Do you feel guilty about something you did or failed to do?
Are you unable to enjoy new things because you keep replaying painful moments from the past?
Have you reached a point where past mistakes hold you back from moving on with your life?
If you answer “yes” to any of these questions, then you’ve lost touch with the present moment and allow your thoughts keep you stuck in the past.
This is exactly what happened to me. My past had a tight grip on my self-esteem. I always felt guilty for the way I was and the things I’ve said to people close to me. I kept telling myself that I could’ve done better and been more responsible and mature.
It took me a long time to let go and move on, and it wasn’t easy. I had to go through a slow process of acceptance and forgiveness.
If you’re dwelling on the past, I want to share a few pointers that might help you.
Look It in the Eye
If you made a mistake, hurt someone, or someone hurt you it’s not uncommon to try to push the painful memory away.
You hide it in the debts of your subconscious mind in hopes it will disappear forever.
Unfortunately, the opposite is true: the memory doesn’t go away, it takes root and keeps growing inside you until you start to feel sick.
So what’s the first step you can take to stop this process?
Bring your past mistakes to light.
You’ll be surprised how empowering and liberating it feels to say them out loud. It may be scary at first.
You will feel inner resistance and even fear, but once you get past that point, everything else will unfold by itself.
You can write it down in your journal, read it, and own it fully. Or you can find someone to confide in, someone you trust and love.
Seeing clearly how often you’re stuck in the past can be a big motivator to break free of this unhealthy pattern.
See the Story
Thoughts of past mistakes never come alone or isolated.
One thought often leads to another creating a chain of regret and sorrow.
This is where your meditation practice can play a vital healing role.
If you’ve practiced paying attention to your thoughts, you might notice that they create a kind of fiction which pretends to be absolute reality.
It’s a world where everything seems to work against you: circumstances and people seem hostile and uncompromising.
That fiction has a character who was unable to do the right thing or make the right choice.
By ruminating about your past regrets, you become that character who can’t let go of fear, anger, and sadness.
Can you look deep down and try to observe that character from a distance?
A little distance is all that required in the beginning. This is vital for the next step…
Once you’ve noticed the false self or the character, you can do the next step and accept it fully.
The reason why you can’t let go of your past mistakes is that you resist thoughts about them.
It all happens unconsciously. By resisting or denying your past mistakes, you perpetuate thoughts about them in your mind.
Thoughts lead to emotions. Emotions lead to inner resistance. Inner resistance creates more thoughts. So the cycle continues.
You may ask how accepting your past mistakes can make you free.
You might not believe this, but here’s the paradox: you’ve never made a “mistake” in your life. And here’s why…
Let It Show You the Way Out
The notion of “mistake” exists only in your mind.
The quotation marks are intentional. Think about it – what is a mistake in its essence?
It’s an interpretation of the past in your mind, a point of view, an opinion. It’s limited and conditioned by your surroundings at the time of the event.
In the end, it all comes to something you did in the past while being unconscious of doing it.
Can you blame a blind man for bumping into you on the street? Can you blame a deaf person for not hearing what you say?
Same applies to your past mistakes. The unconscious living makes you “blind” to the world and “deaf” to the people around you.
In that state, you might do something that your mind will later label as a mistake. That is an automatic, unconscious process.
But here’s another paradox: every so-called mistake has lead you here, to mindfulness, to the present moment. So every mistake was your teacher.
Break the cycle of regret and sorrow by embracing the present moment. Stop dwelling on the past and let it be your gentle teacher rather than a harsh tormentor. I believe you can do it.
As I mentioned earlier, your meditation practice can be a great asset in breaking free of unhealthy thought patterns. To help, I put together this free worksheet with a 4-step process that I use myself. You can download it by clicking the button below.
4 Steps to Deeper and Better Meditation