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Elmen Lamprecht
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Letting go of the past

23 December 2013, 11:58

It is hard to imagine a more powerful force than the impact of the past on our lives. Our past experiences shape our future expectations; our interpretations of past events colour our understanding of current experiences. The way we think about our life and future is always controlled by the past.

Human kind seems caged by the confines of the past

Tragic personal experiences of the past often lead to bitter social interactions. After two decades, South Africa is still bound by the effects of Apartheid. African Americans still struggle with the social effects of slavery. The Middle East is no closer to peace than when conflict arose thousands of years ago. Although sporadic glimpses of peace make us believe that we have escaped the clutches of past wrong-doings, it somehow reaches out reminds us of past pain and oppression.

The resilience of the past comes from our genetically programmed quality to learn from our environment and avoid anything that threatens our survival. Intensely negative experiences have a massive impact on the way we see the world and interact with it. Once we have encountered a harmful situation that brought intense negative emotions, we instantaneously learn to avoid any similar situations in the future. It is our most basic defence mechanism and its healthy application has contributed to the advancement human-kind.

However, this same survival instinct often leads to irrational behaviour whenever a situation sets off triggers in our mind. Without fully understanding the unconscious processes preceding our actions, certain events triggers unwanted responses. We lash out, we withdraw, we explode, we implode, and we hurt others and get hurt in turn – all driven by the hidden aspects of our makeup.

We have the power to change

I believe that the past’s real power does not lie with the actual effects of the past, but with our interpretation of these effects. The past taints our paradigm, the way we see the world. We see this at its best when people feel that their current hopeless dilemmas were caused by some events of the past – they tend to blame the past for their current shortcomings. Others choose to interpret the wrong-doings of the past as a motivating factor to overcome their challenges. Two people can grow up in exactly the same circumstances: one can rise above it and lead a happy and successful life; the other can drown in bitterness and blame others for his misfortune.

This is the real lesson that we have learned from Nelson Mandela. He did not allow the injustice of the past to control his interpretation of the future. Although many cruel people tried to stir hatred in his heart, he did not allow their actions to change the way he saw fellow human beings. He endured the same wickedness as others but chose to fight against his genetically programmed urge to hate and take control over his future and the future of an entire nation.

The past is not holding you back

In reality, it is not the past that is holding us back – it is us allowing the past to hold us back. It is a question of interpretation. You have control over the effects of the past. You can choose to rise above it or sink in its sludge.

Life is too short to have your future shaped by your past. Let go of the old, grab hold of the new

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