DEALING WITH THE PAST

Here is a selection of items from my main pages of ideas, stories and questions that relate to issues of the past, your personal history. I hope you find them of help and support.

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We do not see things as they are; we see them as we are

Everything we experience is through our own unique set of filters, from the big things like love and beauty to the more mundane like the quality of a cup of coffee, black or white etc. Some important understanding arises from this :-

Our communications are at best approximate.

Others do not see the world as we do and never will.

Ideas about right and wrong are usually matters of personal judgement.

Freedom is what you do with what has been done to you

Sometimes, often, we can't affect the things that happen but we can have some control over our reactions to them. It's not an easy area, to react positively in a world that is often negative but it's a significant area of personal freedom.

You can be right or you can be free

Sometimes that is the choice, do we cling on to our past beliefs long after they have ceased to support us or do we recognise life is a process and that our beliefs can be as subject to change as everything else?

If we hold on to being right we end up enslaved by our views and this can apply to the small beliefs we have, how we felt someone acted wrongly towards us, as well as to our beliefs about life in general. It is clear that events will be as they are and others will act as they do regardless of our beliefs about them. Let's work towards change in ourselves, if we are trapped by our need for things outside of us to be different we cannot call ourselves free.

The wake does not drive the boat

If you stand on the top of a cliff and look down at the sea where a fast boat is travelling you can see the wake spreading out behind. If you did not know better you could assume the wake was driving the boat. But you do know better, you know the boat has an engine and a set of controls operated by a driver. The wake is just what the boat leaves behind as it moves forward. (Wayne Dyer)

Substitute your life history for the boat's wake and the metaphor is complete. Our history does not drive our life, it only looks like that sometimes. You are the driver, you have control of the engine, you can choose the speed and direction you take. You can follow a path based on your history or you can choose to do otherwise. Your history is what you leave behind.

You can't stop a bird from landing on your head, but you can stop it from building a nest

I have had counselling clients who get annoyed with themselves when a negative or critical thought comes into their head. In fact sometimes they get so cross they invest the thought with enough energy for it to stay around for quite a while.

There are disciplines that can help control thoughts that arise in us but for most of daily life it is sufficient just not to give them more space. We have a choice, not to dwell on negative things. If action is needed we can act, otherwise we can fill our minds with what is positive and life enhancing.

A simple religion

The Dalai Lama once said "My religion is simple, my religion is kindness". Now we each have to work out our own beliefs about life but I think this is a great standard against which to check both what we believe and how we act. One person who always benefits when we practice "random acts of kindness" is ourselves, that's not why we do them but it is what happens.

Keeping a journal

This is one of the most powerful methods of personal exploration I know, not writing a diary of events but a journal of thoughts and feelings. If you can spend no more than 15 mins a day just writing you will soon become amazed by where your journal is taking you.

The squeaky wheel

It's the squeaky wheel that gets the oil.

This can feel unfair that those who get on with their lives without fuss and who don't get the support that other, less competent, people get. Fair or not, it's a fact.

So those who look like they are dealing with life well, even when they aren't, need to know how to ask for help otherwise others won't think to offer it.

We create our own experience, sometimes

Try telling a naked man at -20C in a piercing wind that we create our own experience, he might not agree with you.

But you could tell yourself this when you get upset over something someone has said to you, over a forgotten anniversary, over a promotion you did not get, over holiday plans that go wrong, over a scratch down your car, over a rainy day...etc...etc

Not all problems can be solved

But that doesn't mean we can't improve things. One of the signs of flexible approach to life is a willingness to accept partial solutions to problems that can't be solved in their entirety. So when you're faced with something you feel you have to accept don't stop looking for areas where you can still make improvements.

An attitude of gratitude

This is a phrase you have probably heard of before but its familiarity should not blind you to its truth. Here is an interesting exercise to see if this idea works for you.

Write down one thing you feel you can give thanks for even if, right now, you don't feel very grateful. If you can't think of anything write down the fact that you can see, many people can't. Spend a minute thinking about this item and tomorrow add another and spend a minute on each one. Do this every day for a total of five days, so five items and five minutes reflection. Spend five minutes a day contemplating the items on your list and if you find this makes a difference to how you feel then add items as the occur to you. If it doesn't work for you then file the list away, it will be there when you need it.

Carrying the raft

A traveller comes across a swollen river that he needs to cross but the current is too strong for swimming. He builds a raft that carries him safely over. On arrival at the far bank he picks up the raft and carries it on his back for the rest of his life in case he has to cross another swollen river.

Let's look to see what we are still doing that served us once but is no longer appropriate and yet we hang on to "just in case". The way we had of dealing with a childhood fear which we still practice although the fear, and our childhood, are gone. The attitudes we had when we were poor which we no longer need now we are more financially comfortable, or perhaps the reverse now we have met harder times.

