Over this past week, I have been reading Eckhart Tolle’s “The Power of Now.” I’m about ¾ of the way through and have been mostly resonating with what I’ve read so far – all life is, is a string of continuous [present] moments; bringing conscious awareness out of thoughts of the past or the future, and just focusing on what is – the present moment – has a transformative effect that words can’t quite describe. Once you feel it, even for a glimmer of a second, you know there’s something to it. While I agree with Tolle regarding the importance of living in the present, I believe that he has missed the mark on something very important – the power that the past has over our ability to be present. Specifically, the following statement really stood out for me:
There is no need to investigate the unconscious past in you except as it manifests at this moment as a thought, an emotion, a desire, a reaction, or an external event that happens to you. Whatever you need to know about the unconscious past in you, the challenges of the present will bring it out. If you delve into the past, it will become a bottomless pit: There is always more. You may think that you need more time to understand the past or become free of it, in other words, that the future will eventually free you of the past. More time cannot free you of time. Access the power of Now. That is the key.
I agree that by lamenting over the past, we can get stuck in a rut. Our mind spins its tires in the mud of regret and resentment and pain and life just passes us by and we’re too busy looking back to see what’s right here, in the now. We run over the flower patch because we’re so fixated on the rear view mirror. However, delving into the past has a very important purpose – it not only frees up emotional space and clears our aura of the poisons and dead weights that only serve to holds us back (see: pruning your heart and love of yourself), but it helps us understand ourselves and why we react the way we do in situations. At their core, all actions, thoughts, feelings come from one of two places – a place of love or a place of fear. Digging deep and understanding what caused you to develop a behavior pattern rooted in fear allows you to take back control over your thought and behavior patterns, and to process and react and be in a way that is true to the Essence that is you. Tolle touches upon this concept, in the context of the Ego, in his book A New Earth; in it he writes about how once you start to look at the Ego and recognize its patterns and tricks, you take away its power over you because you see it for what it is.
Now I’m not saying that we should all just sit around and psychoanalyze everything we do and think back to every hurt of the past. No, that’s just being stuck in your head. What I am saying is that most of us are aware of behavior patterns within us that don’t serve us, of pains that we want to let go of but we just can’t seem to and/or of negative cycles in our lives that keep repeating over and over and over again. A lot of the time, these patterns, thoughts, cycles, are intertwined so closely with our sense of Self, that they prevent us from being able to just focus on the now, and to tap into the clarity that being present affords us… so we just keep spinning our tires or going around in circles. This is where the power of why comes in. These situations. These reactions. These thought patterns. They are all symptoms of a root cause buried somewhere in the past. Until we get at the actual cause, all we’re doing is masking the symptoms. A method of getting at these root causes is through asking ourselves why. Why is this situation upsetting me so much? Then when you come up with an answer to that, ask why again. Ok, well why is this the case? Keep asking why and going back and back and back until you get at the root. And when you do, your hands are now around the parasitic weed that has burrowed into your heart and you have the power to grasp it firmly a rip it out. You don’t need it anymore. You can rid yourself of it in its entirety because you have tapped it at its source. And now that you’ve freed yourself of this place of fear, you have created a space that you can fill with the love that you want. Let me give an example.
I have not really talked to my father in about half a year and I just can’t seem to bring myself to have a warm conversation with him. Why? I feel emotionally shut off from him. Why? I don’t know. Time to think back in time. Was it always like this? Or did it become like this at some point in time? I had a happy childhood. My parents did anything and everything for me. My dad is an amazing man. We had ups and downs but they were related to pretty standard teen angst. I love my father. Ok then. Great. So then what’s made me emotionally shut down at some point? Why? I don’t know.
And maybe that’s the point to leave it at for now… you’re not ready to face the why… but you’ve kicked up some sediment and subconsciously you’re starting to prepare yourself for facing the why. And so be gentle and loving with yourself and walk away for some time, until you’re ready to face the answer to the why and so you go again:
It bothers me that I’ve shut myself off from your father. Why is it this way? Because he said some things in the past about my lifestyle that really cut me deep and I guess I never got over it. Why did what he say hurt me so much? Because he’s my father and I want his acceptance. I’ve done many other things that he doesn’t accept and his lack of acceptance didn’t bother me so much. Why do his words regarding this hurt me so much? Because it’s taken me a long time to come to terms with who I am and to not hate myself for it. I’ve not only accepted myself but I’m happy. I know there’s nothing wrong with me. I am perfect. Whole. Complete.
Now you’ve started to unearth the weed. But you want to make sure you grab it in its entirety and so the spelunking hat goes on and you dig deeper:
Ok now thinking back to those instances that have caused this emotional blockage – why is it those particular instances? Is there anything else about those instances that stands out? Yes. I just cried. Instead of saying how I felt or standing up for and protecting myself, I did nothing. I just cried. Why? I don’t know. I guess that a lot of the time in my past I just held back my feelings and didn’t give them voice. I really don’t like that about myself. I have feelings and they are valid but I just muffle them. I’m tired of it. And I’m tired of putting what I want aside for the “benefit” of others. There’s nothing wrong with me or my emotions. Beauty is feeling. Beauty is honesty. Beauty is vulnerability. Beauty is a cuttlefish. Vulnerability is strength not weakness.
And there you go. I was emotionally shut off from my father not only because of some off-handed comments my father made… the pain was tied to scars from my struggles with my sense of Self and also with old patterns of letting my mind over-run any say my emotions and of growing up with a mentality of stoicism.
Armed with this knowledge, I gave voice back to my emotions – not only through this process of the whys, but also by giving voice to my feelings by talking to my father about it all on the second day of my Christmas stay this year. It was scary as hell to do – I’m still not very comfortable with being emotionally open and vulnerable – but it was beautiful. And it has allowed me to re-establish a loving connection with my father. A connection that is stronger than it has been in years. And it feels so nice to let my guard down and to be vulnerable and open and honest and loved… this is who I am. Nothing more, nothing less… and that’s more than ok… it’s perfect.
So gently ask yourself the whys. It can be painful, scary, emotionally exhausting… but once you shine light onto the dark and remove the weeds, you’ve made room to slowly start working on the garden of your dreams.