Playing martyr to your past?

Learn what your past has to teach and then bid it adieu

Notice—have you ever been ‘wool-gathering’ and suddenly realise you’ve been up in your head, daydreaming for 15 minutes, or longer? Remember, spending time telling yourself stories isn’t ‘wrong.’ It’s just sort of useless. So, you have to notice. ‘Noticing’ is a skill you develop.

In my articles, I almost always encourage you to meditate, so I won’t make that a separate item. Noticing is a key component of meditation. You sit, and let thoughts slide by like clouds passing overhead. As you fixate on a thought and start to tell stories, you notice, have a breath, and let go.

Noticing starts by feeling. What does your body ‘feel like’ when you are up in your head, making yourself miserable? Stiff neck? Tight tummy? Or, when you meet a friend and the conversation gets uncomfortable, and a story about ‘how this always happens’ starts running, what do you feel?

To begin with, just feel and notice.

The other senses—one way to break a negative thought loop [like dwelling in the past] is to engage with one of your five senses.

You start by noticing that you are up in your head, blaming yourself and others. Have a big breath, in and out.

Now focus on sight. Look around the room, and name things. Constantly shift your eyes, and say: door, wall, window, book, igloo. [Just kidding…]

Shift to sound. Let your ears open. As I do this right now, I hear the clock ticking and the [really loud] fan on my computer’s graphics card and CPU. You can do the same with smell and touch—taste might require getting up and going to the kitchen.

Your senses are elegant doors to what’s really going on, when you’re not too busy living in the past to notice.

Learn from your body—this is stated earlier, so to repeat: you really need to get in touch with what your body is feeling, as it’s a great early warning system.

A client recently told me about an argument she had with a friend. It went on for days. My client tells herself the story that she’s been a pushover in the past, so she acts quite stubbornly.

Anyway, they resolved the issue, and my client went off for an acupuncture session. She wrote: “Boy oh boy, do I ever store my emotions in my body! Thursday I had acupuncture and just before my session… outwardly I was calm, but the knot in my neck bent the acupuncture needle!”

Remember, prior to bending the needle, she ‘thought’ she felt calm. That was a story—actually noticing would be ‘tight, tight neck!’

Our bodies react instantly to everything—to the ‘vibes’ of people we meet, to situations, with a fight/flight response. And, we react physically to our internal clinging, story-telling, and gazing into the past.

So, make the effort to pay attention to aches and pains, tight muscles, gastrointestinal distress, headaches and more. If you watch yourself carefully, you’ll soon see patterns of tightness that indicate you’re up in your head again, making yourself miserable.

Learn from the past—this is the point. Sure, stuff happens to all of us, and some of it is really sad, awful and traumatic. It’s also normal for us humans.

We’re not supposed to fixate on the past and wallow in self-pity. We’re supposed to learn and move on. It’s like learning to ride a bike. You fall down a lot and hurt yourself, but then you get up and try again. Soon, you ‘learn’ riding, and falling is a thing of the past.

Things of the past are past. You notice, choose, and let go. Again and again. Until letting go becomes the new habit, and living in the present moment is your favourite place to be.

This was first published in the January 2013 issue of Complete Wellbeing.

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Wayne Allen
A retired psychotherapist, and the author of 5 books, Wayne's approach to writing, life, and living comes from his love of Zen. He teaches living in the now, and taking full responsibility for "how everything goes." Wayne emphasizes wholeness, peace, and clarity of thought. His books, resources and other writings are available at


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