Changing Your Approach towards The Past
The past plays a tremendous part in what we do, feel, think and how we act. You cannot change the past for it has been lived, but you can change your attitude toward the past so that it can no longer control your present. The past will remain an influence, but you are in control.
When St. Paul wrote, “Forgetting those things which are behind and reaching forth to those things which are before,” he was saying that life is for growth, for development, for progress. If you are controlled by the past, life becomes stagnate, bitter, restricted. When I speak of “releasing the past”, let us understand that we don’t want to get rid of the memory of the past. Many wonderful experiences of the past are part of our memory. Many learning experiences are part of our memory. Using memory correctly helps us meet the needs of today. The past we want to release are those experiences which prevent us from fully living today.
Some people glory in the past as if it was some golden age which will never return. With such an attitude, we live in the fantasies of yesterday and refuse to move up to the realities of today. Others have such an unhappy past that they are continually reacting to life in the here and now on the basis of past hurts.
“I am now what I am because of the past” is the most commonly used reason by which we deny ourselves and others the luxury of growth and change.” There is an old saying, “You can’t teach an old dog new tricks.” The determinist in religion, philosophy, and psychology content that this statement is true, not only of dogs, but also people. The determinist in religion say that our lives are predetermined by God to be what we are. We do not have any say in the matter for we are simple puppets who are played by God’s manipulation. The determinist in philosophy and psychology says that our environment, inheritance, and instincts determine us to be what we will be.
Any of these schools of determination leaves a very hopeless and dismal picture to complete. If we are determined to be as we are, then we have no responsibility for a better life. God, heredity, instinct and or environment are the causes of our problems. We can say, “The devil made me do it’ or ‘God made me do it’ or ‘my determinism made me do it’, I am not responsible.’”
So your past has left scars. Perhaps. you were physically, emotionally or sexually abused as a child and you have been reacting out of that hurt of your life in the present. Perhaps you failed at something in the past and you refuse to move beyond that failure to newness of life. To continue to live in the past is to allow the past to control your actions and attitude today. On the other hand, if we believe that people can release the power of the past and make changes out of their free will then there is hope.
When we refuse to move on beyond the past, and worry about yesterday, we waste the strength we need for today. In his autobiography, Milton Berle, once king of night time T.V., shares with the public a portion of his life for the first time. Berle wrote, that 40 years before he wrote the book, that he fathered a child out of wedlock, but never talked about it before. Berle states, “That was one of the biggest hurts in my life. I got sick over that for years. I had ulcers, sick enough to die, maybe by holding it all in.”
We are all confronted with the problem of pollution in our society. If the well documented evidence of pollution in our environment causes you to feel indignation, then consider what is happening in our minds and bodies as a results of polluted thoughts and feelings. Mental pollution is basically filling ones thoughts with the negative. We keep dumping polluted thoughts from the past into our understanding of today. Every time we hold on to anger from the past or hold hateful thoughts or reinforce negative feelings, we are polluting the waters of our mind. Emotional responses of hate, angers, envy, jealously, resentment, guilt, and fear are pollutants that disrupt our lives.
(1) No Dumping Allowed: I share with you an adaptation of a story by Charles Roth: Think of your thoughts as a stream. A life-giving steam…that empties out into the field and orchards of life…You want to keep that stream pure and fresh…Just as nearly pure as when it emerged from its source…Because you know you would reap the results of a good harvest in your field and orchards…
Your personal world depends on your steam of thought for its prosperity, its health, its beauty, and harmony… Just as the farmer’s field depends on pure unpolluted water for its maximum yield…Began now today…to stand watch over your personal stream of thought. When you find yourself beginning to entertain negative thoughts or emotions be quick to say to yourself, “Sorry, no dumping allowed.” (Author’s note: Though I normally do not use negative statements in my suggestions, I feel in this case, it is permissible because it is a common sign in our society.)
