13. Past is History. Future is Mystery.
Updated: Feb 27, 2021
And now it's time to get your power back.
What would life be like with no stress? With no worries. With no fear. With no regrets. No guilt. No anxiety.
Close your eyes now and imagine one of these floating away from you, be it stress, worries or something else.
What would it be like to live your life in such bliss more often than not? Peaceful. Free.
Is this not everyone's goal in life? Inner Freedom, mentally, emotionally and physically.
Do you ever wonder what your life would be like with no responsibilities? Free from having to work for a living. Free from debt or financial worries. Free from oppression. Free from guilt. Free from working for someone. Free from pain. Free from worry. Free from fear. Free from constraints. Free from your past. Free from self-hatred or lack of self-acceptance. The list is endless but you get the picture.
Such a large part of our daily energy is spent consumed with such thoughts. So much of our expended energy seems to go into Shawshanking our way out of our own lives. Doesn't that ever strike you as sad? Do you not get tired of it all? I know I do. Or I did, much more than I do now. My life used to live under the slogan of 'I'll be happy when...'. Until I found a way to stop.
What if you could also discover this way? What if you could live with more happiness and more contentment by changing little more than your perspective to start with? What if by doing some very simple things, everything could be upside down? Or is it the right way up? What if the freedom you were seeking, was freely available to you? Would you want it?
Well, would you?
This is why your here and now is so powerful. This is why the key to getting your power back lies in the now, the ever-present moment and in how you connect with it. This is also why focusing on the past or the future too much can become your prison. A prison we live in by choice. A prison from which we believe life will start once we reach those future goals, like a higher salary, a house, kids, a partner, retirement, etc. Or when we've gotten over past events or traumas. The problem is that when we focus on the past or future, we close our eyes to the beauty and gifts of the present.
Living in this prison is like going on a journey through a beautiful country on an open-top bus with your eyes closed. You miss everything that will ever happen in each moment on that journey. And because your eyes are closed, you never know when those goals are reached, because as long as the road keeps going, you assume there must be more to achieve, so you're never content. Until one day it's too late and the road does end and there is no more future to grasp on to and so you open your eyes and look back and see all the beautiful moments on your long journey of life that you missed. But it's too late now, you can't go back and re-live them. Now your journey begins to feel wasted. Regrets kick in as hindsight clears our vision and brings realisation. Why did we even bother taking the journey if we didn't partake in it? Remember Shirley Valentine's revelation from Blog Key 6? "...she got lost in all this unused life".
The key to living a happy life? Well, wouldn't it be wonderful if I could spell that out here for you! I don't believe there is one magical key. I do believe in some important and connected keys, which include learning to focus on and engage with the here and now. Learning to live in the moment and be mindful of the now. Learning within these moments, to know gratitude and thankfulness. Learning to understand and know ourselves in the present. Learning to live alongside ourselves with acceptance, compassion, no judgement and with love. These, I believe, are some of the keys to living a happy life.
Mindfulness, mindful breathing and meditation provide access to such keys and it doesn't take much to change your life dramatically, by incorporating them into your daily routine.
The events of the past and dreams of the future attach themselves to us like strong grappling hooks, pulling us every which way, vying for our attention and energy. They become triggers. Doing their best to keep us away from our centre - the place where we can dwell in the present moment. In his book, 'Complex PTSD: From Surviving to Thriving', (link on the Key Books page), Pete Walker connects triggers to emotional flashbacks. "A trigger is an external or internal stimulus that activates us into an emotional flashback. This often occurs on a subliminal level outside the boundaries of normal consciousness. Recognising what triggers us can therefore be difficult. Nonetheless, becoming increasingly mindful of our triggers is crucial because it sometimes allows us to avoid flashback-inducing people, situations and behaviours." Emotional flashbacks are when we are triggered back to a past emotional state, which affects us in the present. Pete continues, "When you are stuck in a flashback, fear, shame and or depression can dominate your experience...some common experiences of being in an emotional flashback are feeling little, fragile and helpless. Everything feels too hard. Life feels too scary."
It is in these emotional flashbacks that our stress response kicks in and we begin to fall into our 'preferred' stress response, whether it's fight, flight, fawn or freeze. As Pete says, we need to become more mindful of our triggers so that we can prevent being flashed-back in the first place. Maybe your trigger lives in The Future, leaving you feeling like you'll never be rich enough to have that dream house. Or maybe your trigger lives in The Past, leaving you paralysed by feelings of not being worthy of love. Wherever they live, and there will be many, it will do us good to spend time regularly checking in with ourselves.
