Bike chain and gears

Image by JasonRogers

In a previous post I said that ‘yesterday is gone’ and it is good to be free of it.

A couple of people in the comments picked me up on various aspects of this. So this post is to explore this issue in more depth.

It is common for us to who value human potential to emphasise that we live in the here and now. And that we tend to ignore what is our current reality and think about the past and future. This often leads to a lessening of our vitality. And so thinking about the past can be devalued.

It is also common to observe that people seem trapped by past patterns. I vividly remember my mother, over 50 at the time, being told the ‘correct’ way to cut up beans by her 60 year old sister. The exchange replayed patterns that hadn’t altered since their childhood. It is sad to see people trapped in ways of relating that make all those involved miserable. These styles of living and relating need up-dating to cope with new aspects of life. And so the past can come to seem a prison from which we need to escape.

It is not surprising that the past can be seen as a problem from which we need to be freed.

But there is another side to the story. The past is what we have learnt. Without drawing on the past we wouldn’t speak our native language(s). The quality of our relationships can be the result of the hard work we have put in over years. If we have reflected on our experiences we may have wisdom to offer others which may help them avoid unnecessary suffering. The past can be a treasure trove from which we can draw much of value.

The real problem (which I didn’t say clearly in my last post) is that the past can become a straight jacket. It can blind us to the new aspects in what is happening now (and there is always at least a little something new).

The past is a resource to be drawn. When we can do this with awareness it may be of great benefit. It is when the past lead us to respond ‘automatically’ that it can become a problem. Habits work well for things that are the same as in the past. But they are useless in responding to what is new.

So for me the past is a potential treasure – when we draw on it with awareness. It is a problem when our past conclusion and habits blind us to what is new in our experience.

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4 Comments to “The Value of the Past”

  1. Steve Mills says:

    It is a good distinction to make, to be mindful of the past but not trapped by it. Every second is a chance to change direction and do something new. I really believe that this is the idea that we need to get into everyones heads, from wold leaders to your average SUV driving consumer. Just because this is the way that you have always done things doesn’t meant that you have to do it that way tomorrow.

  2. Evan says:

    Hi Steve,

    Yes, I think every day offers us the opportunity to start afresh and the possibility of new things. It is all too easy for us to forgeth this I think.

    Thanks for taking the time and effort to comment.

  3. Damien Riley says:

    Great post. Exchart Tolle talks a lot about the past being “a dream.” I have issues with that because it seems to as you say “devalue” the accomplishments of my life. I think what you are saying is that the past can weigh you down and keep you hindered from meeting your own potential in the now.

  4. Evan says:

    That’s it exactly Damien.

    Thanks for your comment.

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