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  • Writer's pictureJonathan Gibbons

Past & Future

You’ve talked a lot about accepting whatever’s coming up in the moment, but what about the past and the future? Do we have to accept everything that happened to us in the past? And everything that might happen to us in the future?

Absolutely not. For one good reason. We can’t. It’s impossible to accept all that.

Why?

We can only accept the reality of our experience. What’s happening right now. We can’t accept everything that happened to us in the past for the simple reason that it isn’t here now. It’s dead.

But what about the relationships that I developed in the past? The past experiences that have shaped my development as a person? What about the books I’ve read? The city I live in? Aren’t all these “past” things very much alive in the present?

We may be surrounded by constant reminders of the past, but our interaction with the world we live in can only happen in the present. So even though I may have known you for twenty years, and we may have had many formative experiences together, our living relationship is here in the present. Similarly, much of the environment we live in has been created by the efforts of ourselves and others in the past. But our experience of those past creations and our experience of our past memories can only happen here—in the present.

However, it is important to acknowledge that what happened to me in the past may be having an impact in the present—and that has to be accepted. If I’m feeling upset right now because of something that happened to me ten years ago, then that present upset needs to be accepted. But accepting and working with that present feeling is different from trawling through my entire childhood, or my whole life, looking for trauma, trying to find things that have to be accepted.

If I do find that I’m constantly plagued by thoughts and feelings related to a particular difficulty in my past, I may need to “revisit” that moment so an issue can be resolved. So that my present feeling about what happened is no longer a source of anguish for me. But I only need to go back to the past in as much as it’s affecting my present. I only need to accept that aspect of the past that’s still unacceptable in my present experience. All the rest I can drop.

It’s the same with the future. It’s impossible for me to accept my future—because it isn’t real. It isn’t taking place yet. It’s just an idea, thought, or imagination. If I become lost in worry or anxiety about what might happen tomorrow, that feeling is present in me now. And that feeling needs to be accepted, not pushed away—because it’s part of my actual experience in this moment. But I don’t have to accept that scenario that I’m imagining might happen tomorrow—because it’s not real.

Imagine, for example, that I’m worried that my boss is going to fire me tomorrow. What’s the reality today? Is it being fired? Or the worry about being fired? Something real? Or just an idea—which can’t hurt me? It’s the difference between accepting being fired when it happens tomorrow—something that may or may not happen—and accepting the feeling that I have about that possibility right now.


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