Going Back in Time to Move Forward

It's that time of year again, when we “fall back” an hour as Daylight Saving Time ends, gaining more light before we move into the shorter days of winter. Likewise, when we’re preparing to move forward in life, we may sometimes need to first go back in time. Just as an archer prepares to shoot an arrow by pulling it back to prepare, focus, and gather momentum, we can constructively revisit our past to propel forward movement.

If we want to pursue a goal or make a big change, yet find ourselves staying stuck, it may be that old wounds and painful stories need healing to reclaim energy from the past. If we want to try something new but doubt our ability to do so, we can recall past triumphs and successes to remind us of what’s possible.

Forgive them, and yourself. When we feel held back by past experiences involving abuse or mistreatment by another, a forgiveness process can liberate us from the toxicity of resentment and disempowerment. Forgiveness doesn’t mean condoning bad behavior or staying in relationship with someone who has hurt us. It’s something we do for ourselves to stop feeling victimized. In the words of Carl Jung, “I am not what happened to me, I am what I choose to become.”

Sometimes our limiting stories and beliefs are rooted in regrettable actions we took that damaged our self-perception. In these cases, we need to find ways to let ourselves off the hook. "View your life with 'kindsight,'" says author Karen Salmansohn. "Stop beating yourself up about things from your past. Instead of slapping your forehead and asking, 'What was I thinking?' breathe and ask yourself the kinder question, 'What was I learning?'”

If you find yourself ruminating over long-ago actions or hurts that keep you from forgiving and moving forward, try this exercise:

  • Write about the upsetting experience as you recall it, releasing all of your authentic emotion into your story.
  • Write about the experience again—objectively this time, like a good reporter, including "just the facts."
  • Write once more about the experience, from the perspective of the wisest or most spiritually evolved person you know or can imagine, consciously appreciating any growth, lessons, gifts, clarity, strength, resilience, or wisdom it yielded.

Mend a broken dream to pursue a new one. Sometimes past failures and broken dreams can form a kind of emotional or psychic “scar tissue” that blocks us from identifying or pursuing new desires. We do this in order to protect ourselves from more pain and disappointment, but it keeps us from fully living our lives. I found myself in this place after my divorce, and realized that I needed to grieve and mend the broken dream of my marriage in order to live into a new chapter. If you think you might be experiencing something like this, try the following exercise:

Part 1: Write your honest answers to these questions:

  • What was I hoping for when I pursued that dream?
  • What actually happened?
  • How did/do I feel about that?

Allow any and all painful emotions to surface as you write, and offer compassion to yourself, using words such as, “I’m so sorry for your loss. I know it really mattered to you.”

Part 2: Assess the failed dream and ask yourself these questions:

  • How did I/others learn, grow, benefit, or strengthen from what happened?
  • What is my new dream?

Yoganand Michael Carroll, former Dean and teacher trainer for the Kripalu School of Yoga, recommends using yogic tools like pranayama, postures, and specific meditations, in conjunction with writing exercises, to change the energy of painful stories. “We get stuck in these boxes of our belief systems, and our painful stories carry energy,” says Yoganand. “If I can put myself in a place where my energies will become mobile, the story can melt and shift. If I’ve had an experience of being free from the structure of the story, it’s less binding when I come back.”

In the Bhagavad Gita, Yoganand explains, Krishna tells Arjuna as he prepares for battle that who he really is can’t be hurt. "The teaching is that the soul is so deep inside that nothing can reach it,” he says. “That’s a radical concept for us in the West, where we see the soul and the mind as connected, and see our soul as holding our memories and personality. But, if we can go for short periods of time into those places that are beneath the hurt and come back, that can be the beginning of healing.”

Yoganand says that making space for another perspective is key to liberating ourselves from our painful beliefs and stories. “If it can only be this way, I’m bound, but if it could be this way or that way, it gives me wiggle room. It’s like a knot that’s tied. If we get a little bit of wiggle, we can get free.”

Go back for reinforcement. The past can also be a source of good news and encouragement when we’re attempting to break free of problems and try new things. So many of my coaching clients who find themselves in miserable jobs need prompting to recall past jobs when they’ve felt happier, or more capable and competent. In coaching, we look for exceptions to what clients feel are permanently tough situations, to borrow energy from what’s working (or has worked) to fuel new solutions. Questions that help unearth that energy might be, “When is (or was) that not the case?” and “When have you enjoyed that (job/relationship/project)?”

When we’re caught in the grip of the problem, it’s easy to forget the times when we’ve been resourceful, resilient, and triumphant in similar situations. I had to do this not long after starting my coaching business, when it was not producing the financial success I desired. When I recalled that I’d been successful in all of my previous careers, and reminded myself that this was my biggest business venture yet, with lots of learning curves, I felt better and more energized to put in the necessary work to grow my practice. When you’re stuck, try looking for exceptions and recalling your best moments thus far, to remind yourself that even better times may lie in the future.

Kim Childs is a Boston-area life and career coach specializing in Positive Psychology, creativity, and spiritual living. She writes for Kripalu.

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