The Central Place
When we sit in the central place and stay there, we begin to put our focus on the present moment. As we do, we slowly render the past and future powerless and those grappling hooks dissipate as we begin to taste and establish a new freedom from the triggers and flashbacks. This central place sits in-between two windows. On your left is the window of The Past and on your right is the window of The Future.
So what happens in this central place?
We give power and energy to what we focus on. The same is true for that which we do not focus on. Remove the focus from something and it will lose power and energy and ultimately, its hold over us. When we stop focusing on the negative thoughts we found through the window of The Past, they lose power. Similarly, when we stop looking through the window of The Future, focusing on the fantasy of a future that doesn't exist, it loses power. Have you ever become obsessed with something you just had to buy or a love interest who consumed your heart, or on someone who wronged you in some way in the past? Well, I bet you didn't arrive at Obsessed City or Consumed Central by not thinking about them!
As alluring as they are, our task is to bring our focus off of these two windows, onto our Central Place. Onto the here and now. This is where your power lies. Keys to your inner freedom can be found in this Central Place.
The Other Window
I would like to introduce you to one more window. A third window. Because The Past and The Future are not the only windows we focus on and therefore not the only things that affect and control our daily decisions and actions. This third window is often missed, because it sits quietly behind us, influencing without us noticing. This window is what I call 'The Other'.
The Other window sits with us in the present. It sits behind us. If you will, picture a window to your left-hand side and on it is written 'The Past'. Picture another window to your right and on that is written 'The Future'. Now picture one more window behind you and on this one is written, 'The Other'.
The Other window is where we put so much of our present energy. It is all the time spent focusing on other people's lives, other people's decisions, other people's opinions, other people's possessions, boyfriends, wives, children, cars, pay rises, clothes, friends. It is through this window we spend hours scrolling through social media, magazines, gossip, TV. It is through The Other we generate more power for the thought process of 'If Only...'.
If only I wasn't this fat...
If only I was really loveable...
If only I also had a great car...
If only I had more money...
If only I was as beautiful as him...
If only I had successful parents...
If only I was that photogenic...
If only my life was as easy as theirs...
If only I could be as popular as her...
If only I achieved as much as they do...
If only my eyes were green, blue, brown, hazel...
...Then I would be beautiful - successful - loved - accepted.
It is through this other window we are triggered to believe our lives are less than they should be, that we are not as beautiful, successful enough, rich enough, together enough, intelligent enough, loved, skinny as we should be. And through these thoughts, we give power to the 'If Only' monster and often find we've been flashed-back and no longer function at our best. We give up or feel there's no point. We lose focus or lack motivation.
It may be that one or two of the examples above resonate with you otherwise you can create your own list. The If Only monster lives and thrives off the energy we give it when we focus our attention through any of the three windows. However, it seems to thrive off The Other window more easily. This window is rather insidious and subtle, a master of disguise and trickery. Sometimes triggers are easier to identify when they come through The Past or The Future, sending us into negative or destructive thinking or emotional flashbacks. It is often harder to recognise when they come from The Other window because it's much more subtly pervasive in its execution. So the next time you feel down on yourself, or life feels too hard or unmanageable, for example, take a moment to check your focus against The Other window. Have you spent too much time watching TV, scrolling through social media, flicking through dating profiles, watching your neighbours? You might well find you've been triggered through one of these mediums.
The Good News
With three windows around you, there is one space left and that is directly in front of you. This is the garden of the present. It is not a window, but a vast open space for you to walk out into. It represents your here and now. By walking out into this space, you choose to leave behind The Past, The Future and The Other. You do have a choice and a way out of the cycle of destructive thinking. You can take your power back. Your present moment garden is called The Present and it is ever-present and it is yours and your alone.
The answer to this freedom is the opposite of what most people think. Most think we can stop focusing on those things by trying to stop focusing on them. When in actual fact, by doing this you're continuing to give them energy. Think about it. Trying to push something away requires focus, right? So the answer has to be, stop trying to push it away. It's like that familiar trick when someone says I want you to think of a pink elephant. Now, close your eyes and stop thinking about that pink elephant. By trying not to think about a pink elephant, you keep thinking about a pink elephant. What you resist, persists.
This is where the art of acknowledging and letting go helps. Letting go doesn't require energy. It doesn't need a push or pull. Instead, it requires you to focus on something else. Place your focus on the now, give your present power by focusing there. Give your present power by being grateful now. Give your present power by being thankful now. Give your present power by listening to your heart now.
It is by being in the here and now that the past and future cease to exist, and slowly we get life back into perspective and learn that the past and future, do not exist in the present.
