For many, if not most people, letting go of the past and moving on with our lives after the loss of something or someone special is exceptionally painful and difficult. For some of us, and I speak from experience, it may seem absolutely impossible. But left unchecked, or left unresolved will unfortunately have serious consequences to not only our emotional state but also our physical and long term mental well-being.
Attachment to the past is a universally ingrained part of every person. Whether we like to admit it or not we are creatures of habit and we like the comfort of the familiar. For some of us times of change when bought about by emotional upheaval are hugely difficult. We mourn the loss of that something and someone to such an extent that we forget us, who we are and the unique beauty of “us, as an individual”.
Because I am the person described above, and as I write this article I am writing it from a holistic self healing perspective. In the past 2 years I have possibly suffered some of the worst set backs in my life. All of them of my own making and all of them due to the fact that I did not put in place my own beliefs about how to let go of the past.
To cut my story short and move on to the techniques which, I promise, will allow you to avoid a similar path to me by letting go of the past and focusing on you I offer a brief overview. In my situation it was love. The sadness, as it turns out that it was a one sided love. The person in question is and was not to blame, in fact I still believe that the object of my affection is probably the most wonderful person I have met. However the love story I had created in my head was not to be. This doesn’t make the pain any less, in fact almost worse, because that person who you loved with every part of your being is still just round the corner getting on with life and probably not thinking of us at all.
You and I know that this is part of the ups, downs and adventures of life, but I forgot this! Because I didn’t follow my own advise about how to let go of the past I suffered. While life moved on I sat at home, waiting for a phone call, making excuses as to why i didn’t hear anything – mainly due to the fact we had actually shared some incredible times, over many months, and also both been through some incredibly challenging individual personal circumstances which had meant providing total support and love.
But as this person healed I was no longer needed, and I found that almost impossible to accept. I isolated myself, lost friends, waited for a call that never came. And finally after many months i realized I was the only one suffering but by then I had confided in the wrong people, trusted the wrong people and due to my choices had lost my home, job and all self respect. All of my own doing and my choices.
I offer this piece of ‘me’ so readers will understand that I have “been there and done that” and possibly as a cathartic release. I also offer it because I know that the following mindfulness meditation gave me, and continues to give me, my faith and hope and a return to “me” as I rebuild and move forward.
You can heal, you will heal, you can love, you will love – but to do this we must learn how to let go of the past.
And I dedicate this to the person I love, and now see as the person not the god. My love is with you always xxx
In this two-part article series, we’re going to examine the nature of attachment from a Buddhist psychology perspective.
In his post we will see how attachment can manifest itself and draw us to the past. We will examine it specifically from the perspective of the Five Hindrances or the obstacles to our spiritual development.
If you are familiar with Buddhism you may have heard of the Five Hindrances, or the 5 negative states of mind which block or form barriers, therefore inhibit and impact on any mindfulness meditation practice. These hindrances prevent us from achieving freedom from our suffering.
Unfortunately the Five Hindrances impact upon most of us, whether we choose to admit it, almost daily and if one becomes a fixation or obsession we see all sense and holistic balance suffer. The 5 Hindrances are:
These hindrances will manifest themselves into various behaviors that can often keep us dwelling in the past and living unmindfully.
Experience teaches us that we can achieve happiness by stimulating our 5 senses. When we positively stimulate our senses, we trigger positive emotions. For example, when we enjoy dinner with a loved one, we stimulate the senses of sight, taste, and smell leading to us feeling happy, loved, satisfied and content.
While there is no harm at all in relating our senses to positive emotions, when we become dependent on external stimuli for our sensual desire and happiness, so no longer are we discussing dinner, we find that most hedonistic or sensually related pleasures are short-lived.
When the pleasant emotions subside, we want to feel the same pleasure again, forming a habit and so we need to indulge in that behavior again in order to experience the same gratifying emotions. If our past experiences and interactions have been traumatic or negative in anyway we may not be able to choose between emotionally healthy and unhealthy ways of dealing with our emotions leading to sensual desire becoming an obsession or addiction. This is the nature of alcoholism and drug addiction.
Many of us,thankfully, have pleasant memories of our past. When we remember them, we trigger positive emotions such as love, warmth and security. It is entirely healthy to have wonderful memories of our past.
The problem arises when we depend on these past experiences as the source of our happiness, at the expense of finding or enjoying happiness in the present. There reaches a point when these wonderful and happy memories actually become obstacles to our freedom. Those lovely, happy times now anchor us to the past. If this continues we stop having new good times, we do not experience the creation of new wonderful memories and this reinforces the belief that we were only happy then and can only be happy by reenacting or replaying those memories. If continued we lose ourselves and forget to live.
Aversion is the opposite of sensual desire. Instead of longing for the past, we try to run from it because of painful memories that stir up unwholesome emotions such as anger, resentment, guilt, and regret.
However Aversion has same effect on our health and well being as Sensual Desire because we remain focused on memories, memories that keep us stuck in the past, this time because we don’t feel these experiences have been resolved. One sadly common example is experiencing a trauma inflicted by an adult, perhaps neglect, when we were children, and growing up and into our adulthood we are still waiting for that person to rectify the situation. Internally we know that this is unlikely to ever occur and the person who harmed us may be unwilling, unable, or no longer alive.
