Most of us, to some extent, suffer from something in our past. Whether it was something we wished we would have done differently or something painful that happened to us, the past lingers on and often intrudes into the present in the form of memories or associations that remind us of our own limitations or the dangers of the world around us. Is it possible to change the past, so we can be free from its effects? It is possible to rewrite our stories with happier endings?
Some might say that memories of past pain are good reminders that guide our behavior in the present. We don’t want to erase these reminders. In a certain sense, that is true. But, what we’re talking about is not erasing a memory but changing it. We’re talking about shifting our relationship to what happened in the past so that it no longer tortures us in the present.
Let’s understand a little more about these memories to see how we can rewrite them.
What is the past? From the perspective of your brain, it is a memory trace stored as a neural network.
What does that mean?
Every experience we have is the result of different parts of our brain coming online and firing together with other parts of our brain to create a neural network. For example, you receive visual impressions, sounds, and tactile sensations, each of which processes in a different part of your brain. These different sensations combine with memories of similar events, with your intentions at the moment, and even with the condition of your body at the time, to create a neural network. A neural network is a coordinated firing of many different parts of your body and brain together that creates an experience.
If an experience is especially intense, that neural network may be strongly encoded. Likewise, if you repeat similar experiences often, the neural network of that experience may be strongly encoded. These neural networks are your record of past experiences. They are “the past” for you.
If you shift even one component of a neural network, one link in the chain of association, that changes the quality of your remembered past.
If you find that the past is intruding on your present in an unhealthy or unhelpful way, such as telling you that “You can’t do that because, well, remember what happened the last time?” then you may want to rewrite that past event to shift your memory of it.
Here is a some simple way to do that:
When a present event triggers a “negative” memory, stop and catch yourself in that moment. Take a deep breath. Recall the past experience that is giving you a warning. Remember what happened and who was involved. Remember what was “negative” about it and why it was negative. Then shift one key component of that remembered story.
For example, if you “failed” in some way, isolate exactly what you did not do well. Be specific. Then do two things. First, see that past experience as a “learning opportunity.” Then, be specific about one thing you could learn to do better. Imagine yourself actually doing that better at that time. Rewrite the story about what happened with a positive ending.
If someone else did something harmful to you, recall exactly what that was. Then do two things. First, see that past experience as a “learning opportunity.” In some way, going through that experience impacted who you can become, the insights you can have, and the gifts you can grow into and share.
Then, remember the person involved in a new light. Remember one of their better moments. If you have no positive experiences with that person, imagine them as an innocent child. Re-imagine yourself encountering that person’s better side or their child-like innocence and the previously painful event turning out in a positive way. Re-write the story with a positive ending.
You can be creative with this. The important points are to look back on the past and see it as a learning opportunity and then to re-envision the past in a new way.
In this process you rewrite the neural associations of that past event and change the way that event is encoded in your body and brain. This will open the way for positive new experiences in the present and the future.
Enjoy your practice,
P.S. Meditation is a great way to free yourself from past pain so you can welcome present opportunities. Learn more here: “Secrets of Meditation”