Giving up the ghosts

Our past is unchangeable – it’s the one aspect of ourselves that can never be altered, adapted or improved. How ironic then that it influences who we are so significantly – that who we are today is inevitably shaped by where we’ve been yesterday and all the days before that. Past experiences can be such a power for good – they may help you to learn, improve and grow as a person. But they can also be an influence for bad – dominating your whole existence so that you become afraid of being hurt again or repeating a past mistake. But surely there is a balance to made – a point at which you take heed of the warning bells in your head while at the same time not closing yourself off from experiencing life? A balance that minimises naivety while not quashing curiosity and hope?

Personally, I’ve always been a big believer in the ‘no regrets’ philosophy. Time is too precious to waste it dwelling on the past and wishing things had worked out differently. If you can’t change something (your past) then try and find something else that you can influence and control (your future). One of my biggest fears is to become a person who is so consumed by my past that it controls every part of my future – to become convinced that I know the outcome of a situation before I’ve even experienced it. To me, that’s when life becomes monotone and uninspiring…if I already know how things are going to work out why bother trying anything new, right? The very essence of living has got to be about keeping the hope and excitement alive when thinking about what might be just around the corner – whether that be a new job, a love interest, a hobby, a new friend or a new place to explore!

But all of that said, I certainly don’t think the past should be discounted and ignored altogether otherwise surely you’d just keep making the same mistakes all over again. As painful as it is remembering how you felt when that guy / girl broke your heart or when you found out that the person you thought was your closest friend was your biggest enemy or the time when a colleague screwed you over etc etc, you can use that experience to learn from it and ultimately, to help shape how you approach similar situations going forward. The film ‘Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind’ epitomises exactly this concept – you may feel that memories are painful and destructive but until you have none, you can’t realise how useful and important they really are…even the really bad ones.

Perhaps though, my outlook is in part because I’ve had the luxury of being able to think like that. I’ve had my fair share of knocks in life of course (and some of them seemingly quite big to me at the time) but generally speaking, I’ve been fairly lucky and stable within my 27 years so far. I cannot speak for those who’ve been unlucky enough to have awful past experiences – memories so bad that even the strongest of people would find it hard to forget and move on. But the one thing we all do have in common regardless of the severity our past ghosts, is that we all have the power to determine whether we let it dominate our futures.

As is my usual way, I’ll use an example personal to me so that I can illustrate the point I’m trying to get to… So those of you who know me and in fact, even those of you who don’t but have followed these posts before – from my blog ‘Falling and Failing’, you’ll know that I’ve had some pretty phenomenally rubbish luck with men. I’m the sort of person who is generally pretty picky about who I go for but when I do, I fall fast and I fall hard. Each time I’ve liked / loved someone I’ve genuinely believed that they are a good person – admittedly more often than not with 101 issues to boot, but ultimately I’ve had a feeling that they are a decent person underneath (and even when others around me couldn’t see it). I also think of myself as fairly astute in assessing whether someone likes me and so I’ll never put my feelings on the line unless I’ve had some pretty clear as glass signs that they like me. But (and this is the big BUT) despite all of this not one of my (fairly substantial number) of relationships has worked out well – I have literally had my heart trampled on, squished, ripped into a million pieces and pulverised into a vague existence. Every variance of the girl-meets-boy-boy-breaks-girls-heart scenario you could think of I’ve pretty much experienced. And yet…I still remain open minded and hopeful that not all guys are the same. I refuse to let my past dictate who I meet in my future and if that means being hurt again, well I’d rather be hurt a thousand times more than never to open myself up and risk driving away the decent few that are out there.

Now don’t get me wrong, I would say my past experiences have definitely made me more wary and a little more cautious…if I have a feeling that another heart bashing might be on the cards I’ll be packing my bags before the baseball bat has even been raised – self preservation is key! But I’m trying to find that balance between letting my past change me a little and letting it control everything. I would be well within my rights to generalise and say that my generous sample of boys so far tells me that they’re all prats and that there’s no point even trying to find a decent one…but then that would make me a) a defeatist (which I mostly certainly ain’t!!) and b) a slave to my past (and I refuse to be controlled by a has-been!!). The same could be said for any number of scenarios where bad experiences have been had – work, friends, family, living arrangements etc etc – the point is, to truly move forward with life you have to learn to let go of some (not all!) of those past demons.

So, now we’ve clarified that point about letting go and moving on….how (particularly if you’re not used to putting the past to bed) can you achieve it?? Well, I’m no expert and I’ve certainly not perfected the art as yet but here are a few things I have learnt:

Sometimes you have to be your own hero. We could all wait around for someone or something to rescue us, like all of a sudden something will change that means that life is more amazing. Well the reality is that you could be waiting a very long time for this to happen. Why not instead decide that you are more than capable of being the hero of this story and make the changes needed by your own fair hand?? Trust me, it’s much more satisfying that way – AND you’ll get the what I like to call ‘go me!’ glow afterwards too 😉

Learn from your past like you would a sage old guru but don’t let it be your master. The trick is to recognise when you’re beginning to submit far too regularly to Mr/Mrs Has-Been and decide that for once you’re going to try ignoring him / her and give Mr/Mrs Future Opportunity a chance. Essentially, avoid the safe generalisations and self-fulfilling prophecies and start giving things a chance again…life might just surprise you!

Allow yourself to hope that things can get better. Without hope and faith life can be a very dark and lonely place. If the past has stolen hope away from you then embrace your inner hero and go kick some ass to get it back. To become hopeless is to become lifeless, but to become hopeful is to become ambitious…ambitious that life should and will give you more!

Keep an open mind. Someone once mused to me that they couldn’t decide whether an open mind was the same as an empty one…well I’ll say the same thing I said to them, it’s not. How can it be empty when you’re allowing so many new and exciting things to enter it? How can it be empty when you’re opening yourself up to learning all the time? So do keep your mind open – open to people, open to experiences and open to life. You never know, you might just find that the new experience / person / opportunity ends up replacing your past memories with a new and positive ones 🙂

And so ends another musing and at the end of it I find myself more determined than ever not to become enslaved to my past – to let it have its say but not to go blindly into situations thinking the outcome is pre-determined. Staying happy, hopeful and curious is what life is all about and it’s always important to remember that the future is full of opportunities as long as we stay open to them.

“When one door closes another door opens; but we so often look so long and so regretfully upon the closed door, that we do not see the ones which are wide open for us.” Never a truer word spoken…

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