The high price of hanging on to the past

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The past is a strong magnet and can be a major stumbling block to raising consciousness.  One aspect is the way repressed memories, beliefs and issues from the past control the present. The aspect I’m examining here is the tendency some of us have to let our conscious minds become caught up in certain events and things people said or did. When you can’t let go, you keep re-playing, re-living, and fantasizing reinventions, sometimes months or years later. That used to be me so I know this territory.

Last month a long-time—and once very close—friend of mine ended our friendship. Although she was angry about something I said recently the main source of her rage was about something I didn’t remember saying. I finally realized the conversation was 10 or 12 years ago and I couldn’t remember it because she’d twisted or misunderstood what I said just enough that I didn’t recognize it. Over the years I listened to her endless deconstructing of so many things that other people said or did that, knowing that’s who she is and what she does, I felt little surprise that the brooding fury finally turned to me.

What a sad waste,” I thought, “to spend 10 years of your life brooding and fuming over anything anybody said—and worse to spend that much time pawing over a misconception.”  Since I used to be a fuming brooder I know how much time out of a day you can spend obsessing over what this one said and what that one did.  Based on years of hearing her obsess about various nefarious sayings and doings—often coming back a year or two later to paw some more over incidents I thought had been laid to rest—I’m guessing at least a couple of hours a day (sometimes probably more) were spent on nothing but fretting over the past.  In 10 years that adds up to more than a year of waking hours.  And what did it accomplish? Could it have in any way added something positive or good to her life?

From the “people are who they are and they do what they do” perspective, most of what people say is some reflection of them not you so not worth taking personally anyway. Even if it is personal or purposeful that reflects the other person.  There really isn’t anything that’s worth wasting years of your life re-living moments from the past.

Sometimes that deep obsessiveness is so tied to unaddressed issues that it’s worth some self-exploration to figure out where or why the pattern originated. Sometimes it’s a habit and you can mindfully start re-directing your attention, concentrating on letting go instead of holding on, and being in this moment instead of being lost in the past. If you’re wasting any of the days of your life on worry about the past, try to let it go. Think about your life if those hours and days and weeks were spent meditating, affirming, watching funny movies, offering service to others or creating something…  does that feel any better when you imagine it than a year spent angrily obsessing over what somebody else said?

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14 thoughts on “The high price of hanging on to the past

  1. Great insight today on your posting. Some time back ( July 1, 2011 ) I wrote on “Toxic Relationships” and your thoughts today fit right into that. Not only do people you describe today waste their lives, I think we allow them to waste our lives if we even spend time with them. Think of the time we waste if we do that.
    Your positive ideas at the end are good. Jack

    • Thanks. I do think it can be toxic to keep hanging out with someone like that — couldn’t think of a way to put it that didn’t sound bitter in the context. At the same time, my aspiration is to reach the stage where I can allow such things to flow through without affecting me.

  2. I think this is a subject that is so important is should be taught in schools! When you work out how much of someone’s life can be caught up mulling over what can never be changed or undone you realise it is such a waste of our most precious resource – time.

    Beautifully written – I love your blogs! :)

  3. Your blog today, left me thinking that many could ‘benefit’ from reading it; it is so true that brooding, harboring and mulling over the past, is not good for anyone and what a waste!
    This is just what you said; I so enjoyed reading it and thank you.

  4. I too used to be a fumer, and know it’s much better to let go. There are still pockets of resentment that come up from time to time, your post was a great reminder to keep letting go of anything that destroys our ability to enjoy today. Thanks.

    • I realized after I posted that I should have mentioned that even though I don’t see myself as one who broods any more I do have to remind myself — and not only for bad things. I’ve been pretty calm about losing this friend (on some level I think we’d been lost to one another a long time ago) but here and there I find myself looking back — not to brood over the “wrongs she done me” but to mourn the best of our years as good friends… And that doesn’t help or change anything either.

  5. Awareness is key.

    A beautiful post. I am happy to sya I found your blog through my HUG award nomiantion. I feel our two blogs are united in a common goal. I hope to see you come visit sometime as well. I will be stopping back soon!

  6. I recognize myself in your former friend except that I am out here reading posts like yours trying to tackle this problem. I like your insight that the things people say and do are more of a reflection of them so there is in essence nothing you can really do other than choose to remain in their lives or not. So in the spirit of this post, I am leaving a quote from Ralph Waldo Emerson. Finish each day and be done with it. You have done what you could; some blunders and absurdities have crept in; forget them as soon as you can. Tomorrow is a new day; you shall begin it serenely and with too high a spirit to be encumbered with your old nonsense.

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