Putting Your “Past” in Perspective: It Really IS an Illusion

Stop for a moment right now and think of something that happened in your past that you still carry some regrets about. Perhaps it’s a botched relationship, a job that you lost, a business that failed or a business you failed to start, an accident you either caused or one that affected you, etc. You can also complete this exercise by thinking back to something pleasant that you experienced, such as falling in love, getting a promotion, or having a wonderful time on vacation. Whether what you experienced was positive or negative, as you get in touch with that event or set of circumstances, realize that what you are doing in effect, is time-traveling within your own mind as you search through your bank of memories.

The truth is the past is merely an illusion, as it is only what your mind is able to selectively remember. Moreover, the longer something remains in the mind, the more it changes and the less it reflects what may have actually occurred. The bottom line is that all you really have is your perception of what happened, and it is not necessarily clear, since the lens you are looking through may actually be clouded by the emotions associated with that memory. In addition, as referenced above, your memories tend to change over time, and therefore may not accurately reflect your original perception. Despite this, the average person spends a great deal of time in this illusionary world of the past, either feeling guilty, regretful or angry, or reminiscing about the so-called “good old days.”

If you find yourself feeling remorseful about something you have said or done, or regretting something you feel you should have done, what you must do is learn to forgive yourself. By this I mean that you literally need to look at yourself in the mirror and say with conviction, “I forgive you for the mistake(s) you made, since I now know that you were simply doing the best that you were capable of doing at that time.” It is likewise important for you to acknowledge that everything that ultimately did occur was a necessary part of your soul’s growth. What you also need to do when you are feeling guilty isn’t necessarily to apologize to whomever you hurt or disappointed, but instead to acknowledge your commitment to never repeating the behavior again. This is not to say that you shouldn’t make an apology for something if you feel compelled, rather, that it is more important to avow that you have actually learned from your mistake.

If you feel angry about something that occurred to you in the past, stop and internally remind yourself that according to the principle of cause and effect, it was you who initiated the cause, either consciously or unconsciously, that led to the effect that incited your anger. By adhering to this view you effectively prevent yourself from becoming a powerless victim of circumstances. While it can be very challenging to adopt this perspective, once you do it becomes nearly impossible to get angry at anyone for more than just a brief moment. Instead, you learn to look for the deeper meaning or a lesson behind each of the troublesome situations that you encounter, and learn to silently honor those individuals who can ‘pull your strings’, for they are serving as valuable teachers. Moreover, make an effort to remember that these annoying individuals are providing you with valuable opportunities to practice remaining centered in the midst of turmoil.

If you tend to reminisce about good times or relationships you have experienced in the past, you must understand that these types of thoughts also keep you from fully experiencing the present moment. Ideally, what you need to do is to develop the ability to completely experience whatever it is you’re experiencing at any given time, and then leave it behind. In the words of Fr. Anthony DeMello from his book “Awareness”:

“Don’t carry over experiences from the past. In fact, don’t carry over good experiences from the past either. Learn what it means to experience something fully, then drop it and move on to the next moment, uninfluenced by the previous one. You’d be traveling with such little baggage that you could pass through the eye of a needle. You’d know what eternal life is, because eternal life is now, in the timeless now.”

Although this may seem like novel advice, it is quite practical, because many of us have a tendency to, as Henry David Thoreau once said, “loiter in winter when it is already spring.” If you are a person that is inclined to focus on good times in the past, please understand that all you are doing by ‘time-traveling’ in this way is wasting thought and feeling energy that could be used in far more constructive ways. If you can begin to put into practice even in a small way what DeMello is recommending, you would most certainly notice an improvement in the quality of your life. You would also come to realize that these are indeed “the good old days.”

The past only has an impact on the present when you continue to waste your powerful thought and feeling energies on something that no longer exists at all, other than in your own mind. Whatever it was that happened is finished now, and no matter how uncomfortable it was for you, you need to come to the understanding that at some level you chose it, and that it helped to build your character and make you a stronger individual. Whenever you do find yourself wondering why something turned out the way it did, I suggest calling to mind the old adage that often times ‘God does work in mysterious ways’. The truth is, you really don’t know the “big picture.” So, even though you might be inclined to feel sad about a certain event in your past, make the decision to accept the realization that there is a higher order to things, and that something good will eventually come of it.

Before closing this article, I want to share with you a thought-provoking analogy I have heard Dr. Wayne Dyer use on more than one occasion during live presentations. The analogy is this: when you believe that the past has a significant, if not irreversible effect on your life today, it is just like saying that when a boat moves across the water, it is being propelled by the wake behind it. Naturally this is ridiculous, because everyone knows that the wake is the result of the boat’s forward movement through the water and nothing else. The reality is, your past doesn’t drive your boat in the present moment, you do!

(The preceding article is an adapted excerpt from Spirituality Simplified, Copyright 2002 & 2014, by Jeff Maziarek.)

About the Author

Jeff Maziarek is an inspirational speaker and author. His first book, Spirituality Simplified is an easy-to-understand and entertaining work that provides an ideal starting point for anyone with a sincere desire to pursue a path of personal and/or spiritual growth. His second book, Codi’s Journey, is a memoir about his beloved Border Collie who passed away in 2005.

Spirituality Simplified is available on Amazon.com in both print and eBook formats. Codi’s Journey also can be purchased on Amazon.com in both print and eBook formats and on BarnesandNoble.com in eBook format . To subscribe to Jeff’s free daily inspirational emails called “PONDER on THIS,” please visit his Pondercentral website.