August 4, 2011 § Leave a comment
”For most of us, the greatest possibilities for our lives actually exist outside of the concepts of self that we currently have. Until we are able to shift our core sense of self at the level of identity not much is going to be able to happen.” Katharine Thomas
What is the use in remembering the past? Most spiritual traditions invite us to focus on the present, in the now, that is where our work lies.
I had a lively discussion about this with one of my favourite teachers the other day on the dock. He told me that most therapies that involve processing, remembering, or analysing the past are less affective than those that ask us to simply return to the present, the only time that actually exists. Apparently, many studies have shown that in the wake of tragedy or trauma, people who focus on the present and get on with their lives are much happier than those who spend hours in therapy or with self-help literature trying to understand what has happened to them and why. This obviously goes against most conventional wisdom, and many of us have sacrificed our savings on a therapy couch in the hopes of emotional salvation.
So if this is all true, why is the past so important? So haunting? So vital?
For me, the past has been my portal. “The only way out is through,” writes Robin Norwood. Moving through the heart of the past has been a key to understanding who I am and why I’ve made certain choices. Examining that past has helped me to understand myself. Spiritually, the practice is to see that we don’t even have a self to analyse, that in fact what we think of as “ourselves” is one with something infinite, boundless, and nameless. Psychologically, as social beings with a responsibility to our society, our communities, our families, our natural world, and ourselves, I believe working on our understandings of the past can be important to our evolution.
Byron Katie exercises called “The Work” (www.thework.com) have been my practice for over one year. I discovered her by accident last July and have not looked back. My heart has opened in innumerable ways, I have discovered inside myself both a lot of grief and so much love for certain people in my life, that it has at times been a very wild ride! I am now able to watch my thoughts, to step outside of my feelings and become an objective observer when thoughts and feelings arise that are uncomfortable. I notice, ah, there’s that thought again. Every thought is a teacher, ever feeling comes to tell us, the only way out is through.
Going through the needle hole of thoughts and feelings inevitably takes us back to the past. Remember your first memory? You were about three or four years old, but you don’t remember all the years before that memory got stuck, for one reason or another, in your psyche. So, did you exist before that memory? And if you did exist, why can’t you remember it? You were alive, surely, your parents can attest to that, but you didn’t yet have an identity. Your first memory is the time you woke up to an identity – a concept – about who you are and how your life will play out. And throughout your early development, there were pivotal moments that woke you up to new identities. Over time, each of us has created a universe of thoughts and ideas that we have come to, falsely of course, identify as one and the same as “our Self”. If we can examine this honestly, we may be shocked by what we discover about what we believe about ourselves and our lives. We are and have always been, existing in a fabricated framework based on our past experiences, what people have said to us, or how they have treated us. With consciousness we can take more control of our destinies.
Many people call these core beliefs. Some core beliefs we may have adopted in order to form an identity of who we are could be:
I don’t mean that much to them/him/her
I will be left eventually
I am invisible
I don’t matter
I’m a bad person
People don’t care about me
Other things are more concrete. For example, I’ve always known that work would come easily to me and that I would be able to take care of myself financially with relatively little effort. This is a part of my core identity. I remember feeling this way even back in elementary school. When fears about money arise in my mind they are very quickly dispelled by my older, adult, self that knows she is capable. But I’ve never imagined or had an identity that would feel entitled to more than a simple life. I am an expert at taking care of myself in the context of relative simplicity, such as a one-room apartment or cabin, I am sleeping on a foamy mattress, I don’t have an Ipod, you get the idea. I am great at buying myself time, food, travels and books, but I haven’t easily imagined a home that is mine, a husband who cares about me, a nice car, or a yacht, or even a canoe for that matter. These things, among other things, I’ve noticed, just sit outside of my sense of self. I am great at supporting other people, I can fly you to Morocco and back — on my dime –rewrite your resume, produce your movie, faithfully turn up for you when you most need me to and how you most need me to, but I have never imagined being taken care of or living in abundance, this is not something that exists in my core sense of who I am. (Interestingly, a new friend told me that when we first met, I handed him my resume. My identity as “good worker” -someone who is useful to you (please use me!) — is so deeply ingrained that I have even related intimately with friends through my job descriptions!) Not surprisingly, life has manifested in exactly the ways in which I have envisioned it would, at the deepest core level, even when I’ve longed for other things. It’s almost like we have to step outside of our universe and into another one in order to get the life we most long for. It is such a tall order and requires so much work, that at times this feels daunting and unfair. Often, if we have identities that are not working for us, we feel we are looking at life from the outside in, watching it all happen for others, while we remain somehow objective observers behind a glass bubble. This is the real glass ceiling that the feminist of the 70s worked to shatter.
Note: I have noticed that someone from my past has been reading my blogs and incorporating my ideas into his own writing on a regular basis. While I enjoy being a source of inspiration and love sharing ideas, consider crediting my ideas where credit is due. I would be grateful for your integrity, honesty, and transparency. Creativity is sacred, and while I love to share, I definitely don’t love to feel that I am being copied.