I have some of my best insights in the shower. Recently I’ve been thinking about my own resistance and this morning in the shower it came to me that our views about the future are shaped by experiences in the past, but we can only work to overcome any of that it in the present. Not rocket science, I’ve read Eckhart Tolle too, but I’d never stated this fact so simply in my own mind.
We talk all the time about letting go of the past, but how can you let go of something that has already happened? Really all you can work with is the residue of the past that still exists in the present. That said, some of that residue can feel pretty darn close to the original experience. As an example, you’re having a memory of a car accident, and it brings up anxiety, fear, maybe even panic. That anxiety exists now. Yes, it comes from a memory of something that happened in the past, but it is the present experience that colors your reality now. This is the only thing that you can really work with. The past is over, the future hasn’t yet happened. All we can really explore is our present experience.
Sometimes the way we remember and therefore experience an event now is not even the same as what happened in the past. That is why trying to let go of the past through “understanding the past” is not always effective. If anything needs to be “understood” it is the present experience, and even then, ‘understanding’ tends to be an analysis we do in our heads, and this process can also prevent us from really being present with the experience. The yogis talk about samskaras – the latent impressions (scars if you will) that influence our perceptions in the present. The more mindful we can become of our present experience, the more likely that these samskaras can be recognized and released.
There are so many ways that we resist or avoid our present moment experience. I personally have a tendency to dissociate into my head by thinking and analyzing – trying to ‘understand’ the experience – essentially making up a story about it. Or I might close my eyes and dissociate inside by blocking out the world outside. Another way is to deflect the intensity of the experience by blaming someone else (another story), or to escape into a distraction. Computers, TVs, cell phones, mp3 players –all these gadgets can provide us with distractions and allow us to separate from being mindful of what we are experiencing in the ‘real world.’ Addictions can be born of the constant need to separate from what might be a painful emotional experience of the present. The past is not what is being avoided, but the experience that lives now.
The future is shaped by the past through our continued experience of the present. The future can be shaped by the past through our continued avoidance of the present. Pema Chodron talks about the baby bird in the nest and the nest is getting dirty but the bird won’t fly out. Time to fly, baby bird, time to fly.