My name is Tom O’Leary and this is the Time Academy podcast.
Today we are talking about how our past experience may be affecting what we are accomplishing now and will accomplish in the future.
This question came up in the last episode and feels important. We may think the past is past and so is gone and yet we are ultimately products of the past. Our habits are memories of past experiences, our schedules are past commitments over our time, our thought patterns are ways of thinking from the past, even our way of being may be partly inherited.
All of these and much more tend to limit our options – in a way the possibilities we can notice and act upon – in the present. We probably all know this at some level and yet because of the way our minds and bodies function we will possibly always be playing catch-up.
This can mean we carry baggage with us from the past that weighs us down as we move along. You may have heard the Zen Koan or parable entitled Muddy Road – often used in mindfulness teaching – of two monks travelling along a muddy road during a rain storm. As they move along, they meet a beautiful girl who is unable to cross a swollen stream. So one of the monks Tanzan picks her up and carries her across. The other monk, Ekido, said nothing but can’t stop thinking about it. Finally, when they reached their destination that evening he could no longer contain himself so he said, “Tanzan, you know monks are forbidden from touching females, especially young and beautiful ones. Why did you do it?” And Tanzan replied “I left the girl at the stream. Are you still carrying her?”
The invitation for all of us is this – What might I still be carrying that is weighing me down?
Just becoming aware of this can be really helpful. In point of fact, you are no longer the person you were yesterday. And so, do yesterday’s habits or thought patterns serve today’s You? Most of the time we don’t notice how we change day to day because it may be obviously subtle but every interaction we have during our day is an opportunity to learn and to ask what am I doing or being that no longer suits me?
It can be much easier to notice this when our environment changes. I experienced this when I lived in Spain – when my family and I travelled back from Ireland it was almost like saying goodbye to our old selves – a lot of our habits and ways of being just didn’t travel with us. Moving from 15 Celsius to circa 35 Celsius (60 Fahrenheit to not far off 100 Fahrenheit) can do that to you. When and how you sleep, what and when you eat, when and how you exercise, how you work, how you think about the world, even your expectations of people. And in a way this was easier because there were external constraints forcing the mindset and behavioural changes. The same can happen when we move house or change jobs and learn the norms of a new workplace. These are wonderful opportunities to question if we are truly living for today or if part of us is still serving older versions of ourselves.
One story that really anchored this for me was the story a friend told me of coming back to his home town. His dad had passed on but his siblings were working in the town and people would say “I knew your father. He was a lovely man” “Oh, you’re John’s brother”. He found himself weighed down by a desire to please a dead father and uphold the values of family honour and respectability he had been raised on. There was a sense of everything he did potentially negatively impacting either family or father, which created a real sense of burden. I have had similar experiences of not wanting to disappoint dead parents and yet it did me little good – if anything it held me back from seeing and taking opportunities so I realised it was time to set that particular rock down. As a result, I now travel more lightly!
And yet the paradox is that we can harness the power of the past, which lies partly in the power of repetition – to protect ourselves from that same past by building a practice of continually asking ourselves how we might travel more lightly. This what the coach and thinker Marshall Goldsmith calls “What got you here won’t get you there”.
So to perhaps inspire you as you explore this, I’d like to leave you with a closing question:
Am I creating a new future or just replaying the past?
Thanks for listening to the Time Academy podcast. I hope this has offered you a slightly different perspective. If you find it helpful please share! I’d also love to get your feedback and hear your stories so please feel free to email me.