The fitted suit

A man goes to George, a famous tailor, to have a suit made. After the cloth selection and measuring he returns for the fitting and puts the suit on. One arm is shorter than the other so the tailor suggests he shortens his arm by raising his shoulder. This turns up the collar so the tailor suggests he inclines his head to one side but this creates a problem with the other shoulder so his body has to be adjusted to compensate for this and so it goes on. When the man leaves the shop he is stopped by a passer-by who says "I know only George could have made a suit that would fit a cripple like you."

How much of our lives do we live in a way that contorts who we truly are in order to fit the suit others have made for us and which the rest of the world thinks fits us perfectly?

Don't do it then

A woman goes to see the Doctor, lifts up her right arm and says, "Every time I do that it hurts". The Doctor replies "So don't do it then" (Tommy Cooper)

Old joke, bad medical advice, but consider the following:-

Every time I drink too much I feel terrible the next morning:-
So don't do it then.

Whenever I think about my divorce I get very upset and cry:-
So don't do it then.

Each time we talk about your mother it ends up in a row:-
So don't do it then.

Fill in our own examples. Not all of life's problems can be solved this way but some can, it can be that simple. Sometimes something that is already there, we only have to notice it.

Tree of sorrows

This is a story of a village where once a year all the inhabitants write down their sorrows, their problems and difficulties from the last twelve months. They then pin their list on a special tree, the tree of sorrows, for a day where all the villagers can read them.

At the end of the day each person has a choice to take home their experience of the past year or choose the experience of another villager. As the story goes they all choose to take back their own experience as that seems easier to bear than any of the others they have read.

We have little idea of the problems of most other people, particularly those who seem to be sailing through life. Let's suspend our judgements, to know all is to forgive all. 
Our life is here to teach us and when we have learnt what we need we can move on. Others have their own path and their own struggles and may need a helping hand from us when we feel least able to reach out.

Falling in a hole

A woman is out for a walk when she falls into a deep hole from which there appears to be no way out. She cries out for help and a passing academic leans over and offers her advice on how to avoid such holes in future. Later a religious leader hears her cries and suggests she thinks about the true meaning of her predicament and says that there is a being somewhere who cares about her. Subsequently a therapist responds with an offer to help her explore how she allowed herself to get into this situation.

Various other professionals offer advice as the woman sinks into deeper despair. Lastly a friend comes by, realises what has happened and jumps into the hole with her. The woman is pleased to have the company but also wonders why her friend has put herself in the same situation. The friend replies "I have been in this hole before, I know the way out"

I am not suggesting the professionals cannot also be friends but often they are not. True empathy can involve more than listening or advice. Friendship requires someone who is willing to start from where you are rather than from where they are and who is willing, and able, to travel the road with you.

The Cellar door

A child is told to keep clear of the cellar door and above all never to open it because what is behind is frightening and dangerous. When she is a bit older and her parents are elsewhere she decides to open the door and look for herself. She is scared but determined to be brave and as the door opens she sees....green fields, other children playing and the sun shining. (Based on an Emo Phillips joke)

We all spend some time trapped in cellars which others have made for us or sometimes in dark places of our own making. Try opening the door, peep in, look inside. Perhaps your courage will be rewarded and what is on the other side will turn out to be less a fright and more a delight.

The perfect childhood

They were determined that their only child should have a perfect upbringing. He grew up protected from all harm, when he looked like falling they were there to catch him, when he cried the tissue they produced caught the tears almost before they started. They tried to model a perfect relationship for him, all disagreements were kept private, they never crticised each other in front of him and of course took care never to criticise him. Sadly, when he started school and someone said something unkind to him he had no idea how to cope.

Life can be good but not perfect otherwise we don't grow. It's how we cope when things go wrong that is the mark of us as human beings.

Being the eagle

The farmer was excited when an eagle nested his property and then devastated when he found the eagle had been shot. He climbed the tree to look at the nest and saw it contained a single egg. He carried it carefully down the tree, took it back to his barn, and slipped it under a brooding hen.

The eaglet eventually hatched along with the other eggs that were lain under the hen. It was raised with the chickens and thought itself to be nothing but an unusual chicken. It spent its time scratching the ground for seeds, searching for worms, and clucking senselessly.

One day a dark, ominous shadow fell across the barnyard. In terror the eagle fled for shelter with its companions. Looking up, the eagle saw the outstretched wings of a huge bird effortlessly carrying itself in graceful circles as it glided on currents of warm air. Entranced by the majesty of such a huge and powerful bird, it turned to the chicken beside it and asked, "What's that?" "That," said his companion, "is the king of birds. Its realm is the sky. It controls the air. It is called an eagle. We are chickens. We belong on the ground."

