Two decades ago Eckhart Tolle’s book The Power of Now was published. It was a best seller and many people, including myself, saw wisdom in what he wrote. Eckhart suggests we stop identifying with our mind and our past, because the stories we tell ourselves about our past are just perspectives. Instead he suggests we live in the present and not worry about the past.
After thinking about this topic for ten years or more, I do not agree with Eckhart that the past and the stories we tell ourselves are unimportant. After many years as a psychologist, I learned that the past is relevant to our life journey.
Humans love stories. The books we read, the movies we watch all contain stories. Little children like nothing more than hearing a story. When we get together with friends, we share stories. Stories are woven into the fabric of our lives.
What is more important is whether the stories serve us or not. The stories we create about our past are greatly influenced by the perspectives of our culture, our families and our peers. Their perspectives might align with our true self or they might not. If they don’t, we will suffer. Let me give you an example.
Lucas came to see me because he felt lost and alone. He had a wife and three children who loved him, but he didn’t feel connected to them in a meaningful way. I counselled both Lucas and his wife. She wanted more attention from him, claiming he was habitually secretive. He admitted he did make plans without consulting her.
We discovered this habit was related to his childhood. His mother was neurotic and controlling. She felt abandoned by her busy husband and used Lucas as her companion. She became jealous if Lucas wanted to see his friends, and forbade him from visiting them. He managed her oppression by becoming strongly independent, doing what he wanted and lying to his mother about it.
Lucas believed that to be safe he had to be secretive. He believed others would stifle him. He carried his habit of secrecy into his marriage. For example, he would organise trips or activities for himself without consulting his wife. When his wife discovered he’d made these plans, she would become angry, just like his mother. I helped them see the origin of their problems and they agreed to change their behaviour.
As a psychologist, I thought the new understanding of their behavioural patterns would solve their marriage problems. I was wrong. Their beliefs were much more deeply ingrained than any of us realised. Past life experiences had also played a role in the formation of Lucas’s beliefs.
When I became a practitioner of past life regression, Lucas wanted to explore his past lives. We asked his guides to take him to the origin of his problems, and he re-experienced several past lives.
He is taken to a life as a monk. This is where his troubles begin. As a child, he basks in the love of his family. He is very happy. But he does not realise that tradition demands he be taken away to a monastery at the age of nine. Once separated from his loving family, he is overwhelmed by grief. To cope, he hardens himself emotionally, cutting off his deep feelings of sadness. In doing this, he changes his perspective. He tells himself he has to be tough and strong, rather than open and loving.
While Lucas pushes away his feelings of sadness, they do not disappear. They remain deeply buried in his soul during subsequent lifetimes.
After his life as a monk, Lucas is reborn as a pirate. He and his fellow pirates mercilessly plunder other vessels on the high seas. He feels completely isolated in this band of murderous criminals as not one of them can be trusted. During a mutiny he is thrown overboard, and dies alone in the sea.
Lucas realises that the hardness of the pirate is still within him. The pirate shut down emotionally to hide his fear and Lucas still does the same, feeling isolated and empty.
When he came into my consulting room years ago, Lucas was carrying this deep history within him. He didn’t know that and neither did I. We just knew his patterns of behaviour were controlling him, and he was not able to change them by a conscious act of will.
Lucas could only change after we mined deeply down into his psyche and released the deep grief and fear he had buried there. He wept. He felt completely exposed and vulnerable. And gradually he came to see that feeling vulnerable, hurting and weeping, are a part of life.
Lucas was learning a new story that changed his belief about avoiding pain and vulnerability. He learnt that running away from his feelings means running away from himself. When we disown our feelings, we disconnect from our true self, and from others.
The Power of Now can help us reconnect with our true self. We need to be present, in the now, to relive our past experiences and to shift our perspective. Rather than going back into the past, we bring the past into the present. The present is always pregnant with the past. We need to reconnect with our past to fully understand it and free ourselves from it.