Ever wish you could change the past?

Because if you could, you change who you are now and what’s possible for you in the future. This isn’t science fiction. Who we believe ourselves to be and what we’re capable of is not about events of our past, but how we respond to those events. Every moment of every day, our accumulation of judgment about what the world is and our relationship to it, is determining how we respond to circumstances now and into the future. Most people believe that by accumulating more knowledge and experience they can improve their judgment and avoid repeating the past, or at least improve upon it. But the powerful perspective that comes with wisdom isn’t accumulated, it is revealed.

Welcome to my jungle
Welcome to my jungle

While studying in Sri Lanka 25 years ago, I was privileged to learn an ancient form of meditation. The practice is called Vipassana, which means “To see things as they really are.” It’s as simple as focusing attention on the breath, so that all other thoughts fall away and insights arise. It sounds easy, but it’s not. As my teacher, Godwin Seneveratne said, “Each thought is like a monkey, swinging from tree to tree; one thought takes your attention some place, which leads to another place and we become lost in a story.” If you try not to think about something, the more you can’t ignore it. For example, throughout your day today, whatever you do, don’t think about the monkey. Just forget I even mentioned the monkey.

You’re thinking about it, aren’t you?

Even if the monkey doesn’t immediately occur to you, it will later. It will show up in your dreams. It is already swinging through the tangled jungle of your unconscious mind.

When most of us want to change, we think back to a failure or unpleasant situation from the past and promise ourselves, “I won’t do that again” or “I won’t let that happen again.” In doing so, we bring it to the forefront of our minds and dwell on it. We give it color and texture and amplify the emotions associated with it. We then try to turn away from it, forget it for a while and focus on something else. In trying to forget past failure by replaying it in our minds, we are committing mental energy to that failure and inviting it’s re-occurrence.

There is no failure, only feedback.

Through meditation, the nature of that feedback reveals itself. It is pure, untainted by judgment, fear or longing. It offers us a liberating new perspective on the past that empowers us to create positive change, instead of being held hostage by circumstances. This practice isn’t about reflection, it’s about clarity through emptying out. When we clear our minds, we invite the experience of insight.

When I am empty I am filled up; filled with renewed energy to engage in the creative process that resonates with people and the world around me. I have no way to know what form it should take, or exactly how it will reveal itself. I look at the future I am creating with purposeful uncertainty, knowing that like the past, I am free to define it for myself.