At some point in our life, we need to move past our history. Too many of us hold on to our past as if it somehow enriches our life, wearing our burdens and demons like brittle armor. We head into the battle of life with the confidence that our shell will protect us from harm. What we don’t realize is that we are wearing a paper shield; our history offers no protection, rather it burdens us, slowing us down, pulling us back, wounding us more than anything.
There are more layers of personal history wrapped around each of us than we know. We have memories upon memories stacked in the outer layers, dictating our surface level actions and responses. This is the history we are comfortable thinking about, the stories we are comfortable sharing with others. These stories are like chips in a poker game, we use them to compare who has the worse hand in life. Sometimes we use them to call a bet, demonstrating our similar experiences, other times we raise the stakes, one-upping those around us with our seemingly more significant baggage. We all have been in these situations, they usually begin with a statement like “if you think that is bad, check this out . . .”
Don’t even play the game. Don’t sit at the table. Just like in any gambling situation, someone will leave a loser. In any situation comparing how terrible our life might have been at any given point to others’ lives, everyone is a loser. Even if you come out of the experience feeling better about your own life, it is only at the expense of someone else. The thought of “at least my life isn’t as bad as that guy” doesn’t make your life any better, it only makes it feel less bad.
Deeper still, we hide memories we have chosen to bury. We have no desire to experience them any more than share them, so we shove them deeper and deeper. Periodically, they are dredged up and float to the surface, causing us to revisit the pain of disappointment, the fear and loathing associated with shame, the hurt and revulsion associated with betrayal. Then, we push them back down, hoping we have secured them deep enough this time around. Ultimately, they will never be gone until we let them go for good.
These memories and experiences are even more dangerous than our surface armor. They cut deep every time we put them on, evaporating any specter of protection we thought they might have offered. How can we ever find safety in a fundamentally dangerous environment? It is impossible. Every time we recognize their existence, allowing them to pour over us as they once did, they grow stronger, influencing our thoughts and actions more and more over time. They shape us into who we are, which is not as good as we could be if we freed ourselves from them.
I plan on having a funeral for my past. All the memories that hold me back, the history I throw around like so many poker chips, and the experiences I prefer to ignore will all make their way into the casket. I will light the match myself, cremating the remains of my old, dead false-friends, and spread the ashes so I may never revisit their whereabouts and give them new life.
I am not speaking figuratively, either. There is something powerful about the action of symbolic ritual in the human mind. It frees us, giving our mind permission to move forward.
Try it. Write down your memories, your bad habits, your experiences you prefer to be done with, and have a funeral. Burn them. Spread the ashes. Let them go. Allowing yourself to be free from your past moves your forward. It cuts the chain on the anchor that has been dragging behind you for years. It will reveal to you that what you have been using to protect yourself has actually been the threat, striking at you from within.
Move beyond it. Have a funeral.
I would love to make September a reader-focused month. My plan is to build a series on your thoughts and ideas, focusing on issues you see in your daily experiences. Email me your ideas and I will put together the September plan.
Thanks to everyone ahead of time!