Getting Freed From the Past

Do you ever think of a part of your personal history and wonder what the heck that was all about?

Do you think of it as an anomaly, a period of your life, for better or worse, never to happen again?

Do you see the various episodes in your life as separate and distinct but wonder about a thread that might weave all of those often disparate chapters together?

When an event or relationship was wonderful and satisfying, we often hold it as a peak life experience, a highlight. A lovely memory to fill us with confidence or happiness when it pops up into the consciousness. Those memories often fill us up and we’re able to claim them easily, however unusual they may have been when considering the texture of the rest of the life.

When that memory is unsettling, we’re often not sure how to hold it.

We find ourselves yearning for resolution, eager to move out of the ambiguity or uncomfortableness of unresolved feelings or situations. We often leave these memories aside, so as not to upset us or tear off the nicely healing scab.

At the beginning of each year, as people are considering resolutions and new plans, I often see invitations to let go of a part of us and move on, to claim an new identity.

We are often uncomfortable with suffering and I get it. It’s not fun.

But what if these difficult episodes or parts of ourselves aren’t there to sit in our memories, to bring us suffering or pain? What if resolution of the situation or relationship is not the point?

What if we should NOT let go but rather listen up, open our eyes, dig in and pay attention?

What if looking for the new (and presumably more successful or gorgeous or conscious) self leads us to ignore the crucial clues imbedded in the uncomfortableness inherent in life?

“Getting freed from the past as past by apprehending it as structure.”

This quote from C.S. Lewis captures the heart of this process entirely.

What if, by facing and allowing the uncomfortable stuff, the pain, to show us its rightful place in our story, we are able to do our best work, be our best self?

What if living side-by-side with pain is true?

What if we let go of this pesky and all too prevalent belief that we have to be at our best to do our best?

Another quote, by John O’Donohue (from Eternal Echoes) also hints at the richness available when we look back to our whole past as we work to make sense of our current situation.

        “Nothing is ever lost or forgotten. In a culture addicted to the instant, there is great amnesia. Yet it is only through the act of remembrance, literally remembering, that we can come to poise, integrity, and courage. Amnesia clogs the inner compass and makes the mind homeless. Amnesia makes the sense of absence intense and haunted. We need to retrieve the activity of remembering, for it is here that we are rooted and gathered.”

The work of making sense of an often messy past so it can become the solid structure anchoring and informing present and future experiences has been crucial to my own development. Even now, as I write this article, I have been immersing myself in this process of looking back with an open mind and heart, looking back to find clues to help me steer my attitude and efforts moving forward.

As I’ve noticed a tough situation deepen over the last few months, I’ve begun to take time to look back at my past with this issue. I’ve made time to see how I’ve approached this sort of decision in past years, looking to my life narrative to spot lessons learned or for salient details of particular circumstance. I’m careful to see my assumptions whenever possible – to ask if the underlying beliefs or values have shifted in any way.

I’m asking myself where I am in my life now.

I know my narrative is one of exploring different situations, being a pattern spotter, being someone always looking, seeking, yearning for a particular sort of experience.

I can see the current themes that have overlaid most of my last couple of years. I can apply those themes and weave them in with the narrative to this particular life of mine.

Emotionally, there have certainly been tough moments. Frustration trading moments with calm and patience. Mix in perseverance. Add a big dose of curiosity and commitment. Yep – sounds like so many other times of transition for me. I’m not one of those strange creatures alluded to in most of the self-help literature who seem to be often united internally and clear about passions flaming on the inside. My insides are often of two or three minds. So many valid points of view. So many deep-felt heart-centered anchors.

I’m always working to sort the internal cacophony. Can you relate?

I don’t think its a matter of of quieting the voices. I’m not sure they’ll ever all agree. It’s not the point.

I’m familiar with the ups and downs of a transition. I recognize that a portion of me hates the anxiety of the unknown AND I often rise to the occasion with curiosity for this so fundamental part of life. I love seeing what happens next. I’m fascinated to watch my life unfold.

And as a new chapter unfolds, previously hidden bits or details come to light now, in ways I had never seen in past inquiries. New experiences help me shift the way I’ve held a past experience. Something else makes sense now in a way that it never did before. It’s now time for something which has before been dormant. I work to stay open to these often small though salient details to spark new understanding.

My work is often to nurture my attitude. I’m not always so good at that, though it is a lifelong practice. I’ll always get back in the saddle.

Seeing past situations as giving information about how my life goes, how my essence shows up differently in various events and outcomes has increasingly been crucial to my building of faith.

My faith is a practice that allows me to keep my skin in the game, even when the stakes are high.

I’m working with the sacred unfolding of life. I’m making meaning of the ambiguity, the flashes of insight, the cold hard facts.

Isn’t that sometimes all we can do?

So while I know there are rough waters ahead, I’m provisioned for the journey. I’ve maintained the engine room and have made sure to stock spare parts for the inevitable emergency. I’m clear that my preparation will stand me in good stead – time well spent, discipline well honed. Like my captain on the Bluewhale used to say as we navigated the difficult waters of Western Alaska, “It’s PhD level boating in this neck of the woods. Make sure to keep your wits about you.”

The payoff is always the same – all the hard work and extra effort allows me to travel pristine wilderness. To see places inside of myself and out in the big world not often traveled by others.

I’ve learned that part of keeping my wits about me is learning to, as CS Lewis SO eloquently stated, “[Get] freed from the past as past by apprehending it as structure.” Helps me see the emotions, the intuitions, the reasoning from a more grounded and solid place.

Am I less than graceful at times?

Of course. So I’ve gotten better at recognizing the gift of allegiance given to me by those around me. My gratitude practice is one of the strongest drivers in my journey.

Next time you are stuck in a tough transition, please, take the necessary time to slow down and have a look at the map that has emerged from your own travels.

The path from one place to another always connects, even if it takes some effort to uncover the steps taken, to make the meaning and rewrite a story or two so that you can regain your own faith in life, to remove yourself from that victim position that serves no one.

The patterns are there. I promise.

The structure held in what has been holds all the clues you need as you look with curiosity at what may be. We are each living our own rhythm and it’s up to us to uncover that rhythm so it can further support our endeavors.

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