It’s funny how my perspective on things can change so much, especially on things I was once absolutely convinced about. If only I can remember that when I become so convinced about an opinion or perspective that I make someone else wrong!
For instance, I used to ridicule the idea of changing the past. In fact, whenever I taught a workshop or class on forgiveness, I’d invariably say something like, “When we choose not to forgive someone, what we’re really doing is attempting to change our past.” The idea was, since the past couldn’t be changed, it was important to forgive so we could move on in the present. That’s a good idea, yet what I didn’t realize then was that not only is it possible to change the past, it is almost impossible to forgive until I do.
Before I talk about how, wouldn’t it be nice if it was possible and it really did make forgiveness easier? I realize that the wounds I carry from the past are probably the major impediment to my enjoyment of life right now. But somehow I continue to not only carry them, but also to replay them over and over in my mind. In a book I’m currently reading, A Spiritual Renegade’s Guide to the Good Life, by Lama Marut, the author equates this behavior with running with scissors. We know it’s not a good idea, it hurts, and yet not only do we refuse to drop the scissors, we stab ourselves with them again and again.
In no way am I intending to minimize or negate the horrible things that happened in your life and mine. When I work to change my past, I endeavor to start with the “small stuff.” I run with scissors of every conceivable size and sharpness, and it makes sense to start working with the smaller and duller ones. As I practice and my forgiveness muscles get stronger, I can work more and more with the nastier ones. But before I can do any of that, it’s important that I actually believe it is possible to change the past.
Certainly it is impossible to change the events, the circumstances or the hard data from the past. But it is equally certain that I can change my perspective on what happened, the meaning I assign to it, and my understanding of it. When I do these things, in a very real way I am indeed changing the past, because the past only exists in the form of how I think about it now. The past isn’t really “what happened”, but “what I think happened” in this moment. I tend to think of my memories as solid and etched in stone, but that’s just what I tend to think!
Hey, history books change the past all the time. Hollywood, too. When was the last time you saw or read about Native Americans being ignorant God-less savages, who only served to provide target practice for John Wayne? Did the events from that era change, or did our perspective and understanding change? History books even have a name for this—they call it “revisionist history.” What I’m suggesting is that we wrote our own history book, and have every right to revise it.
Have you ever been absolutely convinced of something, only to find out you were wrong? This happens to me quite often. I wonder how many times I was wrong and didn’t find out! A perspective is simply a perspective, and it doesn’t necessarily reflect reality. Can you and I look at the same thing and have a different perspective? Can I look at the same thing I looked at yesterday and have a different perspective? Of course. So, can I look at something in the past and have a perspective that’s different than the one I’ve always held? Of course. And when I do, the past is revised.
I don’t know about you, but I’m not the same person I was in the past. I’ve grown. I’ve evolved. I have more tools, more faith, more gratitude, more understanding, more awareness, a greater capacity for love and compassion. When I look at the past from my current viewpoint, it looks different. And that’s my major tool for changing the past and forgiving—looking at it from my current viewpoint. So I’m not talking about turning my back on the past, rather, I’m working on “turning the other cheek” to it, meaning I can look at it more and more as the spiritual being I am. I can look at it more and more from a place of wholeness, of love, of my innate divinity. When I do that, it changes.
Forgiving isn’t forgetting. It isn’t condoning or losing and it isn’t a sign of weakness. It has nothing to do with whether or not the person I’m working to forgive deserves it. I choose to change the past and forgive for ME, because as soon as I change the past I’ve improved my present. As soon as I stop running with any of the scissors I’ve carried around, I experience less pain. I am freer to unfold my deepest desires and intentions. I am freer to suffer less. I am freer to experience joy. It’s as simple as that.
I will continue this discussion in my next post, but in the meantime…if that’s all I remember, that’s more than enough for now.
Stew: Thanks for your latest blog. Don’t know what “horrible” things happened to you, which is not the point, but still empathize, and understand the process you are describing. I spent most of my adult life resenting my parents and my uncle for the horrible things they did to me, staying away from them, and being not like them, which became my cause, with the result I have been a loving father with the two kids I raised mostly alone growing up happy, well-adjusted and loyal to me–deeply satisfying–and having a wonderful marriage with Hilary. But to really get past it, I had first to be clearly aware of it without judging them or myself. Then–with the help of God’s compassion–forgive them and myself (my father actually asked for my forgiveness shortly before he died; the other two stayed in denial but I could forgive them that, as well), and then release it all to God, who gradually lifted it from me. Now I can see that this awful time was simply part of the path I have followed that has resulted in the me I am now, and it was necessary in order for me to slowly become conscious and to see my purpose as mending, for my parents, myself and my children, the disharmony with the Soul that lives beyond this life and that we sense as God’s pure love. I’ll be looking forward to how you describe your process. Thank you for being in my life. – Dave