My husband has this frustrating habit of living in the present. He never ruminates on things that have occurred long ago. Me? I love to go over things, analyze them, find meaning in them, and discover patterns that make up the memory of my history. Friends and family are always teasing me fore having a memory like an elephant, and it's something I've always been proud of.
I've been meeting so many clients who are stuck in the past. They are caught up in their "story." They are afraid to move on. I think their fear stems from a false belief that if they leave the trauma in the past, it means it didn't matter. We want our life and our experiences to matter. So we're afraid to drop the pain of a death, the anger over a divorce, the shame of a fight with a parent before their death. But we can't move forward until we can let these things go. I have a client who comes to see me every six months and always to talk about her %#** ex-husband who left her five years ago. Five years ago!! She can't let it go, and yet she comes to me and wants to know why his life is going spectacularly while hers has stagnated. I keep telling her it's because she hasn't left 2007. She needs to join us here in the present and get on with her life. Another client brings up her lost inheritance every single time I see her. Yes, her sister stole her inheritance. Yes, it was wrong. But she can't do anything about it, so why not move on?
You've probably heard that old story about the two monks:
Two monks were making a pilgrimage to venerate the relics of a great Saint. During the course of their journey, they came to a river where they met a beautiful young woman -- an apparently worldly creature, dressed in expensive finery and with her hair done up in the latest fashion. She was afraid of the current and afraid of ruining her lovely clothing, so asked the brothers if they might carry her across the river.
The younger and more exacting of the brothers was offended at the very idea and turned away with an attitude of disgust. The older brother didn't hesitate, and quickly picked the woman up on his shoulders, carried her across the river, and set her down on the other side. She thanked him and went on her way, and the brother waded back through the waters.
The monks resumed their walk, the older one in perfect equanimity and enjoying the beautiful countryside, while the younger one grew more and more brooding and distracted, so much so that he could keep his silence no longer and suddenly burst out, "Brother, we are taught to avoid contact with women, and there you were, not just touching a woman, but carrying her on your shoulders!"
The older monk looked at the younger with a loving, pitiful smile and said, "Brother, I set her down on the other side of the river; you are still carrying her."
How many of us are still carrying that woman around?
I just finished Paulo Coelho's newest book Aleph and wanted to share with you some things he had to say about the problem with memory:
"It takes a huge effort to free yourself from memory, but when you succeed, you start to realize that you're capable of far more than you imagined. You live in this vast body called the Universe, which contains all the solutions and all the problems. Visit your soul; don't visit your past. Just as the cells in your body change and yet you remain the same, so time does not pass, it merely changes."
He goes on to say, "People want everything to stay the same, and yet the consequence of that is pain."
I believe this is what Jesus meant when he said, "Let the dead bury the dead." Move on, leave it behind you. Better things, people, experiences and opportunities await you in the future.
If this is resonating with you, try asking yourself this question:
1) Is this memory/past experience helping me today?
2) What am I gaining by ruminating on this experience?
3) Who will I be when I let this go?
It's also important to point out that that our subconscious mind knows no time, so when you think of a painful memory, your body reacts as though it's happening NOW. This is why people get upset stomachs or headaches or panicky feelings when they think of painful memories. Your body is living and reacting as though that memory is happening right now. This increases your stress and risk of depression and lowers your immune system greatly.
The next time you find yourself going over a past painful memory or talking about it with a friend, say to yourself, "This is in my past. It's not who I am today. I am a new person and good things are coming to me now."