“People have a hard time letting go of their suffering. Out of a fear of the unknown, they prefer suffering that is familiar.”
– Thich Nhat Hanh
This is #6 of the 30 Things to Stop Doing to Yourself, an article originally posted on Marc and Angel Hack Life. You can also find all 30 things listed with the associated podcast episode under each one, as well as a link to the in-depth article I wrote about it.
#6 Stop Trying to Hold Onto Your Past
In this episode you’re going to learn five very simple, but honest steps you can take right now to help you come to grips with your past, so you can successfully let it go and move forward. There is no way you’re ever going to be able to fully embrace and enjoy your future when you are still holding onto your past. So let’s get started…
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Step 1: Accept Your Past for What It Was
You’ve heard it said before, you can’t change your past. You can be angry about it, have resentment for it, and even feel great sorrow in regard to it, but it will never go away. Never.
I know that sounds harsh and yes, I understand you may have gone through something incredibly horrible, beyond my imagination, but regardless of what it was, it’s happened, it’s moved past us, and it’s gone. It’s never going to change.
Since it’s never going to change, the only option you have for dealing with it is to change how you view it. A cracked vase tells a story, but it doesn’t take away from the vase if you view it for the reality that’s before you. Yes, if you demand the vase to be in pristine condition, you’ll struggle with seeing it as having any worth, but when you understand cracks happen, you can embrace what you have in front of you.
Change your view of what constitutes “life” and you’ll change your view of the effects of that life on you, as a person.
Let me also say, not everyone’s past is filled with dark moments. Some people had wonderful times filled with love, laughter and fantastic memories. In the same way, we must accept that past for what it was. It’s still past and it’s still gone and we must accept that.
Some people are miserable today, not because of abuse in their past, but because of joy that they feel they’ll never have again.
Step 2: Your Past Doesn’t Define You
There is a huge difference between being shaped by your past and being defined by it. Now, please realize, we CAN let our shape define us, but it doesn’t need to do that.
A woman battling cancer doesn’t need to be defined by that cancer, however, it does shape her and maybe even affects how she lives her life, either positively or negatively. But, she’s still the same person under all the hair loss, nausea and fear. She can still love the same as before and even hope for the same things as before.
A burn victim is one of the most drastic past experiences which can change your future. But, even this great physical change doesn’t need to define you as a person and certainly not as a spiritual being. You can still love your children the same and you can still laugh at the same jokes. You will still be able to appreciate art in the same way and a great song can still make you want to dance.
As you can see, you can still be the same person regardless of your past if you CHOOSE to make that the case. But, you must be intentional in doing this or you run the risk of chance changing your spirit. Define yourself with purpose and intention.
Step 3: Forgive Yourself and Others In Your Past
You probably knew forgiving others would be part of the recipe for letting go of the past, but so many people never consider the possibility that they may need to learn to forgive themselves as well. In fact, this forgiveness of yourself is probably the toughest part of the process.
When it comes to forgiving others we first must understand that even if they intended to harm us in that moment, there’s a lot which goes into that intention. Typically, abuser (both physical and emotional) are victims themselves. They may not be victims of the same abuse they inflict, but they’re victims none-the-less.
Starting to understand them as a victim will possibly allow you to empathize with them, as you’re both suffering through the same thing. It may not help you reconcile with the way their abuse caused them to abuse, but you can still empathize with the abuse they felt.
Most people have the most difficulty forgiving themselves because they know what was in their own heart at the time and they can’t assume one motive or another. The knowledge of truth in that moment is a huge hurdle. But, you must look back beyond the results which manifest in that moment, to understand WHY you felt as you did.
You won’t want to excuse yourself because you’ll have a higher expectation, knowing what you’re capable of handling. But, you must, because you don’t know what you can handle in that moment.
Knowledge of the surrounding circumstances will also often block you from understanding your actions. You’ll say things like “But, why didn’t I…” or “If only I would have…”
Let go of your lofty expectations and accept what you did or didn’t do and forgive yourself for it. This may take some time, but you must learn that in your soul is the perfect you who would have reacted in the perfect way, but that’s not what life has handed you. You will and have made bad decisions and that’s ok.
Step 4: Find Gratitude For Your Past
Yes, even the bad stuff.
Don’t get me wrong, as I’ve said, I know some of you have been through some incredibly horrible stuff in your past; rape, abuse, incest, violence, war, addiction and more. You probably aren’t ready to find gratitude for these past events and I don’t blame you. Relax… you have time.
Find a few areas in your past where you can truly be grateful. Then look beyond those areas and ask if any of your bad experiences contributed to those events. No, there may not be justification for the positive results, I get that. If you get to a hurdle like that, set it aside and move onto something else for which you can be grateful.
You’ll find, as you build your gratitude muscle, it will become easier to pick up those heavier items. Start small and start with the items in which it’s easy to find gratitude. Be ok with it only being a few, but fully embrace them. Find joy in them and celebrate.
Write down those areas, as you’ll want to come back to them as you try to expand into other areas. When you become discouraged, you’ll need something to latch onto to remind you that there were some good moments.
This is a slow and tedious process which requires you to be focused, methodical and incredibly purposeful in your actions and direction. Don’t give up…
Step 5: Turn to a Blank Page
Having processed all of this in your past, and maybe even before you’ve completely done so, turn the page and start writing the next chapter in your life. Get up off the ground and move forward, creating the future you desire.
Draw the curtain closed behind you so you can’t even look back, for positive or negative reasons. You have shut that off and you’ve started your next chapter. Once you’ve begun this process and you’re moving forward successfully, you may want to look back over that past, but not until you’re making progress.
Keeping the last chapter open will always prevent you from writing the next. Close the page and move forward as though it’s a whole new book.
Please understand, I know this is tough and I realize, though it took me a few hours to write this, it’s going to take a lot more time than that to go through all of this work. Don’t be tempted to read this and deal with each item as you, thinking when you get to this point, you should be feeling great. Sure, it may happen, but odds are very much against that being the case.
Be ok with the progress you’re making, assuming you indeed progressing. Push yourself and stretch outside of your comfort zone and then applaud the fact that you did. Baby steps first and then eventually you’ll find you’ve walked a few feet, yards and even miles from where you were.
Just look at your next step and take it. You’ll be ok. You really will.
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May your reach always extend beyond your grasp,
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