Meditation concepts – The past didn't happen to you

One of the current effects of my practice seems to be that periodically I get new insights or ideas bubbling up through my mind which I then have to go away and think about, or meditate on, for a while to fully make use of them.  I'll pass them on here and see if anyone else can get use from them.

"The past didn't happen to you."

I take a strange delight in catching my unconscious mind working on something independently of my conscious mind.  You may think I should be used to this, given I'm a hypnotherapist and therefore working with the unconscious mind is sort of my thing, but there's a difference between knowing that working with the unconscious mind can bring about dramatic change and actually catching it in the act.  For instance, dream analysis was something I used to be quite sceptical about until on a couple of occasions I worked with my therapist on dreams of my own and realised that they were staggeringly rich and complex – that they did, indeed, present me with useful and pertinent information I could make use of in my everyday life.  Some of the dreams I've worked with have remained incomprehensible but those that 'click' can generate tremendous information.  I'm always left with the feeling of 'well done unconscious – that's great work!'

The above phrase arose at another moment where I spotted my unconscious mind was doing something long before my conscious mind caught up with what was going on.  I was just walking along a road about half an hour after having had a pretty interesting conversation about concepts of self and identity, when a 'feeling' started to come over me.  It felt like a moment of understanding, but I had no idea what that understanding could be.  Then the phrase "The past didn't happen to you" came to my mind.  I knew it was important, it felt like it was true, but in that moment I didn't know what it meant.  It was like my unconscious mind had sidled up to me, passed me a piece of paper with a cryptic phrase on it, then buggered off.  I had to work out what it was on about.

Fortunately it didn't take too long to work it out – although I've been using the phrase as part of my meditation practice since then to try to really 'bring home' the understanding contained within it.

I'm very much aware that I carry with me the weight of the past.  Past pains, embarrassments and frustrations will visit me on a reasonably regular basis – particularly if I feel run down, or miserable, when my mind seems to delight in revisiting other times when I've felt a similar way.  We are, of course, sculpted, shifted and formed by the events that have happened to us before.  But the thing is, the real key, is that we only exist now.  We only exist in the present.  We are awareness and awareness exists precisely where we are.

The past is not real for us. The past didn't happen to us, but to a self that has long since ceased to be.  Certainly we can access memories of the past, we can recreate moments that have been before, but that's all we can do – revisit memories.  The past is done and gone with and is no longer real.

Consciousness is like a candle flame – it exists in the present and recreates itself every moment.  Five minutes ago that flame may have been blown by a wind, or have burned a stray hair, but that wind does not exist within it now, nor does the hair it burned.  Likewise our consciousness does not contain the past, it is only now – it can choose to attempt to recreate the past, to dwell within memory, or to remain within a pattern that past events set up.  But, fundamentally, the past is no more.

The idea of being 'born again' is very popular in many traditions.  I can understand why – the idea of being able to put down the things we have done before, to be allowed to let go all mistakes, pains, hurt, guilt, embarrassment, foolishness, and to be able to say 'that wasn't me – that was the me before I was born a second time and became a new person'.  It must be liberating.  But the thing is… we can all do that every second of every day.  The past didn't happen to you – you only exist now.

Now, I'm not talking about abandoning the consequences of previous actions, or 'pretending' that we haven't done what we've done.  I'm simply describing the liberating idea that we are allowed to put it down.  The past lives within the context we find ourselves in now – our skills, knowledge, the state of our relationships, our debs and credits – but it does not have to exist within the self, or only in so-far as we choose to continue the patterns and beliefs which we have taken on before.

It's hard to convey, but considering 'the past didn't happen to you' brought home the idea that I don't have to carry the baggage of the past… things 'I' did long ago were not done by the me I am now, and the me I am now knows more, understands more, is wiser and could have acted differently.  I don't have to carry it all if I don't want to.  I can simply be present, and deal with this moment… and that's very liberating.

(Oh yes, and my unconscious mind appears to have spoken to me in the second person.  Not entirely sure what that's about…)

4 Responses to "Meditation concepts – The past didn't happen to you"

  1. LizW says:

    How else would you expect your unconscious mind to speak to you? First person singular wouldn't make a lot of sense, and third would be frankly scary.

    The only other sensible option is "the past didn't happen to us" – would you have been happier with that? Apart from the fact it'd make you sound worryingly like a person run by committee, I'd argue that the past *did* happen to your unconscious mind.

    Although you yourself are a product of your past, your unconscious needs to hold on to all those past feelings and be able to access them as "now". While you can remember a past embarassment, or joy, as a thing which happened to an earlier self, your unconscious will sometimes bring it up in a dream as "now".

    In order to properly process information about you, your unconscious needs access to how things felt at the time. That thing you now only vaguely remember has had a far reaching impact on your life – if that's ever going to be unravelled, some part of you needs to keep track of the feelings that were actually engendered by it. You need that data stashed away somewhere – you just don't need to be weighed down by it on a daily basis.

    (Disclaimer: I know very little proper theory on the "unconscious mind", I am making this up as I go along.)

    • warlock says:

      I would kind of expect "The past didn't happen to me" – implying some kind of unity between myself and my unconscious, as opposed to it being some manner of thing that's external to me. Admittedly, the 'you' structure comes to my mind quite easily in internal dialogue, but I'm not entirely sure why we conceptualise the unconscious as in some way discrete from who we are.

      I'm reminded of an episode of "In the thick of it" where one of the characters said something like "Come on Nicola, you can do it – I'm confident and I'm strong." To which someone replied "Did you just refer to yourself in the first, second and third person in a single sentence?"

      It's interesting to me to see how naturally you use the computer analogy for describing the workings of the mind – it's very natural to write about 'processing data' and 'accessing memories', but I think it may be this kind of metaphorical thinking that can cause problems. Within the computer metaphor of the way the mind and unconscious works there's a very important concept missing – that being the sense of identity, or selfhood, which is sort of what I was trying to get at.

      There's a difference between being able to access a memory of how you behaved, what you felt or what you experienced and thinking 'that memory of me is me'. Of feeling like we are the person to which these things happened, as opposed to 'these things happened to the me that existed in the past'. I think that's the point I was trying to get at – there's remembering/accessing data and then there's identifying with the past, thinking we are still the person we once were.

      The remembering is natural and useful, but identifying with the past is a habit that might be worth breaking. Past-me isn't me. Future-me won't be me either. I shouldn't allow memories of the past or projections of the future into my concept of self, because they're just ghosts.

      Which was why I referred to the 'born again' idea – it's a way of letting go of old stuff, of clearly drawing a line and saying 'that's something the old me did, not something the new me would ever do.' It gives us a chance to re-evaluate and realise we've become someone different, that we wouldn't be so foolish, or so weak or so inept, anymore. Whilst we may know this intellectually when we stop to think about it, I think at the deep level of personal identity we aren't always clear on the distinction between me today and the me-in-memory. Hence, the past didn't happen to *me*. Even though I can remember it.

      • mick says:

        It occured to me that the present moment can't consist of time because even if it was a fraction of a second it would have 'some' past and future to it. The present must be timeless and therefore doesn't exist. If the past is made up of billions of present moments, none of which exist, then the past can't exist in truth. Only in illusion.

  2. Kim says:

    "(Oh yes, and my unconscious mind appears to have spoken to me in the second person. Not entirely sure what that's about…)"

    In another post you talk about your HGA. I'm just playing around here. Never mind. Have a beautyful day.

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