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I once had a counselor say to me;

“You can change your past. Just re-write it.”

Excuse me?

But then I had one of those flash of insights as to what she was talking about.

The past, just like the future, exists only in your mind. It is no longer here, in this present moment. The only place you can access it is in your mind. It is therefore nothing more than your imagination which creates your past. So – as you can do with all daydreams – why don’t you choose to re-write it? Write yourself a story about the childhood you would like to have had. Write about the young person you wanted to be. Write yourself a new past.

So I did.

Yes, sounds too easy. But it actually proved to be an exercise that opened me up and freed me from some painful memories and ingrained thought patterns that had been placed on me in childhood. As I re-wrote some of the memories which had wounded me, transforming them in a. story into memories that were brighter, I began to feel another transformation happening, within my emotions. I began to feel a sort of release from the negative feelings I’d always associated with certain things. It wasn’t like I was suddenly happy about them, but it was as if the pressure of them had been taken off of me, and I could breathe easier.

By the end of the exercise, I realized something – I was able to go back to those same memories, and feel… nothing. In writing them as a story, first the original, then replacing it with a better one, I found that I’d discharged the negative energy around them. I’d finally been able to truly let go of certain things in my past, and even knowing the “new” memories I wrote weren’t “real” I was surprised to discover that, in fact, I was able to choose to “replace” those negative memories with the positive ones I’d written.

That is, yes, I am still well aware of what the so-called reality of the situation was and what the original memory had been. But now when that memory came to mind or was triggered, along with it came the re-write, the “new” memory, right by it’s side, and that in and of itself would immediately diffuse any emotion associated with the original memory, and even make me laugh.

And so in this way I came to realize just how true it is that the past really does not exist at all, except in our minds. It’s something I have to remind myself of, even now, because it’s a concept that is a bit foreign to most Western minds. We think of time as so linear, and the past as set in stone and so unchangeable. Yet we have no way to physically prove it even existed in the first place, other than by the results of prior actions and events. But if you want to get philosophical about it (which, yes, I am doing), even that is something not completely prove-able because those results could have occurred through many different circumstances here in the present moment. There is no way to “prove” it happened as your memories say it did. It’s just logic. Since the moment something becomes a part of the past it now exists only in your mind (or on your cell phone I suppose), the reality of that moment now becomes something which is subject to interpretation. (Even if it is recorded no your cell phone.)

Yes, I’m dabbling a bit in Quantum Physics now, in many new scientific modes of thought, and I am absolutely not an expert or even a mildly competent philosopher about all of this! However, in my little pea-sized brain, I do get what they’re trying to say, or at least I did as a result of that small exercise my counselor suggested so long ago, and it’s stayed with me ever since.

The past can be changed.

At least, if we choose to do so, we can view it differently in our minds.

It’s all about how we choose to view it. And how we choose to respond to it through our reactions.

Even if we keep all of the memories the same, don’t change them to be happy or have a positive outcome as I did in that writing exercise, but choose to simply view them dispassionately as events which occurred but that had no emotional attachment to them, we can still change our past. If we can simply see them as not bad or good but simply as something that happened, if we can detach ourselves from the emotional content of what happened, to truly “let it go,” we’ll be able to free ourselves from attachment to the past.

And why is this important?

Well, honestly, it’s mainly because the majority of the pain in my life I have found comes from one of two things. (And I am not the first to note this or say it, by the way. Many far wiser people have spoken about it. Like Buddha.)

It’s caused by either obsessing over something I cannot change in my past that wounded me or others, or worrying about something I have no control over in my future which might wound me or others.

Yet the future is just as unreal as the past, just as much a figment of our imagination.

Again, it only exists in our thoughts. We cannot travel to the future anymore than we can to the past. We are sort of stuck here, in the ever-present Now. And in this place of Now, there is no future or past, the only reality exists around us at this moment in time.

So, does this mean we don’t plan for the future, or try to learn from and make amends for mistakes in the past? Of course not.

Because we know that the future is coming into the now, and that this moment will soon be part of our past. And so we need to act accordingly, in order to make sure our future is a better one than our past had been. It’s a delicate balance.

I also realized through that writing exercise that the past cannot be ignored, just as the future cannot be. They are integrated into the Now, and so must be dealt with accordingly.

Otherwise we are tied to the past so much it will continue to influence us in negative ways that cause us to have not only an unpleasant Now, but a dim outlook on the future. In order to change ourselves so that our future is a bright one, we must recognize and deal with the things in our past which were wounding – and in so doing, we are then changing who we are in the Now, which then changes who we become in the future.

There is a wonderful book series I love by the amazing and hilarious Terry Pratchett called “Disc World.” I highly recommend it not simply for the fun factor, but because so many of the books are also social commentaries on our modern world, but done in a wonderfully tongue-in-cheek way. Plus, he’s just a great author.

In one of these books a character is talking about some things that had happened where a lot of people were hurt, and they were now dealing with the outcome of it. There was a lot of regret by those who had acted badly, and this regret and shame was causing them to try to ignore the situation rather than deal with it and change it.

This character essentially says to the group (I paraphrase here): We can’t change what was done, it’s put us in this place now and we are ashamed, but we shouldn’t dwell on that shame because it is stopping us from what we can do. Which is that we can change who we are now, so that our future selves are proud of the people we’ve become, and look back on this moment with gratitude. We can change our actions and reactions in this moment so that our future selves never look back in shame on our past again. So let’s do that.

Basically, this character was telling us that it’s about recognizing the lessons of the past, and releasing the negative emotions tied to them so that those emotions don’t influence you badly in the present moment. Instead they inspire you to change yourself so that in the future you are right now creating, you become that better person you truly want to be.

In this moment. Right Now.

And one day you will be that person in the present moment and will be grateful to your past self that made the decision to finally let go of your prior past, and live instead in the present in such a way that your future is secured.

Phew! I know, it’s a lot of philosophy. But it’s also practical.

After all, the only thing constant is change. And the only change we have control over is that which is within ourselves, in this moment, right now. So we may as well make it a change that will lead to something good. And make the past we are creating in this Now moment one our future self is proud of indeed.

Jeanette Elaine Dubois

Jeanette is a film & tv editor, writer, director and producer who’s worked on Emmy & Telly Award winning shows, movies, and music videos for a variety of networks.  She’s also a trained operatic who mostly sings to her cats now, though sometimes she expands her audience to her family & friends.  She loves gardening, good books, good wine, and good conversations, preferably all at the same time.

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