This morning, I woke up thinking about the fact that, at any given moment, I have a choice in how I respond to life and my life situation. Regardless of any beliefs that I possess, or my past experiences, I always get to choose my response. Sometimes, of course, I am not consciously aware of my ability to choose, but it is always there.
On my most occasions recently, I believe that to be true, my ability to choose. But, one thing that makes me think I don’t have a choice, is something I call cumulative effect.
So, in any given situation, I respond according to my past experiences. I recognize, or not, the situation based on a past experience. Then, I tell myself a story in my mind about what the situation is, even though much of that can’t be known. Then, I seal the story away in my memory, whether or not it is accurate. It becomes a story that we keep. Over time, those stories, of what I think I know about the world, accumulate, and the total effects color the way that we see the world right now.
For example, I have a terrible discomfort about clowns. Yes, clowns. I feel creeped out, for lack of a better word, when I see a clown. I don’t know where this story started in my supposed memory, but somewhere along the line, I experienced fear of some kind around them. And, at 53 years old, I still don’t like them. That is cumulative effect. It lasts a lifetime, or so we think.
The brilliant news is that the effect does not have to last any longer than we want it to. I know that sounds crazy; how can we let go of something that has been with us that long? That seems to have formed the very person I am now? What do I do?
Well, it can be done, but what we have learned our whole lives can be hard to unlearn. So we just try to let it go. What works for me is to remember that every life experience that I go through, I have a story about it. And that is all my memory is to me: a story. I have no way of knowing the validity of it. But I only have to believe it until I don’t. Every moment is a new beginning; a new opportunity to see the world in all of its unique qualities.
For me, it is much more difficult to judge a person or situation, if I am just taking it in, as it is, in the moment. If I am letting go of the past, meaning not bringing my stories along; and if I am not focusing on the future, or trying to predict how it will turn out, then I am able to allow the situation to just be, and therefore, more easily accept it.
I know that humans who feel that they are their past is how we are taught; and so I know that the past stories that many of us have feel very real and have a deep impact on our lives. I work with people every day in my job whose past stories have made terrible messes in their lives, and created a great deal of pain. Yet, the stories don’t own us. They are not the truth. The here and now is the only truth.
When my identity has been my past and my future, to change my thinking is a daily workout. I am choosing more moments of presence and fewer being focused on past or future. But, I know that even if I still have past pains that I am not ready to let go, I don’t have to accumulate any additional stories to add. I can do my best to be here, in the moment.