Time is a paradox, stretching between a past and a future that have no reality except in our own minds. The idea of time is a convention of thought and language, a social agreement. Here is the deeper truth: We have only this moment. ~ Dan Millman
Ruminating On The Things Of Old
We have to learn to live in the moment. I have often heard another quote that says, “To live in the past leads to depression, to live in the future causes anxiety, to live in the moment is bliss.” This is quite true. All we have is now, this very moment in time. Not even just today, as what happened 2 hours ago is still in our past. The moments of our past have culminated to help develop us into who we have become and therefore are highly important as they prepare us for what’s ahead. Yet allowing our minds to ruminate on things of old creates a disconnection, a short-circuit if you will, that traps us in the thoughts and feelings of the past and keeps us from experiencing the present. Rumination, constantly replaying experiences from the past in our minds eye, leads to depression, second-guessing ourselves and the decisions we have made, and can destroy our confidence and self-esteem, creating in effect anxiety about the future.
Fretting Over And Rethinking The Past
Some examples of rumination would be longing for that once wonderful relationship, which leads to sadness, as we tend to remember only those good times and wish we were still in that moment. It also re-creates soul ties which can be crippling as we try to make forward progress and leave our past behind. Another would be questioning an argument that ended an old friendship, which leads to self-judgment, wondering if we did and said the right things and if we had done something differently, if it could have changed the damaging outcome. How many times do we find ourselves fretting over an examination we did not do well on and rethinking what went wrong and potential ways we could have done it better, which creates self-judgment, feelings of inadequacy and often stress about upcoming examinations? Rumination can also lead to a blame game. We can usually clearly see the actions of others, but from our own perspective, we can miss the pivotal roles WE played in those situations. We often see things in our past as we choose to remember them, which is many times not factual and often not controlled by our conscious mind. Our subconscious is wonderful at reframing things to maintain a self-protective state and our own preservation.
Our Minds And Memory Can Deceive Us
I can remember just recently going back to a home in Ohio that I lived in for 5 years. I had a perfect picture of this house in my mind and remembered exactly what it looked like. I could see the color, the steps and walkway, the neighbor’s house next door, the landscape around us, all of it. Or so I thought! When I arrived I was STUNNED to see that it looked NOTHING like what I had remembered. The present owner saw me looking at the house and I introduced myself and explained my father had built this house and I lived there for some of my childhood years. She invited me in and took me on a tour. The only thing I remembered somewhat accurately was the fireplace and part of the basement, but even those were not to scale. They were far smaller than I remembered. It was somewhat of an awakening for me, as I really began to realize our minds can often deceive us.
Perception And Interpretation
How old we were, our size or height at the time, what our beliefs and perceptions were, what frame of mind we were in, and the emotional state we may have been in at the time all play a considerable role in how we perceive things and how they become stored in our memories. So often two people experiencing the exact same incident, at the same time and place, will recall the details very differently, as they are interpreted through their life experiences, and therefore will often be deviating from one another. The point is, we cannot always trust many of our memories and the emotions attached to them. Something I may have seen as frightening and overwhelming because of my fears, someone else may see as exhilarating and welcome because they love the adrenaline rush! Regardless, looking back on past events exposes your body to the same stress it was experiencing when you were living it the first time! Unfortunately, those things we seem to ruminate on most are not the pleasant memories, but those difficult things we feel for some reason we may have left unresolved, even if just within our own minds, or that left us with emotional scarring of some kind.
The Physical Toll Our Emotions Play
How do we know it recreates the same stresses in our bodies? There have been scientific studies done on mirror cells in the brain. Athletes have been wired up to test and record muscles firing as they perform their sport. At a later time, they are wired up and asked to perform that exact same sport again, but this time only in their minds, imagining it is taking place again. In doing so, the same muscles fire as they would if they were actually performing the sport. Your mind does not distinguish between you actually running a race, or just imagining you are running it. This is stunning in that we create an enormous amount of unnecessary stress on our systems by simply ruminating and reliving past experiences in our minds. The physical, emotional and spiritual toll here is more than we might be considering and quite often leads to depression and again, anxiety about like situations happening in our future. This is often the place where physical illness begins, as stress wreaks havoc on our systems, lowers our vibrational frequency, which in turn, reduces our cell voltage/pH making us more acidic.
The Importance Of Dismissing And Redirecting Thoughts
Although it’s easy to say we should live in the present, it’s a difficult thing to do at times, as our minds often drift into somewhat of an auto-pilot mode. Memories and emotions can be triggered by sights, sounds, smells, familiar people and many other things. Where we get into trouble is allowing ourselves to continue in those past thoughts, encouraging and entertaining them as if to relive those encounters in-depth and savor every detail of the occurrence. We have to learn to acknowledge memories as they come up, and just as quickly dismiss them, not allowing ourselves to ruminate about them any further. Many have difficulty dismissing and releasing thoughts that come up, so we have to consider ways to manually take control of our thoughts and redirect them elsewhere.
Taking Responsibility For Our Thought Life
One of the best ways I know to redirect our thoughts is by making a gratitude list. When I am experiencing a pervasive thought that I am aware could quickly take me in a direction I don’t need to go, I IMMEDIATELY (notice I didn’t say 20 minutes later) start thinking of everything I can that I am grateful for! If I run out of things (which never really happens, but I’m playing devil’s advocate here) then I move to plan B. Some of the other things I will try are singing my favorite songs, calling a friend, listening to the radio, problem solving anything that’s at hand, etc. Really, anything that occupies your mind in a positive and healthy manner is redirecting you away from a state of rumination! We have to take responsibility for our own thought life, which is something we don’t talk about often enough. It is our choice to decide what we are going to spend our time thinking about. Someone once told me that by ruminating on old issues, we are letting those people and things live in our heads rent-free! EVICT THEM!
Make a decided effort today to live in the present.
Only allow your mind to be consistently occupied by the things at hand RIGHT NOW. Acknowledge everything else and then LET IT GO! We cannot change anything from the past and there’s no purpose worrying about a future that may or may not happen! Make the deliberate decision to change your mind when you catch yourself ruminating or becoming nostalgic. Learning to focus on what’s happening right now and what you have to be grateful for will become a life-transforming behavior that will empower you to truly engage yourself in the present and enjoy it to the fullest!
Love & Light,
Laura Lum Corby
Also published on Medium.