When things go sideways, I have a moment. It happens in the split-second when the dawning realization that something bad has happened crosses my consciousness. It’s the instant I hear the plate break, see the earring go down the drain, or catch sight of my kid taking a Sharpie to the wall out of the corner of my eye. In that moment, I almost believe that if I concentrate hard enough, I can back things up to just half a second before, when everything was still good.
Of course, we can’t change the past. Everyone knows that. Or, at least, everyone knows that except the version of me that inhabits that moment. That person really believes that maybe, with enough mental energy, I can back things up just the tiniest bit.
That moment where I’m trying to back things up and change reality actually provides a fair bit of insight into my personality. I’m a person who spends a lot of time dwelling in the past. I think about what happened, how it happened, why it happened, what I said, what I did, and what I could have done differently. I re-play conversations, try to recall details that will provide me with clues about what other people were thinking, and lament the things that didn’t go the way I wanted them to go. Even my subconscious dwells in the past. My father died more than 20 years ago, for instance, but he appears in my dreams more often than my children.
I’m fairly optimistic when it comes to the future. I tend to believe that things will all work themselves out, and that at some point my problems will diminish and my life will be more serene. I’m not afraid of what lies ahead. What lies in the past, however, scares the pants off of me. And so, the not-so-rational part of my brain experiences that moment, when I try to change something that cannot be changed.
No matter how hard I concentrate, the plate will stay broken, the earring will make its merry way to the sewage treatment plant, and the wall will bear the Sharpie marks. I can close my eyes and focus all I want. The past simply cannot be changed.
I’ve been thinking about my penchant for living in the past rather a lot lately, for a few reasons. The one conclusion I’ve reached is that it isn’t serving me well. As long as I’m living in that moment when I’m trying to change something that cannot be changed, I can’t actually deal with the present and do what needs to be done to move forward. I need to move beyond all the things I said or did in the past, and forgive the version of myself who was doing her best at the time if she made any mistakes.
At the beginning of the year I chose Presence as my word for 2013. By definition, that means living in the present. To do that, I need to let go of the past. I need to stop living in that moment where I’m trying to change things, and offer myself compassion instead. Compassion because sometimes things go sideways, and that sucks. Compassion because I rarely have all the information when I’m acting, and therefore I’m going to make mistakes. And compassion because we all deserve it.
Here’s to letting go of those things that we can’t change, and living in the moment when things are actually not so bad after all.