Updated: Sep 5, 2020
The past is affecting my present, whether I like it or not. It is the fuel that runs my unconscious engine. I can only change myself and my reality, as long as I am conscious of my feelings, thoughts and behaviors, but it seems that a large percent of the time, I lose that awareness.
It occurs during those moments in which I find myself scrolling down social media or watching television longer than I had planned. It is during those moments that I become angry and "lose it", "it" being my awareness or consciousness. It is during those moments that I give in to my addictions, to my unconscious patterns, unwanted behaviors and unwanted thoughts.
The intention of practicing meditation is to watch and become aware of the moments in which we lose awareness, so that we can come back to the driver's seat of this vehicle we call self over and over again. If you've ever tried to deliberately become aware of your thoughts, you'll know how hard that can be and how often in a 20-minute period you've been absent from your own driver's seat.
And so, at different times during the day, it is not us running the show of our life, but some other force, working beneath the surface, controlling the way we think, feel and act. This might be difficult for most of us to admit since we live with the illusion that we are the ones who decide how we think and feel, but if we can be deeply honest with ourselves, we might have to say that every day, several times a day, we "lose it".
In a moment of “losing it,” our conditioning takes over. It is the programs and algorithms that we've learned in the past that work automatically when we are not paying attention. We have acquired many of these programs, and they are there to help us survive. When we are little, we learn most of what we need to know in order to survive in this world, and what we learn as children we might keep for our entire lives.
You might say that the intention of these unconscious programs is always good, but later on, these programs might not be as useful as they are when we first needed them, and they can even be harmful and destructive when we don't need them anymore. We learn to protect ourselves, to close off, to turn off, to shut down, to freeze, to fight, to run or to hide when something threatens our survival. We learn to disconnect from our emotions, to be obsessed with fixing all the problems in the world. We learn to take care of others before ourselves and modify our behavior to please others. We do all this because we have to, and it is the only way to get through the difficult moments of our childhood. But as we mature, we rarely stop to modify this conditioning to one that is appropriate for our current life situation.
And so, some of us are triggered by our government which represents, to us, authority. We react in the same way we reacted to our teachers in school and our superiors at work or even to God. Our relationship with authority may even be shaped by the relationship between our mother and her doctor during pregnancy and birth. We are triggered by our partner who might represent one of our parents who didn't give us the attention and love we needed and wanted. We are triggered by our children, our friends, our neighbors and colleagues who remind us of our siblings, friends, and peers of our past.
If I take a deep look at what bothers me today, I will always find that this is not the first time. This has happened before, has bothered me before, and my unconscious reaction is just a reflection of my past experiences. When I start to notice that old repetitive pattern or the feeling of “why do I keep experiencing the same thing, time and time again?” it usually means I need to look deeper and find out where, in the past, it comes from. If I can connect the dots between the present and the past, then I can start to understand myself better and free myself from the conditioning that no longer serves me.
But what if I can't remember? What if I don't have access to the painful parts of my past when I learned those behaviors? What if I don't remember my childhood, and my past is a big blur to me? Does this mean I can't change my unconscious patterns and behaviors?
To answer these questions, we must first understand why we forget. Why are big parts of our past lost and inaccessible to us? Short-term memory turns into long-term memory when there are powerful emotions connected to the memory. For example, September 11th, 2001 is a day we’ve all stored in our long-term memory because the emotions of shock or fear were strong in our experience. On the other hand, our brain doesn't need to store, in the conscious part of our mind, all the events and moments of our life that will not be useful for the future. The way the brain chooses that which is meaningful and needs to stay accessible, is by measuring how strong the emotions are, whether positive or negative. If we think back to our earliest memories, there will usually be some difficult memories that we recall, along with some really beautiful moments. The difficult memories are stored to remind us what to avoid in order to survive, and the happy memories are stored to help us cope with the challenges we may face, and to give us a sense of how we would like to feel. They become a resource that we can utilize in times of need.
Forgetting the past is a defense mechanism some of us develop in order to erase moments that were too difficult to remember. These are moments our brain must forget, because living with this memory may cause too much suffering. Our brain will store these memories in our unconscious so that our body will know how to react automatically when it encounters a similar situation, but they may stay inaccessible to us consciously.
In addition, we may forget because we must become numb in order to get through a situation, and to enable our brain to turn off the ability to feel the painful emotions. This numbness is there to protect us from pain and suffering, but it will also affect the ability to feel positive emotions. With this numbness, the intensity of our emotions is not strong enough to turn short term memories into long term, and months or years can go by when we don’t remember at all. There are many cases of sexual abuse that will be consciously forgotten by those abused. The memory will be stored in the body and can create different emotional and even physical issues, but the memory isn’t always accessible and could have been forgotten deliberately, as a defense mechanism.
What is common in all of our forgetting, is the inability to face the reality because it was too difficult, and we didn’t have enough resources to do so. The difference between the present and the past, is that now we can connect ourselves to resources that will allow us to go through challenges, without the need to numb the pain or forget what has happened. These resources are the sources that help us feel strong enough to face challenges or difficulties. They can be divided into outer resources and inner resources.
The outer resources are people or things in our life that make us feel good. Friends and family that support us, a healthy routine, eating food we like and doing things that make us feel good. We might find a therapist or a friend that will be there for us always, perhaps a book, an author or even youtube videos, that inspire us and connect us to ourselves. The more we surround ourselves with these things, the stronger we get.
The inner resources are more powerful, but more difficult to create in a meaningful way. They are feelings and thoughts to which we can return that fill our hearts and souls with the power to move forward. It can be a phrase or mantra like “I’m good enough,” “I deserve to be happy,” “I know I’m on the right path” or “I am guided and supported by a force greater than me.” The words must resonate deeply and connect us to a part of ourselves that we sometimes forget. Another inner resource can be a symbol, image, or memory that, when we hold it in our mind and heart by visualizing and imagining it, we are filled with joy, peace or love. A powerful resource can be the memory of a challenge we faced and overcame, maybe even visualizing ourselves in the moments we learned how to walk, falling over and over again until we could finally walk on our own. The more we experience the feeling and emotions of these memories, the stronger a resource they become. These resources can help us move out of our darkest moments back into the light so that we can live the life we wish for ourselves in the most fulfilling way.
My journey of healing my past has taught me a lot about the importance of resources. I realize that the more I do for myself and the more resources I find, the stronger I become, and my ability to face life and its challenges evolves more and more. By working with my body, eating well, doing yoga, meditation and reading spiritual books; by connecting to people around whom I feel good, taking healing courses, going to therapists and healers and recharging my emotional and spiritual batteries, I’ve built myself up and prepared myself to face the challenges that will come my way.
I ask myself sometimes why new memories, that I had totally forgotten about, come to me now, while in the past they were not accessible at all. The answer is, I wasn’t ready until now, and I know there’s even more to unveil and heal. To do so, I must get stronger and connect to more resources that I don’t have right now. To do so, I will keep myself open, aware, knowing that life is not easy, but it is more beautiful than words can describe.
I urge you to take a moment to write down or think of a few resources that you can carry with you on your path. Choose one or two outer resources and one or two inner resources that you can easily access and use in times of need. Make them as simple as you can, and focus on the positive feelings and emotions that you experience when you’re deeply connected with these resources. Breath them in; welcome them into your being; feel them as fully as you can…Make room to enjoy the beauty of life.