Many times I’ve heard it said that we are the culmination of all we’ve done and all of our experiences. For me, that just never rang true. I believe we are all so much more than our history.
This doesn’t mean we don’t need to be accountable for what we’ve done that wasn’t in alignment with our hearts and souls. If we can, we should try to make up for behavior that was unworthy of us. Also, we should honor ourselves if someone else’s behavior is unacceptable or inappropriate. Still, behavior doesn’t ultimately define who we are or who they are. I’ve heard Dr. Wayne Dyer say that he wants to be free from believing in the good opinion of others. If we don’t let others define us by our behavior and buy into it, either positive or negative, we are free in this moment to be all that we can be. We all know people who peaked in high school and never actualized much since. They may have been putting so much attention on believing and living that piece of their identity and history that they have trouble living in the present moment and creating from the vantage point of the “now.”
Many different religious perspectives offer purification rituals so that congregants may be cleansed of the past and then become free to live in the present. This may take the form of a Baptism or Christening. In marriage ceremonies, often the idea is communicated that a couple will start a new life together and the past is cast aside. Even the word we use at graduation, commencement, suggests a new beginning. Fundamentalist Christians speak of being “born again.” The idea is that believers might always be renewed in the love of Jesus.
To help my children understand that they are more than their behavior, I will tell them, “I don’t like that behavior, but I love you.” In other words, you are not your behavior. Even if our children do something that we really appreciate we might be careful to let them know that their positive behavior, while wonderful and enjoyable, also doesn’t define who they are (can I get an “Amen” from my perfectionist sisters?!).
A Course in Miracles offers that in each moment we can begin again. This is what the Course refers to as “The Holy Instant.” It is our moment of Grace that is always available to us.
In Ram Dass’ book, Still Here: Embracing Aging, Changing, and Dying in which he chronicles his aging process and his journey back from a stroke, he talks about freeing himself from his history by burning all of his mementos. I cringed a bit, I admit, while reading it. For goodness sake, if I had the illustrious career of Ram Dass (Dr. Richard Alpert) I think I might have a hard time letting go of my keepsakes. However, he writes, “It is impossible to be present if you’re trapped in personal history.” Although he does go on to say, “There’s nothing wrong with taking pleasure in who we’ve been, provided this identification with the past does not obscure the present, or cause us suffering through clinging to something that isn’t anymore and lamenting over its loss.” I would also add the caveat that this can be a slippery slope. You may want to self-monitor for how much time you are spending in the past (or the future).
Here is a poem from the Tibetan School of Buddhism:
Prolong not the past.
Invite not the future.
Alter not your innate wakefulness.
Don’t fear appearances.
There is nothing more than that.
To The Present Moment!