Some of the techniques that I use to help people release the past are prayer, hypnosis, relaxation, imagery and healing stories. William James once wrote, “The greatest discovery of my generation is that human beings can alter their lives by altering the attitude of their mind.” A beautiful woman lay in the hospital with a seriously painful injury. A friend cam to visit her. As the friend came to the bedside of the young woman, she had a sorrowful expression on her face. She placed her hand on the young woman’s hand and said, “Honey, I’m so sorry for you for you are in so much pain. I don’t know why you have to go though this, for suffering colors your life so much.” The young woman smiled at her concerned visitor and replied, “Yes, but I shall choose the color.”
What the young woman tells each of us is that we can choose the color, we can choose the bleak colors or we can choose the brighter colors. We cannot always choose what happens to us, but we can choose the attitude we take toward what happens to us.
By the use of our mind, we can use visualization and imagine what we want to happen as if it has already happened and our subconscious mind will begin to work to bring it to reality. One of the great ministers of the century, Dr. Harry Emerson Fasedrick once wrote, “Picture yourself as defeated and that alone will make victory impossible. Picture yourself vividly as winning and that alone will contribute immensely to success. Great living starts with a picture held in your imagination of what you would like to do or be.”
(2) Ralph’s Case History: Ralph, a 50 year old male, was unable to let go of an experience for his past. While he was growing, up, Ralph went to a Catholic school. He said, “They put the fear of God in me and I resented them for it.” Another boy wrote on the bath room wall, “God is no good.” Ralph said that when he read it he felt the same way. As he was walking out of the bath room, he felt as if he had written the words on the bath room wall. Over the years, he developed a great fear of God. He made a proper living for his family, but could never stay in a job for long. In one session, I told him the story of the little boy who refused to eat prunes. I followed that by telling him that he could look at his experience in the bath room from another point of view. He could also begin to change his view of God, but, of course, that was his decision to make. He responded that he would like to know a God of love. I said remember the words from St. John (3:16), “For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten son that whosoever belieth on him should not perish, but have everlasting, life.” Release those old negative ideas about God and live in the present with a new understanding.
(3) Sheep Thief: Two young men stole some sheep. They were caught and brought to trial. The punishment for the crime was the branding of the initials “S.T.” (sheep thief) on their foreheads. One boy left the town and was never heard from but the other remained. As the years passed, he became a man of faith and gave his life to people in love and service.
Many years later, a visitor came to the town and asked an old man, “What does ‘S.T.’ stand for on the head of that man down the street?” The old man knew the story, but answered, “It happened a long time ago, I have forgotten the details, but for those of use who know him now, it is the abbreviation for the word ‘Saint’”.
Yes, change can take place. We do not have to stay the way we are. “I wish there were some wonderful place called the ‘Land Of Beginning Again’, where all our mistakes and all of our heartaches and all of our selfish grief could be dropped like a shabby coat at the door and never put on again.” Faith says that there is an opportunity to begin again, for through faith you can change as you accept a new vision of what life can be for you. Let the past go. Let old thought patterns be released. Move past the old barriers to a new life.
(4) Invisible Barriers: (Adopted from Havers and Walters) (Used for opening life to new experiences and understanding by moving beyond our invisible barriers.) I wonder if you are familiar with fences…especially the electric fences used with horses…These fences have a few tiny strands of wire…and through that wire goes a current of electricity…The kind of electricity that is safe…just the kind that gives you a jolt…like static electricity you get from walking on rugs…a sudden, sharp spark…These wires stretch all around the field…and as the horses walk from place to place…they quickly learn where they can go…and where they don’t want to venture…All it takes is a few brushes against the wire…a few sudden, startling zaps…and being very smart animals…they learn to look but not to touch…They learn so well, in fact…that after a while…the farmer can turn off the electricity…or even replace the wires with string…and those horses will stay put…fences in by nothing at all…stopped in their tracks by a thought…by the feeling that some places are off limits…that where they are is safe…as long as they just stay put…satisfied to be where they are.
An invisible barrier or boundary can be created by the mind…But once a horse goes through it…then he is free to roam as he wishes…You have been bound by the barrier of a 10 year old boy’s thoughts…Walk through that barrier to freedom from the past…You are now an adult and you are beginning to experience God’ love for you.
