This is post four in a series about spirituality, time, and place. If you missed them, you may want to read post one, You Are Your Stories, post two, Own Your Story, and post three Is Now Really All We Have? first.
When I was little more than a toddler, I accompanied my father to a bakery. As we waited to be served, a baker held out a tray of treats, beckoning me. I happily ran over, my hands grasping for his gift, but it was suddenly withdrawn. As my father restrained me, the baker barked, “Just one!” I had thought the treats were for me to take home to my family, but now I was sure the baker saw me as a selfish, gluttonous child. I will never forget the humiliation, and how that one treat stuck in my throat as we drove home. Ever since that moment, whenever food is to be shared, I am compelled to divide it up fairly in advance so that I know I’m not having more than I should.
LEAVING THE PAST IN THE PAST?
We are often told to leave the past in the past, but I don’t think this is wise or even possible. We became who we are because of a journey that has taught, hurt, healed, strengthened, and formed us. And the past is still very active and present in our current existence, as any trauma survivor can confirm. Even as we seek to live in the moment, what we perceive, how we interpret our experience, and how we respond all flow from our past.
But we are not prisoners of our past—unless we ignore the forces that have shaped us. When we do the work of embracing, understanding, and integrating our stories, there are wonderful treasures that can make the present richer and more meaningful, and that can set us on a more positive trajectory for our future.
Every past story has pain, struggle, shame, failure, and regret. These wounds can be left to fester, making us bitter and self-protective. Or they can be treated and healed, becoming a rich source of wisdom, compassion, and humility. As Richard Rohr famously observes: Pain that is not transformed is transmitted.
But every past story also includes joy, celebration, connection, achievement, and pride. These trophies can be ignored, leaving us with little confidence or hope. Or they can be kept on display for us to revisit and remember, becoming a rich source of strength, self-belief, and motivation.
WORKING WITH OUR STORY
It can be painful to work with our past, especially if there is trauma or abuse, and there is always the temptation to get locked into a single, unexamined narrative. But when we are brave enough to own the journey by which we became ourselves, we can unlock its treasures.
A wonderfully healing and transforming spiritual practice is to review our story from time to time, noting which parts we tend to highlight and which we downplay. At times we may need to rewrite our story giving more weight to things we have ignored and ‘right-sizing’ things we have highlighted. Here are some questions to help you in this work:
- What assumptions do you make about other people in your story? Can you be sure your assumptions are correct?
- What parts of your story do you skip over? Why?
- What parts of your story are most important to you? Why?
- How is your current telling of your story impacting your life? If you were to tell your story differently, highlighting and downplaying different parts, and releasing any assumptions, how would that change you?
HONOURING THE JOURNEY
True spirituality honours our journey, learns its lessons, heals it wounds, remembers its trophies, and empowers us to enter the present wisely and compassionately, while looking forward to the future with courage and hope.
- How have you worked with your past?
- What has your journey taught you and how do those lessons make your present more meaningful?
- What would it mean for you to make time to journal your story, rewriting it where necessary?
If you have an insight, question, or thought that would be helpful for readers of this blog please share it in the comments below.
Over to you!
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