Holding On Tightly To The Past
“We are made wise not by the recollection of our past, but by the responsibility for our future.” — George Bernard Shaw
Do you have a sentimental view of the past or is it mixed with guilt and regret? Contemplate the question closely because it will give you a glimpse into whether you are living with remorse or inspiration. Anger can be a toxic emotion if not dealt with because it weaves its way into our psyche and manifests as physiological symptoms including pain. I remember many years ago working with a female client who experienced unexplained back pain that lasted several years or more.
Samantha had recently retired and arrived to our session with debilitating back pain having explored all other options other than surgery. Whilst most medical professionals offered their expert advice to ease her symptom, I could tell after our first session her pain wasn’t physically related but attributed to repressed emotions. She was holding on to anger and anxiety which according to Dr. John Sarno is called TMS Tension Myositis Syndrome which I describe in my book, The Power To Navigate Life.
She was stuck in the past holding onto unresolved anger and anxiety which manifested as lower back pain. I realise such a claim can be met with disbelief, however Samantha consulted with many doctors, neurosurgeons and orthopaedic surgeons who could not find any evidence why she was in pain. During our work together, I helped her explore the role of repressed emotions and suggested there may be a link to her back pain. I was careful not to diagnosis her issue but open the door so she could explore it further, which she was happy to do.
Working with a clinical psychologist trained in somatic awareness alongside physical therapy, Samantha eventually overcame her back pain whilst making peace with the past. Sometimes we can hold on tightly to the past that it blemishes the aliveness of the present moment. Meanwhile, we continue to revisit painful memories or in the case of my client Samantha, her repressed emotions had manifested as back pain. It wasn’t until she revisited and healed the memories of her past that she overcame her physical pain.
Avoid Revisiting The Past
“Do not dwell in the past, do not dream of the future, concentrate the mind on the present moment.” — Buddha
Let me be clear: not all repressed emotions lead to pain in the body. Depending on the intensity of the emotions and how long we’ve been holding on to them, they may or may not show up as pain, illness or disease. The body is intelligent and will do whatever is necessary to keep us safe. Storing pain is the body’s way to draw our awareness to something within us that requires self-examination and healing. It is often said, the past is a figment of our imagination because it no longer exists.
If we continue to replay memories of: guilt, regret or anxiety, they will occupy space in our mind and body until we perceive them differently. This requires courage and faith to look back on what is sometimes painful experiences. I’m drawn to author and psychologist Robert Holden’s message in Authentic Success in which he writes: “The future cannot be any different from the past if a person will not let the past go. Basically put, shame holds you back and forgiveness takes you forward.”
Perhaps we misinterpreted the events of the past and in the meantime we’re holding on to broken memories that no longer serve us. Can you identify with this? For example, have you ever had a discussion with your significant other on how you first met? I chuckle when a couple recounts their first meeting because each remembers the encounter differently. This underscores how our memories are different to each another and why we must be respectful of one another’s past. We must avoid revisiting the past because it steals away from the present moment. It is impossible to find new information in the past, however we can look upon it with forgiveness and compassion.
Forgiveness means forgiving oneself for being a co-creator of the experience but also forgiving the other party or the situation. Whilst we cannot change nor erase the past, we can look upon it in a new way and rewrite a new memory of our experience. We become like a couple described earlier and consider the past through two distinct lenses while bringing forgiveness and compassion to the experience. Considering this, reflect on parts of your former life you are still holding on to? What memories and/or emotions continue to resurface for you? Be with them and invite them to stay instead of running away from them. It matters little whether you are carrying painful memories. It is your willingness to see them through the eyes of compassion and forgiveness in order write a new story. In doing so, you heal the past and leave it where it ought to stay; behind you.