(5) Grandma, Snoopy and dancing: My Grandma Sanders was one of the most reflective persons of the love of God that I have ever known, but Grandma had her hangups. I remember spending the night with my grandparents many years ago. During that visit my grandpa played his french harp. It was a very special evening and it stands out in my memory. During the evening, my grandpa played a snappy little tune called, “Soldier’s Joy.” When he completed the song, my grandma said, “I don’t like that song!” I quickly asked, “Why grandma? It is a beautiful song.” Laughingly, she responded, “I have seen it danced to too often.” I don’t resent my grandma for that statement, because she was joking and in a way she was reflecting 65 years of her cultural history. It does bring to mind how much some have missed because they could not dance.
We live in a world where there is hunger, war, crime, sickness, and alienation. Yet in spite of this, we believe that life is worth living and that life is meant to bring love, friendship, understanding, and joy. Contrary to popular belief, the life which God desires for us is not one of denying worthwhile pleasure or of despising basic human satisfaction, but rather one of enjoying our earthly life.
We honor God not by renouncing life, but by joining our spirits with God’s Holy Spirit to know and live life at its best. Then, we can give thanks in offering our faith to God, in sharing of fellowship with people in work in play, in laughter and in tears, in health and in sickness, in everything. Through faith, we can dance the dance of joy. David wrote in Psalm 30; “O Lord, Thou has turned my lament into dancing, thou has stripped off my sack cloth and clothed me with joy.”
The Snoopy of Peanuts is often leaping and dancing for joy. On one occasion, Snoopy beings to dance about and shouts, “To dance is to live.” In the next frame, he says, “I feel sorry for people who cannot dance.” In the next frame, he goes on dancing joyfully and says to us, “If you can’t dance, at least be able to do a happy hop.” I would like to add one more frame, which shows Snoopy continuing to dance and saying, “If you can’t dance with your feet, at least be able to dance in your heart.” That to me is a picture of wholesome living.
Though Ralph had gone to church all his life, he discovered that for the first time he was enjoying going to church. He accepted God’s love for him and began to dance in his heart.
(6) Lot’s Wife: Holding on to the past can be destruction to our present well being. In the Old Testament, there is a story about the problems created by holding onto the past (Genesis 19). In the early morning, an angel came to Lot and said, “Arise, take your wife and your two daughters who are here, lest you be consumed in the punishment of the city.” Some men lead Lot, his wife, and two daughters out of the city. They told Lot, “Flee for your life; do not look back or stop anywhere in the valley. Flee to the hills, lest your die.” As the group was moving toward the hills, Lot’s wife looked back and she because a pillow of salt. The story of Lot’s wife is an extreme example of one who refused to let go of the past. Because Lot’s wife would not let go of the harmful parts of her past, even under the emergency of the destruction of the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah, she suffered not only mentally but physically. Because she could not let go of the past, she missed her opportunity to start a new life in the present.
(7) Barnacles On The Ship: Our holding on to the past is kind of like barnacles on a ship. Barnacles are a problem for all ocean-going vessels. Those small living creatures attach themselves to the hull of the ship. As they accumulate and grow larger, they not only add to the weight of the boat, they increase the amount of resistance as the boat moves through the water. They add weight to the ship and eventually slows the speed of the boat, decreasing its mobility, and increasing its use of fuel.
As the barnacles grow larger and larger and increases in numbers, the speed of the ship is reduced until, if allowed to remain indefinitely, the barnacles will disable the ship completely. Because of this, the owner of the ship will periodically remove the ship from the water and have the barnacles scraped off the hull.
As we sail through life, we too collect barnacles. We acquire them in our mind. These barnacles are negative attitudes, unfounded fears, feelings of limitations, and incorrect thought patterns. In short, they are anything which mentally weights us down and interferes with our present well being. The more barnacles of the past we acquire, the slower the unfolding of the full life. These barnacles significantly slows us down and impede our progress: physically, mentally, and spiritually. It is up to us to periodically scrape off the barnacles of unwanted beliefs, fears, and negative thinking so we can move forward, unburdened by the extra weight of the past.
We are influenced by our past, but we are not bound by our past. We can change our thoughts about the past in order to experience present growth. We can change the direction of our thoughts and by doing so change our life. Let go of adverse and negative conditioning from the past and refuse their control over your life today. Live life abundantly.