Leave the Past Alone

You cannot find yourself by going into the past. You find yourself by coming into the present.” – Eckhart Tolle

This is a statement that has taken me a lot of time to understand. I initially found myself warring against it when I came across this quote for the first time while reading Tolle’s book “The Power of Now” a few months back.

Everything I knew about understanding myself, up to this point, has told me to dig in and begin to analyse who I am in light of who I have been. What was I like as a child, a teenager, an athlete, a friend, a brother, the list goes on. I thought I was supposed to understand who I am based on the LABELS I have given myself or been given by those around me.

This does make rational sense until you recognise that you are not defined by the LABELS that you have always associated yourself with. 

In fact, many of those LABELS are likely to be quite distracting when it comes to understanding who I am now and what I desire and need to live my life well.

You see, the important questions are not related to “who I have been” and what that might say about who I am, but rather, “what do I truly want and need?”

What do I truly want and need? That question has to do with right NOW. Not what I needed before but what do I need now. When we take our self into the present we allow ourselves to take an actionable step. One that will move us forward. When we ask ourselves questions about our past we are stepping back in time to the person that we no longer are. Who I was when I was 16, while struggling against the deep grips of pornography, is not who I am now. And what I needed then is not what I need now.

My present freedom is available to me here and now but only if I allow myself to let go of the LABELS of the past and come to grips with the needs of NOW.

And then here is the amazing part. When you begin to acknowledge the present moment more and more, many of my perceived issues begin to melt away. Because your failings from your previous relationship, or addiction, or poor nutrition have nothing to do with who I TRULY am. In the present moment you are none of those things – if you have moved away from Past-focused living (LABELS) and moved into Present-focused living (truest needs).

You may be thinking – that’s great but I still have a past and it does have consequences.

Yes, we all still have residual effects of the past that MAY need our attention and to be dealt with, but the issues of our past that need dealing with will always be brought to the forefront if they are pertinent to our current need. As Tolle says,

If you delve into the past, it will become a bottomless pit: There is always more…So deal with the past on the level of the present. The more attention you give to the past, the more you energise it, and the more likely you are to make a “self” out of it.

It is vital that we do our best to avoid placing limiting beliefs on ourselves in the form of LABELS. When we delve into our past we risk falling into self labelling based on failures or successes that may not be helpful to our current needs. But when we focus on the NOW and give attention to our behaviour, reactions, moods, thoughts, emotions, fears and desires as they occur in the present then the stuff of our past that is relevant to our current situation will naturally be brought forth and inform our current need.

Your past has importance, but only as it has relevance to your current need. When we seek out our past we risk opening ourselves up to harmful LABELS that don’t serve our needs but will actually take us off course from those current needs and slow down our growth and happiness.

Maybe this all sounds a bit abstract? How about a personal example…

I have played basketball for the majority of my life. Through the early years of my career I was the tall guy and as a default I played the centre position (under the rim). And that was all well and good but it limited my skill set because I rarely practised any skills that a perimeter player would practice. And more importantly, it conditioned me to believe that I was a centre. I had the LABEL in my mind of being a centre and nothing else. This didn’t really have negative consequences until I got to University and was asked to play on the perimeter (I was positioned as a small forward).  This meant that I would now be expected to do all of the things I had never practised! I was no longer a centre.

What’s the problem? Well other than having very little ball handling skills and not being able to shoot from 10 feet away from the basket – I didn’t believe I was a small forward. Myself and all of the people around me growing up had always labelled me a centre and now I’m at university getting asked to be a perimeter player!

I don’t need to make the story long – I was pretty ineffective for 2 whole years as I learned the new skills required to excel as a small forward, but the more challenging part was mental. I had to believe that I could fill that role. I had to let the old LABEL of being a centre go away for good and I had to believe I was a basketball player. Once that happened I became a great player. In my final year at university I was top 5 in the nation with my 3-point shooting percentage and defended the best offensive player on each of our opponents teams. No matter the position I was defending them in.

I got rid of LABELS and dealt with the need that was in front of me on any given night. I didn’t realise I was harnessing the POWER OF NOW back then but after reading some of Tolle’s words I realise that is exactly what I was doing.

What are your current needs?

Are you limiting your capacity to address those needs by allowing dis-empowering LABELS to cloud your progress?

I hope this can help you in some way.

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