“Stop acting as if life is a rehearsal. Live this day as if it were your last. The past is over and gone. The future is not guaranteed.” – Wayne dyer.
The other night I was sitting down with my brother watching a late night soccer match when we started talking about the “good ole days” and all of our plans for the future. After a while we paused and then started laughing because it seemed as though I was trapped in the past and he was fearful of the future. The whole conversation I had been talking about how things used to be and he spent the whole time talking about how hard things are going to be. It was a bit of an “Ah huh!” moment as we both realized that grasping on to the past/future was keeping us from being happy.
In this post I want to talk about how to let go of your past and not fear your future. It is one of the most important things you will ever attempt to do – living in the present is the only way to be happy.
NOTE – I have divided this article into two posts as they were quite long. Today’s post will be on letting go of the past and tomorrow’s post will be on learning how to not fear your future. Make sure you subscribe to the feed if you don’t want to miss out.
As always, if you have something to add or a comment that you think might help someone out there please leave a comment and let us know. All comments are greatly appreciated.
How to let go of your past
For some people, the past is like a ball and chain. It follows you wherever you go and it stops you from achieving your goals in life. It is restricting, heavy and extremely burdensome. A lot of people never break free. If you feel a little bit like that then please read through these suggestions and take them to heart. If you can break free from your past you might find your present and future moments are looking a lot brighter.
1. Realize that it cannot be changed
The most sobering thing about the past is that it cannot be changed. Things have already happened. And seeing as there is no way to travel back in time, there is no way to change the past. Learn to accept it.
I once read about a man who sped through a traffic light because he was late to work and ran over a mother and bay. Both mother and child were killed but the driver survived unharmed. This man became an alcoholic and a drug user and his life started spiraling out of control as his guilt was so painful. It took him almost 30 years but one day he realized that what was done was done and there was no way to change it. By destroying his life as well he was effectively ruining three lives.
If you live in the past and are having trouble letting go you need to realize that it cannot be changed. You can never go back to those times and you will never erase what happened. By living in this past moment you are preventing yourself from actually fixing what you did wrong.
2. Don’t make “mind stories”
Sometimes when I cast my mind back to my days in high school or my first trip to India I get a swell of emotion and then start to create “mind stories”. These stories can go on all day and basically consist of my going over all my good memories and then getting upset when I realize that times have changed. Don’t do this.
We all make “mind stories” to some extent. My mother is the opposite of me and she spends all day going over all the bad things that could happen or all the negative events that occurred in the past. The mental chatter is poisonous. As soon as you start, it is almost impossible to stop. One thought leads to another and before long you realize that you have a whole day of your life in the past.
3. Think about impermanence
It wouldn’t be a post by The Daily Minder without mentioning impermanence. I can hear of you all groaning now – “here he goes… rambling on about impermanence again!” It is an important truth to realize, however, and it is particularly useful when dealing with an inability to let go of the past.
First of all, we need to realize that we don’t have a lot of time on this Earth. Death can come at any moment. You could eat a poisonous dinner, choke on a carrot or get hit by a car. You could get cancer tomorrow. Imagine if a wise old meditation master came to you and said you only had two weeks left to life. Would you regret spending so much time thinking about the past? Would you consider that you wasted your time here on Earth? I know I would.
The next time you start worrying about the past I want you to remember impermanence. Say to yourself, “I don’t have time for this” and just drop it. Over time you will train your mind to ignore those thoughts and as the days and weeks go by the attachment to the past will fade away.
4. Meditate on compassion
A few years ago I was in North India listening to a talk by an old Tibetan Lama who had grown up in Tibet and fled to India in the 60’s. At the end of the talk the Lama answered a few questions from the audience. One of the questions said:
“Tibet was one of the most beautiful countries where people had freedom to practice meditation and live in peace. Do you miss those days?”
