Who amongst us is not enchanted by the power of story and myth? It’s through story that we delineate, navigate, and if we are lucky, reconcile our place in this world. Story has the capacity to inspire and unite, yet it can also divide and ensnare us. Our story is our past, and our past is our story. Much of the hurt we carry around with us is a stowaway from our past—our inability to let go of what once was in order to grasp hold of what now is.
Lodged behind every pain, sorrow, or hurt, is fear—The fear that we are not good enough, the fear of letting go, the fear of uncertainty, and the fear of acceptance. When we operate from a place of fear, we are governed by panic and reaction, and we gradually become addicted to the endorphin rush of living in a perpetual stage of “drama”. But creeping below all of this is an overriding sense of powerlessness, leaving us feeling anxious and victimized. When we are stubbornly entrenched in the mentality that “things happen to us”, we remain powerless. It’s only by acknowledging that “things happen inside us”, that we become the architects of our lives.
What are we to make of our past, and is it even realistic to expect that trauma from our past, need not weigh heavy on our present? We are tritely told to “mine our past for wisdom” and “to make peace with our past”. The general consensus being that “what’s done is done, so it’s best to just move on.” But the more you look around, the more you see so many of us unable, or unwilling, to let go of our story, to let go of our past.
Much of the pain in our lives is a direct result of our being ensnared in our past, while at the same time, expecting to lay the foundation for our future, and all the while, we neglect what lies at our feet today. If our story is our past, and we are our story, isn’t it unreasonable to expect that we can willfully sever a “part of us”, like it were a diseased limb?
Instead, why not treat your past as if it were a huge buffet dinner placed before you. You can only carry so much. If you take too much of one thing, there’s little room for anything else on offer. If you return for second and third helpings, you’ll have no room for dessert. We need to take nourishment from our past, but we need to be vigilant not to take more than we can manage.
I’ve had to accept that my life story is by no means linear, so expecting to permanently close the door on my past only sets me up for frustration and disappointment. It’s as though I’m walking a precarious tightrope towards my future—to my left, is the cavern of my past, and to my right, is the gorge of my present. My goal is to find the perfect balance to walk through life towards my future on this tightrope. I mustn’t lean too much to either side, yet have the presence of mind to always survey the view around me.
When I gaze over the fertile ground of my past, I’m reminded of three important lessons:
1. “Forgiveness is giving up the hope that the past could have been any different, it's accepting the past for what it was, and using this moment and this time to help yourself move forward.” ~Oprah Winfrey
Our past is a springboard to our future, and I need to always remember that without stepping-stones, I’m walking through water. This quote from Oprah reminds me that expecting to rewrite my past with a different ending enmeshes me in that dreaded feeling of powerlessness.
2. “Some people are going to leave, but that's not the end of your story. That's the end of their part in your story.” ~Faraaz Kazi
Nature has a way of running its course, and relationships are no different. Much of the sorrow in my life comes from attachment to relationships which are no longer viable, healthy, or sustainable. This lesson becomes even more painful when the relationship in question involves a family member. Holding on to something which has already gone builds resentment, and that acts like an anchor that weighs down my soul.
3. “New Beginnings are often disguised as painful endings.” ~Lao Tzu
This quote resonates deeply with me because it is the pain in my past that has been my greatest teacher—my most precious gift. It's in our nature to recoil from pain—to wrench it from our soul, and abandon it in our darkness. The truth is what we disown, that which we orphan, has our fingerprints all over it. We can no more escape it than we could escape our skin. Acceptance and growth comes when I sit with my pain; caress my fears, for they are my most devote of teachers. It is in the unnerving solitude of their whispers, and in the tinge of their aches, that I find the truth to calm my uncertainty.
And finally, I’d like to leave you with the haunting words of Jeannette Winterson: “You cannot disown what is yours. Flung out, there is always the return, the reckoning, the revenge, perhaps the reconciliation. There is always the return. And the wound will take you there.”