Holding on is believing that there’s only a past; letting go is knowing there’s a future. -Daphne Rose Kingma
By Mark E. Smith
We all know that we can’t physically be in two places at once, so what makes us think that we can do it emotionally? Or, more specifically, what makes us think that we can thrive in the present while dwelling on the past?
We can’t. Just as we can’t physically be in two places at once, emotionally we can’t dwell on our pasts and thrive in our presents. Yet, how many of us try or have tried or know those who have tried. But, in the end, we must pick one: are we going to dwell on the past or live in the present – we can’t have both, and if we try to juggle both, it will destroy us and often hurt those around us.
In my line of work and life, I see it every day. I’ve even lived it. In the disability realm, I encounter those so longing for their pre-disability pasts that they can’t see the value of all around them in the present. In relationships, I encounter those so bitter about an ex that they’re blind to the life-changing love in front of them. In the work force, I encounter those so resentful of a career lost that they won’t pursue a new career. And, I see adults so enveloped by the pain of what they experienced as children that they’re incapable of parenting their own children. Every day, I see people pretend to live in the present, but truly living in the past. And, when we live in the past, we’re not living at all. We’re simply reliving a story that will never change.
And, that’s the difference between living in our pasts versus living in our presents. When we live or dwell in our pasts – even if they were great – there’s no potential or hope. The past is frozen, never changing, and it freezes us, preventing any chance of moving our lives forward. You cannot move forward when focused on the past.
However, living in the present is the opposite – that is, it offers potential and hope, where virtually anything is possible.
Want to sabotage the rest of your life? Bring a packed suitcase of the pain from the past wherever you go. Want to live the life of your dreams? Live with an unguarded slate that’s available for all to leave loving inscriptions.
Nevertheless, living in the past can prove successful in one profound way: avoiding accountability. If you focus on how great your life was before acquiring a disability, you can find every excuse not to make the most of yourself now. If you focus on how your heart was broken in your last relationship, it gives the perfect excuse not to let love into your life now. If you focus on your long lost job, it gives the perfect excuse not to look for a new job now. And, if you focus on how dysfunctional your childhood was, it gives the perfect excuse not to be a great parent now. Living in the past is great because it makes you a forever victim, and victims aren’t held responsible. Of course, this mindset is completely self-defeating – and usually hurts those around you, too – but if you truly want to ruin your life, and accept no accountability, dwelling on your past is a dysfunctional person’s dream come true. You mean, I can ruin my life, hurt those who truly love me, and do it all with no sense of accountability – awesome!
With so many among us unsuccessfully trying to live in the past and present at once – which we know doesn’t work! – how do we go through the process, then, of moving beyond our past to relishing our present? Well, that’s just it, it’s a process, a literal movement. Just as we must physically move to go from one place to another, we must do the same with our emotions in a healthy process. And, “process” is the operative word. We must address and heal from the past, and that will bring us into the present. Let’s address what was, and move into what is. By accepting the past, and recognizing that potential and hope only are possible in the present, we go from surviving to truly thriving, achieving the levels of success, contentment, and love that we all deserve.
As my friend, W. Mitchell puts it, “Have you ever noticed that windshields are much larger than rear-view mirrors?” …There’s good reason for that in cars – and even more so in life.