The Lama, without even pausing for a moment, just shook his head and said “No”. Then he followed up by saying, “thinking about times gone by is useless. It doesn’t help yourself and it doesn’t help other people”. I was impressed. What he said left an indelible mark on my mind – dwelling on the past is a fruitless pursuit and it helps no one.
If you are stuck in the past you need to realize that those thoughts and habits are helping no one. It is an extremely uncompassionate way to live your life and it will get you no where.
5. Understand we can’t control everything
I am a firm believer that we control our destiny. I do not think God or anyone else plans things out for us, I think we are the ones who forge our future and I think we are the ones responsible for our actions. Sometimes, however, we have to realize that we cannot control everything that goes on.
I once heard a mate of mine say that people who dwell on the past are just trying to control everything. I think he was right. Sometimes I feel like my sense of independence means that I blame myself too heavily when things go wrong. And that means I am often dwelling on my mistakes.
If you spend a lot of time cursing yourself for things you have done in the past I ask you to go easy on yourself and to stop trying to be so controlling. You cannot control everything. You cannot control everyone. And although you are the one in charge of your destiny there are times when you will be utterly unable to change a set of circumstances. So let it go. You will be glad you did.
Letting go of the past is like lifting a weight off your shoulders. It allows you to move on and make a new life and it stops you from staying stagnant. Like any habit, however, it will be hard to accomplish and it will take a lot of practice. But it is possible to let go of the past and live completely for the present.
The next post will be on how to not fear your future. Make sure you are subscribed so you don’t miss out.
Originally posted on March 17, 2009 @ 6:54 am
Most people are either thinking about their past and feeling miserable; or worrying about their future and feeling miserable. Neither can be controlled or changed. So the best is to live in the moment and your advice as to how to let go of the past are perfect. I realized the same thing too. Nothing like living in the moment! 🙂
The Daily Minder
I saw a Tweet from you today Nadria saying that life is good. Your comments always seem to reflect the fact that you are happy. Thanks for sharing.
Hi Daily Mind!
Thank you for the compliment. I appreciate it. You know, there was a time when I was a miserable and unhappy person. So your compliment makes me happy to know that I have come a long way and that my current state of awareness/being is apparent to others! Keep up the great posts!
Roger - A Content Life
I like the part about mind stories. I recently read some research that showed how people distort the past usually in a positive, nostalgic way.
The Daily Minder
Roger I reckon you are right with that one. I often look back at my time as a semi-pro soccer player with rose colored glasses on — but in reality I was very unhappy at the time.
“I don’t have time for this” – now this is something I can take away from your, as usual, great post.
How many times do we start out thinking about negative things that have happened to us, only to develop a long, tortured and negative mind story. I know I do and I think this little sentence is perfect to move on to more positive thoughts.
Living in the present is ideal but so hard to achieve. thanks for the reminder. And I do agree with Roger that people do create fictions from their past, memory can be so unreliable. We all tell ourselves lies without meaning to.
Living in the present is one of the hardest thing to do. We’re always striving for the next big thing, or doubting our choices from the past. Great topic, great blog.
The Daily Minder
Thank you Dana!
Learn to be satisfied. In being satisfied you won’t have an insatiable hunger for “things” you do not have. Only through this will happiness begin.
Excellent article…one of the most helpful I’ve read here here so far. “I don’t have time for this” is going to free up a lot of time and energy for me.
I can hardly wait for the second part. Thank you so much.
The Daily Minder
Thanks Jayne – glad you liked it!
Very well thought out post. I had an abusive childhood and I really struggle with forgiving and letting go. I will dwell upon your words here. Thanks so much.
The Daily Minder
Hi Eric. I am sorry to hear about your childhood. I hope this article helps in some small way.
Excellent Article……this is really inspiring to everyone….actually i always dwell in the past cursing myself for doing or telling wrong things…and my head really hurts sometimes thinking too much……please suggest me a way!!
Very grateful for having found this webpage. I read it often during the course of any given week. I just wish I could more easily apply its’ essence when I am struggling mentally and emotionally. Thank you for sharing this!