Getting past the past requires focused attention and energy. Many of the people that I have counseled over the years have come to me with issues stemming from the past: anger at past abuses or past events, unresolved grief over past losses, and fear of the future because of past failures or rejections. I find that people struggle too, with their past history. It is like excess baggage that they carry from relationship to relationship; from job to job; and from crisis to crisis. This baggage can be both a burden and a friend; I actually had a client who described her baggage as her “friend”. It had become so familiar that she had forgotten what it was like to exist without carrying the burden of the past around with her. This excess baggage called “the past” interferes with your ability to have quality relationships. It interferes with your ability to achieve personal success. It interferes with your ability to live a healthy, happy, and fulfilled life.

The goal then is to find a way to put the past in the past. Do you remember the Greek myth of the god, Atlas, who carried the world on his shoulders? Your goal is to be like Atlas, only choose to shrug off the weight. You see, no one puts the responsibility of carrying that weight on you but yourself. We humans bottle our anger, contain our grief, then suddenly we find ourselves developing physical illness or feeling emotionally unstable, and we wonder how we got this way.

Through the process of examining this issue of the past, I realize that there are really two things that must happen in order for the past to stay in the past where it belongs. First the events of the past need to be forgotten. All too often, we dredge up memories from the past and relate them to events in the present. In reality, the past event may have nothing to do with what is happening now. But we take the emotions from those memories, whether they are happiness, sadness, fear, anxiety, and depression; and, we attach them to events of the present, thus hindering our ability to function effectively in the here and now. So, we need to find a way to leave those past events in the past through forgetting.

The next skill we must master is that of letting go. Again, if you think of the image of excess baggage, when you have your hands full of stuff and it is weighing you down, all you have to do is let some go, and immediately your load will lighten. Through a greater understanding of the processes of forgetting and letting go, you will be able to move beyond your past and develop a more optimistic outlook on your future.

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Julie Christiansen