The truth is we will never be free and never understand how to let go of the past until we repair the damage ourselves. We can not run from it, or wait for someone to repair the damage – we must do it ourselves. It may not be just, but it is necessary if we want to be happy and free. We need to cultivate acceptance, compassion and forgiveness if we are let go of past injustices and learn how to let go of the past.
On the other hand, some of us may have harmed others or ourselves. Remember this does not have to be a large major incident, maybe if we were to mention it to others they may view it as a small and seemingly insignificant occurrence but to us we feel the hurt and see the hurt in others. Regardless of the incident if we feel we have harmed someone else, then we feel guilt. If we have harmed ourselves, then we feel regret. Unlike harm caused to us by others in this situation we have the ability to make amends, and right the wrongs we have made.
This will not only help us forgive ourselves, but it will also help heal the wounds of our victims.
Restlessness is caused by the over-stimulation of our minds. Very often, we’re surrounded by a great deal of activity, noise, and visual stimuli. All these trigger thoughts, which eventually gain so much momentum that it becomes difficult to quiet our mind.
Restlessness keeps us in the past by continually triggering old memories, whether they’re pleasant or unpleasant.
Our mind develops habitual energy. Physical body’s love habits, because habits are about survival, they are easy, known and and require us to expend less energy than creating something new, therefore they are trusted by our physical body even if harmful to our emotional and mental well-being . These habitual thoughts travel only along the same neural pathways. In order to break this cycle, we need to allow the mind to settle down, and learn to live in the present moment. This will enable us to develop new neural pathways unrelated to the past.
Sloth and torpor are dullness of the mind and are the extreme opposite of restlessness.
Sadly for those who fall into this hindrance it is a choice rather than a habit. Those with issues of Sloth and Torpor simply do not want to devote the time and effort it takes to process new information. It may be that the thought of developing something new causes fear or anxiety of losing the loved and happy old memories. They are unable to see or accept that their emotional state and the happiness these memories stir is not reality but living in a fantasy of hopeful return.
Most know that these times are gone, that they are over, that they are not to be repeated in reality but the mere thought of that triggers such intense feeling that they would rather shut down all senses and thinking. This is commonly seen amongst alcohol and drug addicts, they do not choose to become an addicts but it occurs over time, usually beginning because they seek and need something to help them dull their minds or to stop them from thinking, especially to stop them processing the realization that their memories are just that, memories.
The problem with Sloth and Torpor is that if addiction occurs it quickly becomes a vicious and hard to resolve cycle. People want to stop thinking about the past, frightened they may have to accept that they are lingering with memories and so seek something to block out thoughts. Then this addiction causes them to do shameful things in order to feed their habits, which leads to more feelings of guilt, shame, and remorse. And so the need to block and forget continues.
The way Sloth and Torpor keeps us in the past is similar to restlessness. It prevents us from developing neural pathways related to the present. Again unwittingly we end up stuck in the past.
Doubt is the fifth hindrance that can keep us clinging to the past. Most of us are uncertain about the future. That is normal. With mindfulness, however, we can gain some idea of how certain events are likely to unfold, but there still remains an element of uncertainty.
There are many factors in any given situation that we cannot account for. However, the person living in the now and the present tends to know how to increase the chances of a positive outcome, and is able to accept the remaining uncertainty—so he tends to be more optimistic. We know that out thoughts form our reality. Believing in ourselves and believing in our abilities will lead to positive life outcomes.
Those who are less mindful have more difficulty accepting uncertainty, because it brings about feelings of being powerless to influence their happiness. To them, memories of the past, whether happy or unhappy, provide them with a modest degree of certainty, and therefore, comfort. Again we are talking habits of the mind.
Doubt can lead to worsening of the situation as those who are stuck in the past often believe that if they can recreate the same conditions of happier times, then they will be happy once again. They think that if only a lost love would take them back, or if their family would reunite, then they will be happy. So they spend a great deal of time and energy trying to make the past a reality once again. At the core of this line of thinking is a doubt about their future—or more importantly, their present. And as they remain stuck in the past life for everyone else moves on and this brings to the person with doubt a sense of even greater rejection or loss and in some circumstances leads to obsessional behavior.
Old memories can easily lure us back in time if we are not mindful.
The Five Hindrances manifest themselves in various ways to distract us from the present moment. This is why they’re called hindrances.
There is nothing wrong with remembering the past. It can teach us some valuable lessons about ourselves and human nature. On the other hand, if we have strong attachments to the past, they can have serious physical, mental, and emotional consequences. They will clearly hinder our present-day relationships.
In my next post we will learn a technique called Mindfulness Meditation which allows us to overcome the Five Hindrances, so we can let go of the past, and learn how to find joy and fulfillment in the present.
In particular, we’ll learn how to use mindfulness meditation to heal the wounds from our past, so that painful memories no longer haunt us. We will also learn how to enjoy happy memories without clinging to them.
Unleash the child, the you that loves excitement and adventure and anything new!
Together let us take charge of our life without the past holding us back. Learn the true meaning of the word freedom.
Until then “To your very best health” and another THANK YOU – my friends around the world who without knowing, and without having even met, left comments that made me feel like me again, reawakened the knowledge that I am entitled to happiness and made me remember how to let go of the past.
Thank you again brothers and sisters. You know who you are.
Yours – G.B.A