A Dark Past; A Bright Future
BY: T. Franklin Murphy | January 2017 (edited December 14, 2021)
Wherever we are in life at a given moment that is our starting point. We begin there and work forward towards a better life.
The past is finished but not gone. The events already occurred are cemented in time. Life happens, we make mistakes. We fall into addictions. We hurt those we love. We end up where we never thought we could be. Yet, this isn't the end of the story. We place a period mark at the end of the sentence, change the page, and begin a new chapter--a better life.
A better life isn't a simple flip of the switch. Current habits are blazoned in our hearts. The law of motion predicts we will continue the same direction. The human brain has tremendous capacity to learn—or self-deceive. Sometimes our learning system goes haywire, clinging to faulty responses that destroy rather heal. We hold on to pasts that we despise.
"Sometimes the learning system goes haywire, clinging to faulty responses that destroy rather heal."
Examining the Past good and bad
An approach for a better life requires something different. A compassionate journey into painful pasts, recognizing significant errors and damaging events may start the path to a better life. Often these journeys require guidance. Our past provides helpful insights that can sooth pain and create understanding.
We need balance. We need to identify errors to correct but not brood, distracting attention that is better directed towards making a differences in the present. We punish ourselves for mistakes, shaming for turning right when we should have made a left; these are dirty damaging thoughts that serve little purpose and waste precious time for changing the route.
The road missed usually isn’t as rosy as we imagined it would have been anyways. Such thoughts, while deliciously distracting, avoid the present where current decisions are made. Once we identified the wrong fix it. If it can't be fixed, abandon it and move forward to a better life full of better choices.
How could youths better learn to live than by at once trying the experiment of living? Henry David Thoreau
When a struggling marriage generates thoughts of lost opportunity, “If only I married a different person,” we are escaping the current problem. Nothing good happens here. Replacing the present with an imaginative alternative sounds nice but our artfully create joyous ending isn't realistic; different circumstances create a different set of problems. Reality can’t compete. The work required for a better relationship must be done in the present, not with a new partner existing only in our imaginations.
"Changing your life for the better is about picking a destination and taking one step at a time to get there. If you try to take shortcuts, you may actually end up making your journey longer and more arduous."
Barton Goldsmith Ph.D.
Wisdom from the Past
The past does, however, contain wisdom. We learn associations between behaviors and consequences. We see patterns in interactions and reoccurring emotions. By recognizing a chain of events, we can identify incoming storms, halt and change directions before hitting the same dead end. We can intervene with a healthier response, avoiding reoccurring pitfalls. We gain wisdom to make more constructive decisions.
"The art of living your life has a lot to do with getting over loss. The less the past haunts you, the better."
Ideas to Initiate Change:
We discover wisdom hiding in the dark corners of the past. Wisdom overlooked in the heat of the moment and the immaturity of our mind still remains for the careful observer. We don’t simply shrug our shoulders at past hurtful choices but courageously contemplate our roles, gain wisdom and act better in the present.
"Take some time this week to reflect positively on how far you’ve come, and think about where you want to be—and maybe write down the steps you need to take to get there."
A better life is in store for those willing to accept responsibility, repair hurts, and courageously move forward, using wisdom from mistakes, forgiving the wrongs of others, and escaping destructive environments. We discover what went wrong and then gently move back to the present with our heads held high, grateful for the chance to improve, to live a better life.
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