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The Past—What’s It Good For? June 6, 2010

Posted by Ann Bertorelli in Self-Development.
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This weekend is the 20th annual World War II Weekend at Reading’s (PA) Mid-Atlantic Air Museum. http://www.maam.org/maamwwii.html It’s a big ding dang deal in the world of World War II commemoratives. I have gone a few times and it’s really neat to see lots of people dressed up in 40’s clothing, hear the 40’s top tunes and see the airplanes on display.

And the sky around here is periodically filled with the sound and sight of an airplane that is not a modern jet going a gazillion miles per hour and hardly  noticeable because it flies so high. When I hear one flying by it makes me wonder what it must have been like for people to hear this very sound during the war years—especially in Europe. Easy for me to be nostalgic for a time I did not live through. That was my parents’ era and they often used to talk about the war years. They were married in 1943 and did not have a lot of the things that newlyweds need because production of consumer goods was at a minimum in order to support the war.

Human beings are historical

Thinking about the 40’s led me to start thinking about the value of the past (a natural progression for me if not for you). Human beings are historical creatures in that we look to the past to inform the future. But is that always a good idea? On one hand it could be argued that the past prevents us from making the same mistakes over and over. Ok, agreed.  However, the past can also get us in its clutches and make it hard to see what’s right in front of us.

The past can keep you stuck

Ever known someone who lives in the past a whole lot? They often talk about times that were good and meaningful to them. Some people get caught in the past –and it’s not a good thing. They tell and re-tell stories of the bad times or how they were victimized in some way. And they stay caught in that story for better or for worse. “Its my story and I’m stickin’ to it.”

I like thinking about the past and enjoying a bit of nostalgia. But when it comes to dwelling there, I’m not interested. And I often urge my coaching clients to do the same. Whenever someone is in victim mode or experiencing an in-the-ditch mood, that person is living in the past. And there is a payoff of sorts for staying there that often they don’t notice.

It is the present that allows for creative action

But here’s the thing—it is only in the present that we create and live our lives. The past is behind us and the future has yet to manifest. Yes, I know this sounds self-evident– but can you actually say that you live that way 100% of the time? Being in the present brings us mindfulness and joy and abundance and a whole lot of other good things.  (OK, and sometimes it brings us a whole load of manure too) And this practice of mindfulness is the basis for many types of meditation. Stay in the moment, bring your mind back to the moment. And it is in ‘the moment’ that we create the futures that are destined to become our reality. Now that sounds like a pretty invigorating idea to me.

Try this

So try this during the coming week:

  1. Notice how often you are harkening back to the past. Just keep a little list on which you put a stick mark each time you notice yourself doing it.
  2. Further notice if you are falling into the ‘good old days’ syndrome in which everything was good then and not-so-good now.
  3. And after you look at your patterns of thinking about the past, if you notice that you are dwelling there more often than not, or if you are being a victim in the present—do yourself and those around you a great big favor—Stop it!

Have a bang-up in-the-moment week.

–Amara

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