The reason we spend most of our lives feeling controlled by The Past, The Future and The Other, and why they have so much power over us is because we focus on them for so much of our lives. Almost every day, often by the hour and sometimes minute to minute. By giving them focus we give them power. In turn, the present then becomes the powerless one because we stopped focusing on it. No wonder we live such stressed and anxious lives, we have forgotten how to be free within ourselves and enjoy the now. Did you catch that single, important word? Enjoy!
The Garden of The Present
Are you beginning to see the full picture here? What you put your focus on, is what you give power to. This is why the now can be so powerful when we bring our focus to it. So when you get a few minutes, go into your controlled mindful breathing environment and visualise The Present garden. Using visualisation and my teaching on Key Spaces, create it and make the garden your own. Take time there to let go of things, to get in touch with your inner feelings, your thoughts. Use the Intention Pathways technique or do a Mountain Meditation or even a Body Scan Meditation or some Affirmation Meditation. Make it your space and it will become a place you want to come back to again and again.
To be clear, I'm not saying that our present moments don't come with challenges and things that require our attention and energy. What I am saying is that we will have a much better perspective on how to deal with them and have so much more clarity and emotional energy and stronger self-esteem, enabling us to better deal with those challenges, if all of our energies were not being drained away by the push and pull of The Past, The Future and The Other. These three will skew our perspective on the present moments. This is because, with our focus on the future, we view the present through a future lens and judge the present by it.
Similarly, when we have our focus on our pasts, or on opinions or judgments of others, we view the present through their lenses and judge the present by them. So from any of the three windows, we will never have the right perspective because we can only view the now, through their lenses. This is why we often make bad or unhealthy decisions in the present, because the conclusions we reached, came through viewing our current situation from past, future or other perspectives. Crazy aren't we! Well, maybe not crazy, after all, we are all just trying to live our best lives.
As quoted in many films, "The past is history, the future is a mystery but today is a gift, that's why they call it the present". You can get your perspective back in line with the truth by focusing and being in the present moment as often as possible.
You can get your power back. Focus on the here and now and be grateful.
Stop looking through the past. Stop living through the future. Stop looking through the other. Stop living through the past. Stop looking through the future. Stop living through the other.
Mindfulness, whether done walking, cooking, reading, cleaning, singing, meditating, breathing, and more, is a precious key to this new perspective and to your new freedom.
So, what's stopping you? The new road to freedom is within your grasp this very second. Open your eyes now so you no longer miss any more of the journey. Be grateful and thankful for everything you see. Being grateful and thankful in the present gives it such power.
I will ask you again. What if the freedom you were seeking, was free? Would you want it?
Well, would you?
Lastly, did you notice the one thing you forgot about because you stopped giving it energy because you stopped focusing your attention on it and instead focused on the rest of this blog? Yes, you stopped thinking about that bloody pink elephant.
Well, you did until now!
An Affirmation Meditation
I thought I'd leave you with a simple affirmation meditation you can use in your mindful breathing time, based on the words above.
Repeat the 10 sentences below, out loud if possible. Do this in your controlled environment once you have calmed your mind down with some controlled breathing.
Repeat the group of sentences two or three times in one sitting and trying doing this in a few of your mindful breathing sessions throughout the week/month to see some genuine results in your thinking and mindset.
Journal your thoughts and feelings after each time you do this meditation.
1. I can get my power back.
2. I can get my freedom back.
3. I will stop looking through the window of the past.
4. I will stop living through the past.
5. I will stop looking through the window of the future.
6. I will stop living through the future.
7. I will stop looking through the window of the other.
8. I will stop living through the other.
9. I have my freedom back.
10. I have my power back.
Now visualise stepping away from the three windows and out into your garden of the present. Spend time in it and populate it with sounds, smells, movement, birds, flowers, streams, whatever takes your fancy. Feel the grass under your feet, touch rose petals with your hands, the sun on your face, watch the clouds float by high in the blue sky. Focus on your breathing and find things to be grateful and thankful for in your present life. Spend as much time as you can here and then come back to it again and again.
If you ever find yourself in a bind, or feel like you might be triggered or have just been triggered, close your eyes and come back to this garden. Your brain will associate it with calmness, tranquility, peace and it will subdue your anxiety and bring you back down to a more peaceful state of mind. This action becomes more powerful, the more time you spend building your garden in your controlled environment. Do some calm and long breathing, exhaling slowly and for longer than your inhale, like the 3:3:6 breathing.
Enjoy. Enjoy building your garden. Enjoy your ever-present moments.