You can change the past

An event occurs. Something happens to you, you do something. Let’s say you said something snide or hurtful to someone. Or someone said something snide or hurtful to you.

Time being what it is, the event is gone. It will not be seen again, will not happen again. Those words will not be unsaid. It’s impossible.

What you are left with is a memory. It is a self-construction that describes the event — and the emotional elements that you construct into that memory.

That memory is a thing. It resides in your brain. You revisit it, rehearse it. We call this “remembering”. You remember the event — and the emotional component you added to the “just the facts, ma’am” component of that memory.

If you never remember the event ever again, if you never rehearse it in your head, if you never think it over and re-inject emotion and judgment, then the memory can’t harm you today. Because it’s not the event, it’s not the memory stored in your brain database that hurts you or makes you happy. It’s the act of remembering and the injection of new energy and emotion that is the critical element. That is happening now, and now is the only time there is.

So this gives you a clue about how to change the past. The past doesn’t exist. The memory either exists or not, depending on whether you pick it up or not. The impact of the memory either exists or not depending on what you do with it after you pick it up. Do you add a new dose of self-recrimination and shame for having pulled an embarrassing stunt? You have added to the memory now, creating a new event now, which makes you feel bad now.

All of this is optional. It’s unrealistic to expect that we will never remember events. Our brains seem to conjure them up, unbidden, sometimes decades later. But we can — for sure — choose against trying to dig for shit. It’s like Anderson used to say. If something is bothering you today, deal with it. But don’t go digging for things to bother you! They will rise to the surface in their own time, and you can deal with them then. Or they won’t rise to the surface and therefore they aren’t a problem for you at all. Leave them alone, like a boulder buried 2,000 feet below your house. It doesn’t matter.

I have gone to psychologists and talked through stuff with them. I was bothered but I didn’t know why. They helped me see stuff and digest it. That’s different. The bother existed and I was not able to see why. Self won’t reveal self to self. (That’s another Anderson saying). But at some point they said “OK you’re done here” and sent me on my way.

I promised you could change the past. That’s a tall promise. So many of us are bedeviled by our history and the stuff we did — and the things that were done to us. What we really want is to not be bothered. We want the past events and the memories of the past events to just sit there, inert. We don’t want to be bothered.

So here’s my prescription.

First, if something is bothering you today, that’s you clue that something must be done. Don’t go digging up old memories. Don’t conjure up stuff.

Second, if you do remember some old stunt, try to pretend that you are looking at it through someone else’s eyes. X happened. Don’t add emotion to it.

Easier said than done.

Here is what I do. Instead of talking to myself about the memory that boiled to the surface, I talk to God. If I talk to myself, I add judgment, criticism, ego, and feeling. All of this is done in an effort to make myself feel better — or worse, if I happen to be in the pity pot at the moment.

But if I talk to God, it’s better. I have an actual conversation in my head with God. “Hey, I’m remembering that time when X happened and I sure feel embarrassed right now about X that is 20 years ago. Can you help me out?” And I realize that the X has no power over me right now, and the memory passes.

We don’t forget the past or wish to relive it. That’s the way the old guys described it. The point is to not relive the past. Let it sit there. Don’t inject new life into it.