“Letting go doesn’t mean that you don’t care about someone anymore. It’s just realizing that the only person you really have control over is yourself.”  ~ Deborah Reber


Has this ever happened to you?

You are in a good place in your life, grateful for your lovely house, and happy with most of your decisions and opportunities. The days tick by nicely, until one day someone from your past appears out of the blue. They may be an old flame, an old neighbor, or your friend’s creepy uncle. Suddenly, you are transported back in time, back to a day of uncertainty, frustration or grief.

They say “hello.” And their voice brings memories rushing through in technicolor. Or perhaps you never forgot it, not quite being able to let it go.
We all have discomfort in our lives, and much of it is based either in the past or the future. For the most part, we try to learn from our mistakes, or we try not to worry about something that hasn’t happened yet. The thing is, emotions are the connectors to strong memories. When we are confronted with our past, those emotions can come flooding back with the memory.

And yet we know, on some level of our consciousness, that allowing ourselves to get pulled back into the past does us no good. When we relive an old moment, our bodies don’t know the difference between a memory and a current event. Our heart starts to race as if it is happening now. Our throat tightens, our limbs stiffen, and our thoughts get extraordinarily focused…on this unproductive memory. We lose awareness of ourselves and sink into that old moment. Unfortunately, some of our reactions may also then become old ones. When we have a second to step away mentally from the memory, we may give our heads a shake. “What was I thinking? Why did I just react like that?”

There are other situations in life that we may fall into this unawareness. Where we lose our current consciousness and best decision-making skills. This happens if our brain is hijacked by our fight or flight responses. It happens if we relive a traumatic moment, or if we allow a fear or phobia to take over.

So, how do we put our past behind us? How can we stay present and aware so that our memories, thoughts and emotions don’t unconsciously take over?

1. Practice mindfulness throughout your day. This includes being aware of your thoughts, and which ones follow what, down the road to an emotion. Once you can be aware of thoughts and emotions, you will be able to more readily shift them both so that you don’t fall into an old reactive habit.

2. Sit in a safe space with a safe person, and, if viable, relive and process that old memory to allow you to work through it and come out the other side with a different frame of mind. If your memory was a serious or traumatic one, please make a counsellor or therapist the safe person.

3. Practice multiple perceptual positions. In a conversation, focus on being YOU. Feel your feelings, notice your surroundings, hear what is happening, use your senses to be as present, in your body and with the other person, as possible. THEN practice observation. Pretend you are the watcher of your thoughts and feelings. What are you thinking? How are your emotions displaying on your face? What are your responses? Ask these questions as the observer of yourself. THEN if possible, observe the observer, as if you are watching yourself, watching the conversation on a movie screen. If this one is difficult, focus on moving in and out between the 1st and 2nd position. If you want help moving into the 3rd position, let me know.

When your daily habit becomes awareness and mindfulness, and observing how you respond and react, you will be more informed of your emotional response and better able to remove yourself from that past moment.

If you are also able to work through some of the more intense emotional moments, you can effectively release the attachment to that memory. There are additional methods to this process that are helpful, but not appropriate through written instruction.

When you find yourself falling back into an emotional memory, try taking these actions in the moment:

4. Take a deep breath, and let it out. Then take another. Focus on your breath. This will help to keep you present.
5. Summon up a positive emotion – think of a moment when you felt love, joy, happiness or peace – then imagine sending a dose of this emotion to the person that created the memory rush. If this feels uncomfortable, acknowledge your discomfort and send it anyways. Like the act of forgiveness, that process is more healing to you, than to them. But there is a chance they may need an extra dose of love, care, or happiness in their life.
6. Like above, Acknowledge your feelings. Allow them to reside in your body long enough for them to dissipate. Stay aware of how they feel in your body.
7. Speak of your discomfort honestly if you can. (“I’m sorry we ended the way we did.” Or “Wow, I’ve thought a lot about you since the last time we spoke.” Or, “I haven’t seen you in a while.”)
8. Recognize where this emotion is coming from (your past). Then get present.
Life has a way of surprising us, and the surprise isn’t always pleasant. So make an effort to recognize how an old relationship may affect you, and how your current response can inform your future.
Don’t let negative past emotions color the present moment any more than it needs to. Take steps to keep past anxiety where it belongs. If it feels really fresh, then you probably never let go of that moment. Use the steps above to let go of that anxiety right now, before it saps any more of your energy.
Recognize how far you’ve come since that moment, and take steps to forgive, if forgiveness is needed.
Whatever the current moment brings, give yourself a gift. Face it with courage and honesty, and move on with a smile and with awareness of all you are grateful for now in your life.
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  • Sherri Posted August 23, 2011 11:15 am

    What a great reminder to stay in the present moment with your present feelings…and how to honor and keep the past where it belongs.
    Just recently I encounteredd a past situation that had been very painful. In the present moment I realized I felt so much regret for not knowing and doing then what I know and would do now. I've heard this called "beneficial regret" because it is the kind of regret we learn from. I accept that I was where I was when the past event happened and today I am in a different place and would likely respond differently. What a gift.
    Thank you for your insightful and inspiring posts.

  • Leigh Harris Posted August 24, 2011 4:13 am

    I love that – "beneficial regret." It allows us to feel that feeling of regret then let it go. Thank you for your wisdom.

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