They say that you have to stop looking backwards to move forwards. I get that. But still. We often look backwards in fear that the past will creep up or haunt us again.
They say that you have to let go of the past in order to meet your future. Otherwise, all you’ll face is more of the same. However, most people agree that this is easier said than done.
The hooks of our past and the remnants of our memories are part of us. While we look to improve, we often find ourselves trying to relitigate our old misfortunes. We often review the past and find accountability for emotions or situations that are also unchangeable. I say this is unchangeable yet most times, here we are – trying to change the past again.
I have a small tiger with me. No, this is not a tiger you would find in the jungle. His name is Tuffy and this is not a dangerous animal by any means. He’s not even an animal at all.
At least, not really.
Instead, this is a tiny remnant of my childhood. Tuffy is a little stuffed animal. He’s also a connection to my Mother. This is a memory from when I was a boy, sick as ever, and in the hospital.
However, Tuffy is more than a remnant of my past or a reminder of my Mother’s love. Instead, I view him as an agent of my future. I see him as a reminder that although we endure unkindness and pain and although we live through hard times and loneliness, there is a secret to our endurance. There is something within us all that regardless of what we’ve seen, heard, faced or felt, we are still here and still alive.
Come to think of it –
The poet, Jim Carroll once pointed out that Nietzsche once said, “What does not kill me only serves to make me stronger.”
Carroll’s version of this was, “What does not kill me only serves to make me sleep until 3:30 the next afternoon.”
In fairness, I suppose I understand both versions of this philosophy. I understand both sides of pain, or not wanting to feel, or wanting to “sleep it off” or finding ways to cancel out the realities and the social verities that lead me to my discomforts. There are times when, in fact, I am on a first name basis with anxiety. I call this “me.”
There are times when the thought process responds with a rush beneath my skin; whereas, I am at the floodgates of an anxiety attack. All I want is safety but the more I think, the more unsafe I feel.
Hence the more unsafe I feel, the more I drown in the seas of emotional quicksand.
The floodgates open as a result of my thinking. And there it is, me sinking to my self-propelled assumptions and drowning in the ideas that have come from my own predictions.
Of course, someone will offer the idea of breathing.
Or, someone will come along and tell me to “just let it go.”
Or, maybe they’ll say, “try not to think about it.”
Sure. That sounds like it’ll work.
But the problem is the mind keeps working. The thoughts are moving and the gears are turning. The idea of “just” letting anything go is absurd.
The mind is only trying to protect me. This is only looking to keep me safe. However, the mind is working irrationally now and flushed away by the undertow of my thoughts and assumptions.
Meanwhile, the anxiety is spinning faster and the mind is tilted out of proportion. Everything’s a threat.
The impending doom is on its way and there’s no stopping this. There’s no control. There’s only the unsafe assumptions which amplify and multiply in our head.
I have heard people suggest the words, “Let it go.”
But our thoughts will often betray us. So, there is no “letting it go.”
When looking for safety or trying to find peace, how can we do this when our mind is betraying us, one thought after another?
We assume. We predict and we catastrophize. We give in to our assumptions and declare that the worst is about to happen.
We fall into our cognitive traps and link ourselves to traumas and cyclical patterns of past destructions or abuse – whether this is self abuse or otherwise, there is a bond to our emotional dilemmas that hold us in patterns in which, we face our situations with a bias according to our history.
The mind runs in a loop and thus, our belief system swirls in the same direction.
Not everyone’s association is the same with this. We all have our own thoughts and feelings. We all have our own process and interpretation.
However, to improve:
It is important to understand where our thoughts come from. It is no different from finding accountability and understanding why we’re uncomfortable in the first place.
There is no way to relitigate the past. However, so long as we have emotion and feelings tied to an event, we are always going to look for accountability so we can understand how to respond or protect ourselves to feel safe.
As kids, I can recall some of my friends having a small pool in their backyard. The pool was not very wide or tall and the water was about 5’ deep. Although somewhat small, the pool was large enough for us to swim and play around. In fact, one of the things we’d do is create a whirlpool. This is when we would all
walk around the edge of the pool in the same direction. We tried to walk as fast as we could, bouncing up and down, to make waves and have the pool take on the swirl of our direction.
Eventually, the swirl would take place and there was difficulty if we’d try to walk the other way. I suppose this was the point . . .
Sometimes life is this way. We’ve spun in the same direction for so long that we find ourselves caught up in our own vortex – it’s enough that the swirling mass around us is overwhelming and the flow is too much for us to overcome.
We assume and we judge. But more, we advance to protect ourselves; to protect our thoughts, our heart, our mental and physical safety. Meanwhile, we keep with the flow instead of cutting this off. By the way, this is all anxiety is.
Anxiety is a fear that something is going wrong and next, our body takes on the change. Maybe you’re on guard. Maybe your thoughts betray you. Maybe your chest is tight and it’s too hard to breathe. Or maybe the gasses in your stomach are enough to cause an ulcer. Or, maybe you can’t sit still or you can’t sleep because as much as you try, thoughts keep moving and you wish that everything would JUST STOP!
You can’t get away from a mistake that you made. Or you can’t unsay something that you wish that you could take back. Maybe you find yourself in a moment of betrayal. Or maybe you find that your thoughts have led you to the opinion that you’re foolish; that you’re stupid, that you’ve ruined everything and there’s no reason, no hope, and no possibility of recovery.
I have witnessed big, strong and physically capable people become shriveled by their anxiety. I have witnessed people who lost to their past as well as to their assumptions of the worst.
I have seen people swear by the records of their history that their future would be its equal. And it was their equal. Of course it was. They shaped their future from the bias of their past; therefore, their past became their future.
I began this entry with the idea that you have to stop looking backwards to move forwards. I have explained that the direction we face is the direction we head in. I mentioned the whirlpool example which is like being flushed in the spiral. However, I began the story about the swimming pool but I did not finish it.
In order to stop the flow of the whirlpool, someone would simply cut this off by walking across the middle of the pool – and just like that; the whirlpool stopped. The change of action created an adverse reaction which was enough to make the whirlpool stop.
Now, with regards to us; or with regards to the swirling thoughts in our mind or even with regards to our connection with trauma or thoughts that hold us unfairly accountable, we have to create an adverse reaction to stop the swirling masses around us. We have to find ways to cut this off.
We have to cut the middle. But more, we have to cut ties with our past regrets. We have to allow ourselves a way towards our future. Otherwise, our bonds with the past will always keep us in the past.
Change a step. Change an action. Replace thought with actions and create movement to enforce change.
Earlier, I mentioned Nietzsche and how what does not kill you only serves to make you stronger. Nietzsche also said, “There are no beautiful surfaces without a terrible depth.” Everyone has something beneath them. Everyone has something going on. Everyone breathes and everyone bleeds.
There are highs and lows in life or peaks and valleys. And me, I can remember a time when I was in one of my lows. There it was, unexpectedly in a box, Tuffy, my old friend.
He’s seen me through worse.
I found (it!)
“What does not kill me only serves to make me sleep until 3:30 the next afternoon.”
Great, well-written, thoughtful post.
“Everyone breathes and everyone bleeds.”
Oh Yeah. I can relate.