as well as a writer, speaker and mindfulness instructor based in Edmonton, AB where he still finds it strange to write about himself in the third person.