It’s always bothered me that, in hypnosis, going back into one’s past can involve something called “regression”. In politics, when something is referred to as being a “regressive step”, it is meant negatively, a going backwards, a reversion to an earlier state that we had thought we had improved upon, or let go of. Regression suggests backwards. Regression, in hypnosis, is definitely going back, even to the point where a person, in trance, can relive memories and experiences in their trance state, often as if they are, once gain, real.
Of course, in therapy, the reason for doing this is benevolent; it is therapeutic. We go back in order to help us go forward. By dealing with unresolved past issues, we can release trapped energy, exorcise old ghosts, finally confront deep rooted anxiousness and fears. The purpose is resolution – re-solution – to solve it again.
When we go back in our memory, we put what went before us, before us! That’s such a unique word, “before”, because when we are thinking about time, we can use that very same word to mean quite opposite things. What went “before” (behind us in time) can be put “before” (in front of us in time) in order to “deal” with it. Indeed, in a way, everything that lies behind us in time, also lies in front of us, in terms of its deeper influence on us in the present and the future. Our past has shaped us, made us what we are. As we step into the future, our past is, in a way, also part of the environment up ahead. We often don’t imagine this consciously nor take it into account. By not being very conscious of it, its influences can lie undetected, unrealised, and yet playing into our current lives in very real, and sometimes damaging ways.
Putting what went before you, in front of you, is way of being conscious of past influences on present decision making. Good influences can be “harvested”, made use of – lessons can be learned, wisdom can be invoked, we can draw upon stories and memories to inform, educate and inspire us. Negative influences – fears, myths, habits, traumas, can be named, reflected upon, and taken into account in ways that make us make more self-aware choices, knowing how these influences limit us, knowing what we need to do to overcome them, to minimise their impact on our “now”, and thus our future.
There’s a distaste in many people for “over-analysing the past”. After all, what’s gone is gone. Why “dredge up what you can’t change?”
But, in a very telling way you can change it. By putting what went before, before you – in front of you – you can make use of it – it is raw material for the canvas of your present life – you’ll make different, more conscious decisions because you’ll be conscious of the whole time line, present, future and past. You’ll start to notice biographical “threads”, patterns emerging, connections, and you might even see an emerging narrative that hints at the real purpose of your life in space and time.
It isn’t about over-analysing the past. It is about recognising it, bringing it into your present consciousness, and using it creatively. The past lies up ahead and the future is actually inside you. How’s that for a nuts statement?
A conscious person, and a conscious business is interested in the whole time line. The present feels more immediate, the future more urgent, but the past is actually the treasure trove of stories and still living influences that play into our now, not only from behind us, but also in our now, and inspiring our future actions. We can be haunted by the past, or we can be inspired by it. It can become part of our living diary.
You can put this question before you: What happened? And if you ask it as objectively as possible, a bit like being a police witness in court, you can transpose into asking what is happening now and see the flow from past actions to your present “Now”. Then you can see logical flows of cause and effect that will enable you to also ask “what will happen? (flowing like a river of logic and cause and effect from what happened and what is happening now?
You can also ask: What would have happened if …? And this can be wonderfully transposed into What would happen if…? When we put the past “before us”, we can play with the story. We can creatively paint new images and versions of the story. We can review the consequences of our decisions and then imagine what else might have happened if we had acted differently. This can reveal all kinds of inspiring possibilities that can translate into new possible actions in the present and the future. We can imagine new scenarios, not just cooked up from our reactive “now” but as part of the flow of our story from past, to present, to future. If our life was a novel, the chapters start to flow and link up better.
We can also ask this: What do I wish had happened? This can help us to gather wishes that might still lay inside us, latent, often negatively, frustrated, unrealised, and we can finally either take them up once again in the present or consciously let them go, by then asking: What do I want to happen?
Seven questions: three past, one present, and three future ones, all linked to the three past ones:
What happened? What is happening now? What will happen?
What would have happened if…? What would happen if…?
What do I wish had happened? What do I wish to happen?
Just like a javelin thrower, who reaches just enough behind her (past), adjusting her reach behind, then coming into the upright position (present) and deciding exactly how to aim and focus, then finally letting go in a chosen trajectory (future), we find a balance along our whole timeline. The present is the point at which time touches eternity – so said C.S Lewis. When we bring the whole timeline into our now, – past, present, and future, we become more conscious.
I believe one of the reasons the world is currently in a fair amount of upheaval is because, collectively we have a fairly dark past, combined with a fairly cynical view of “therapy”. A lot of the people who claim to be able to “take us back” are also life coaching the bankers who price-fixed and brought the world economy to its knees. Or the politicians who fiddled their expenses or were found to have told lies. We’ve also had horrendous world wars, an emerging environmental crisis, and, socially, horrendous crime, rising divorce rates, and all kinds of drug-related problems, as well as suicides, depressions and blah.
I’m not ignoring the joyful bits, I promise. It’s simply that it is probably easy to just try to “leave the past behind” when your main stories are negative, traumatic and unresolved, and where your attempts – either on your own, or through some kind of NLP coach or psychotherapist – have left your past darknesses unresolved, or even worse. We’ve tended to make it uncool to dwell too long on the past. The present has currently got the biggest kudos from a world that puts “being in the moment” and “living for today” and “the power of now” over a messier past, present, future version of our lives. The present seems more real, the past a kind of dream, or something too distant to deal with.
Yet the past is still there. And it is right in front of you. Far better to see it in the light of consciousness than to let it hang heavily onto your legs like a poltergeist that won’t move on, as you try to step sluggishly into the future. Step more easily by allowing the whole narrative flow of your story to help you forwards into your unique, emerging future.