There are some serious and some pop philosophies that extol “living in the moment.” It makes sense to live in the now. In a very unenlightened sense, you have no choice since that is where we are. But many people cannot easily get over their past. They cannot leave behind events or people. Is this harmful?
I have always liked collecting quotations. Here are two about this – serious: “The past has no power over the present moment.” – Eckhart Tolle; and pop: – “Don’t let yesterday take up too much of today” – Will Rogers.
Eckhart Tolle has written about this in The Power of Now and says that the natural enemy to enlightenment is the mind. He feels that we are our own creator of pain and the cure is living fully in the present.
The past is important. It is clearly part of you and it is what formed the person we are in the now. It shouldn’t be forgotten. Sometimes, it can’t be forgotten, though we may want to forget parts of it.
But sometimes letting go of the past is necessary to move on with our life. Obviously, we cannot change the past, even if it has changed our present.
Can you be selective in when and how you access your past? Being a product of the past is not the same as being a prisoner of the past.
I think of some of this mental time traveling as harmless. I tend to still listen to the music of my youth. Serendipitously, I heard the song “Living in the Past” by Jethro Tull yesterday which was recorded when I was in high school. Harmless nostalgia, right? Well, it does trouble me that I have almost no interest in new music. I was so involved in pop music at one time. That is gone. Is that bad?
But that is not as serious as a person who more generally finds it difficult to accept new experiences and are more likely to recreate past experiences in more important ways than music you listen to.
I found a series of articles online about this approach. In Psychology Today, I found both ideas about living in the past and also the idea that “No one lives in the past. The past is the past. It’s gone. You don’t ever have to put the past behind you. It’s always behind you.”
When living is the past goes beyond nostalgic time traveling, it is associated with the fear of making changes, complaining more about the current situation, and isolation.
You can find those who will say that those who don’t remember or learn from the past will be forced to repeat it. But sometimes those who focus on the past, unconsciously, end up repeating similar, and not positive, situations.
This living in the present approach can start to sound like a song from the movie Frozen that was so annoyingly popular a few years ago and became a meme for other kinds of letting go of your past.
It’s funny how some distance makes everything seem small
And the fears that once controlled me can’t get to me at all
It’s time to see what I can do
To test the limits and break through
No right, no wrong, no rules for me
Let it go, let it go
Living in the past also nurtures regrets for things done or undone that cannot be changed.
In my most serious period of Buddhist studies, I fully embraced the now.
“If you are depressed, you are living in the past;
If you are anxious, you are living in the future;
If you are at peace, you are living in the present.”
– Lao Tzu
But I still found myself depressed and anxious in the present. A teacher would tell me that was because I was not really in the present.
Fears are normal. Phobias are not. When visiting the past becomes living in the past, there is cause for concern.
Still, living in the now is not easy. People who are depressed are often fearful of the future. Their negative and anxious expectations encourage them to go back and letting go of the past is very difficult.
It is hard to see some negative past experiences as ones that ultimately make us wiser or put us on a better path. And some negative experiences don’t do us any good. They hurt and scar us.
Finally, the most frightening form of this seems to me to be something a friend is still going through after the death of their child. They don’t feel they can control the present. And that means they certainly can’t have any power over their future. She sees this as not only her problem, but a problem that “all of us” are dealing with in the current state of “the world.”
Sorry – no solutions here. Just acknowledgement of something I am observing.