The eagle looked up at the bird and saw their similarities with himself. It looked at the chickens and, for the first time, saw how different he was from them. The eagle now had a choice. It could live and die as a chicken in the backyard coop or it could spread its wings and soar into the air with the majesty, skill, and power of the bird above.

And so it is with each of us, we have a destiny, a life far beyond our current way of living and the choice is ours.

Not in a shadow

In a television interview the son of the author Maya Angelou was asked "What was it like growing up in your mother's shadow?" He replied, "That's funny, I always thought I was growing up in her light".

It's said the Chinese use the same symbol for problem as they do for opportunity and it's certainly true that the context we create for the "facts" of our life largely dictate our experience. Take one area of your life that you have difficulty with and ask yourself this, "If I understood this in a positive light how would it change my daily experience?" Note what answers come up for you and see if you think it's worth making the change.

The "scar face" experiment

Participants in this experiment are fitted with a fake facial scar and told they are to be interviewed to see how their deformity influences the way they are treated. Just before the interview last minute adjustments are made to the scar but in fact, and unbeknown to the participant the scar is removed entirely.

Right after the interview, in almost every case, the participants were full of all kinds of examples of how the interviewer behaved negatively due to their "deformity". Amazingly, in some cases the belief continued even after they were shown on video that the scar had been removed.

I've quoted elsewhere on this site "we don't see the world as it is, we see the world as we are". What's made clear in this experiment is the power of our self image and the way we find confirmation about how we are being treated even when none exists. It's a very good rule of thumb that when someone acts badly towards you it's much more about them than it is about you. But if you're convinced people are reacting badly because of some fault in you then you will find the evidence to back this up, even if it's not there.

What would the child I once was think of the adult I have become?

Take yourself back to the views you had of yourself when you were a child. Perhaps you even speculated what sort of an adult you might be, perhaps what sort of a parent you might be. How does the reality compare? You may be pleasantly surprised about how far you have come, you may realise there are still some changes you need to make.

How can I learn from or enjoy this?

Our experience of a situation, however difficult, is largely determined by our perception and is therefore something over which we have a degree of control.

This is a question which challenges us to find the best in everything and everybody. It can lead to quite unexpected answers.

How could I see this differently?

Perspective changes experience! Problems viewed when we have slept well can feel very different from when we are tired. We have choice over how we see things and it pays to look at situations from a number of different perspectives, even if, at first, we have to play 'make believe.'

Could I look forward to looking back on all this?

This is one for the problem times in life, when we feel the world is closing in and the future looks bleak. The truth is most things pass, most things look and feel different over time. Look back on a problem that filled your life some time ago and see where you are in relation to it now, it may give a different perspective to your current situation.

So if you believe things may well be better in the future, why wait? Look forward to looking back.

Who could help me with this? (1)

So often people are reluctant to ask others for help, they use phrases like; "I don't want to take up their time" or "They already have enough to do".

The same people, if asked to help someone else use phrases such as; "I'm so pleased they asked" or "Glad I could be of assistance"

Why not treat yourself as well as you would treat others?

Who could help me with this? (2)

A fun idea. If you could summon up anyone, living or dead, real or fictional, to help you, who would it be and what help would they offer? Note what insights arise, recognise these are really your ideas and see what these new ideas might lead to.

Who would you be without your history?

This can be seen as a pointless exercise or as the start of an interesting exploration.
Go back to early childhood and imagine your life if circumstances had been different.

You may find:-

How the difficult times shaped who you are and that you don't wish to change them.

Areas of you life not fully expressed and realise you can do something about that.

Feelings that have trapped you which you could choose now to release.

Who knows what may turn up? There is only one way to find out!

What can this problem teach you?

Suppose some of your problems are teachers in disguise and that until you have learned the lesson you will have to go on taking the test. It's not true of every problem but when the same issue keeps coming up, often in different disguises, the chances are you need to learn something. Understanding the lesson may turn out to be a part of the solution.

Does the longest journey start with the first step?

I'm not a fan of bumper sticker philosophy, I don't take to easy solutions and I find it annoying when problems are dismissed with a catch phrase like "The longest journey starts with the first step". What's even more annoying with this one is that it's true, it's simplistic, it doesn't tell a full story but however you look at it it's accurate and even insightful.

Whatever it is you want to achieve, relationship success, financial success, health objectives etc you won't get there until you start to take action, you can't plough a field by turning it over in your mind. Now your first action might well be planning and preparation, changing your attitude, making a decision, but until it's expressed in the outside world it won't feel real. So. here's a challenge to take any objective you have today and right now take the first step towards its achievement. It may be a short journey or a long one but it's unlikely to become easier if you delay starting.

© 2017 David Mills