There is an old proverb that says, “you can’t make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear. No matter what you do with it, it will always be the ear of a pig. We can also apply this quote to members of the program in regards to their past. When we first came in, we probably had lots of war stories about our past behavior. As time passed perhaps some of those stories got a little fuzzy. Perhaps we began to tell ourselves that things weren’t really as bad as we had remembered. For an alcoholic or drug addict, this is like skating on thin ice. If we keep it up, we’ll eventually fall through and slip back into our drug of choice.
We need to be very clear with ourselves. It is extremely important for us to have an accurate memory of our past behaviors. Most likely we will find this to be uncomfortable. We probably feel deep shame and regret over some of the things we have done. Though we need not dwell on the past, it shouldn’t be denied or romanticized. To do so would be endanger our present and future.
Personal Reflection: Do I sometimes romanticize the past?
At its simplest level, our bodies are miracles. Thousands of intricate functions take place without our even thinking about them. One of the most fundamental of these functions is respiration. We breathe in life giving oxygen and exhale carbon dioxide and waste products. The failure of either of these functions would in short order endanger our lives.
On a spiritual level one can say that breathing represents something much deeper. When we inhale, we are taking in the future. When we exhale, we are giving up the past. As a simple body function, these two processes usually work flawlessly. As a spiritual concept, it’s not always so. Many of us were extremely afraid of the future. Our fear of the unknown held us back from personal growth and change. As we worked our program we began to see that the future could be accepted as easily as an in breath. The same held true for the past. Either the past was romanticized or we were stuck in guilt and shame about our prior actions. As we began to let go of our former life, we became open to both the present moment and future possibilities as well.
Personal Reflection: Do I still fear the future or regret the past?
Driving a car is a wonderful analogy to reference the past and the present. As any good driver knows we need to constantly look out the windshield to see where we are going.
We also periodically glance into our rear view mirror to see what is behind us. That mirror is small and we should only reference it occasionally and it also provides a wonderful guideline for looking at the past. It should make up a small percentage of our focus and only be done periodically. Yes, we do need to reference the past. The question is how much energy to devote to it. Returning to the analogy of the car, if we largely focus on the rear view mirror, sooner or later we are going to crash. We would have become so enmeshed looking backwards that our present course would have become neglected. The same thing can happen when we obsess about the past and ignore the present.
As far as the windshield is concerned, it’s size represents its importance. Our focus as we drive is to look at what is directly in front of us. However, we only have limited visibility to see further down the road. In life the same is true. Our task is to stay as much in the moment as possible. We can attempt to look towards the future, but must acknowledge that we have limited visibility at best.
Personal Reflection: Do I look through my rear view mirror too often?
Sometimes a question can be answered on different levels. Take for instance the question, “where do you spend most of your time?” The simple interpretation of this question is that it is referring to place. Thus a person might answer, “the office”, “on the road”, “at school” or “at home.” This question can also be answered as it applies to time. In that case, we can either be in the past, the present or the future.
In the program, we strive to spend most of our time in the present. Yes, it is pleasant sometimes to wax nostalgic about the past or dream about the future. These both have their place in how we spend our time. However, when we get lost in obsessing about the past or ruminating about the future, we are essentially wasting our time. We can not undo what occurred in the past, and we are essentially wasting our time when we attempt to do so. The same holds true for the future. We really have no control as to how the future will turn out. If you think differently talk to people who bet on horse races. The only thing which we can hope to influence is the present. That’s where we need to concentrate our efforts.
Personal Reflection: Where do I spend most of my time?