And now what?
STILL STUCK ON THE PAST?
Most people tend to have a handful of things that irk them, trigger them, still upset them well past the initial stressful event or trauma. Whether it was a natural disaster, divorce, rape, abuse, death of a loved one, unwelcome diagnosis or simply some asshole making a disrespectful remark, the human brain has an uncanny way of getting stuck on negative experiences. Sometimes it seems like a masochist enjoying the self-inflicting pain of replaying that shit over and over. What’s up with that??
From a scientific (and spiritual/ philosophical) perspective, there is a HUGE distinction between the brain that is biological, and the psyche also known as the mind or consciousness; what mystics might call a soul or a spirit (fun fact: the word psyche is Greek for soul, so psychology is the study of the soul).
Human beings are the only animals that can have a thought about a thought (i.e., nerd term: metacognition). It’s what allows us to do and create incredible things, but it also comes with a frustrating downside – we can ruminate (i.e., nerd term: to think about shit over and over like a cow chewing its cud). That rumination is the source of much distress including the experience of BEING STUCK… of letting shit get to you that you know you should or would love to get past already.
The first step is in realizing and daily reminding yourself that what you have come to perceive as (insert your first name here) is NOT your biological body including your brain thinking these unhappy thoughts. It is more correct to say that (insert your first name here) is the conscious awareness of them… the thing hearing the thoughts.
WHAT THE HELL DID YOU JUST TELL YOURSELF?
Your brain’s job is to literally narrate your life to you 24 hrs. a day/ 7 days a week (you even get an in-flight movie while you sleep because of it). So, life hack #1 is to practice listening to your thoughts as if an actor you like is narrating them … my personal fave would probably be Samuel L. Jackson or Morgan Freeman.
Notice the space this creates internally when you are no longer an actor in the drama; you’re just the one watching it.
DON’T ARGUE WITH REALITY.
Next and life hack #2 – remind yourself that the only moment that ever truly exists is NOW. This is huge people!!! The past is behind you and the future hasn’t occurred yet, so anything outside this very moment doesn’t exist – they’re either memories or hypotheticals aka mental pictures … they’re NOT REAL, however they do cause very real feelings of depression or positive or negative feelings of anticipation.
Now before you get all huffy and try to tell me that your memories are of very real events that did indeed occur, hear me out… Turns out, the brain doesn’t properly remember the first actual event. It remembers the last time you remembered that event, and it changes it just a bit EVERY SINGLE TIME. So why in the hell would you want to stake today’s potential peace and happiness on something that you could never be positive occurred the way you think it did?
And not only that, the brain cannot tell the difference between past, present, and future anyway! It’s sadly why PTSD is even possible for humans. Every conscious or subconscious thought it has (including memories or future hypotheticals) release neurotransmitters, neuropeptides, and hormones congruent with that thought AS IF it were occurring now.
If you do not ever stop to question or redirect the thoughts your biological brain (NOT the real YOU) is offering up on that movie projector in your mind, you will forever feel like you are a victim to life’s circumstances.
It is usually here that people start reminding me of all the supposed “problems” in their lives – bills that must be paid, individuals in their lives creating drama, children they’re worried about, retirement that may not happen when they want it to, the patriarchy and toxic masculinity and religious extremists engaging in terrorism … What about THOSE situations, huh? Don’t I have to think and plan and prepare for those??
WHO’S IN CHARGE HERE?
Life hack #3 – lead from your conscious awareness; the REAL YOU, and not the biological thinking mechanism. In other words, by detaching from the anxiety or depression laden drama of any stories about scenarios, you breathe into this present moment (where there are NEVER any “problems”) and remind yourself that you are a strong, fully capable badass who has always survived whatever negative situation you have encountered thus far and will continue doing so until the day your conscious awareness no longer animates the body you currently inhabit.
Your thinking mind is a tool to serve your conscious awareness aka YOU. It can absolutely create and plan and negotiate complex equations, but it can also do so from a place of grounded certainty and peace; with action that is appropriate to each scenario. So again… nothing is ever truly a problem – only a situation to be dealt with. Why not bring your best game and leave the dramatics to toddlers and those un-awakened to their own power?
BE SOLUTION FOCUSED NOT PROBLEM CENTERED.
This leads me to perhaps the most important life hack of all – asking yourself, AND NOW WHAT?
Someone hurt your feelings – And now what?
God(dess) forbid you were raped – And now what?
You just got fired – And now what?
Your partner told you they no longer love you – And now what?
The doctor gave you a scary diagnosis – And now what?
The situation happened. It’s now in the past. You can either ruminate on it and create all sorts of distress, dis-ease, and dysfunction as a result, or you can sink back into the ever-eternal NOW and your conscious awareness of who you really are, and make a better decision about where to go from here.
Study after study confirms that individuals who do not allow life’s scariest scenarios to mean anything about their identity – who they are and what’s possible – are the ones with the highest prognosis rating and eventually the best outcomes.
These individuals are the ones who decide rape is not because of anything they did, the ones for whom others’ drama cannot steal their peace, the ones for whom medical diagnoses are not a death or even life-long sentence, and the ones others have been declared no longer lovable who go on to meet their love story of a lifetime.
IT’S NOT ABOUT MINIMIZING WHAT MAY HAVE HAPPENED OR THE PAIN THAT RESULTED. It’s not about victim blaming or dismissing very real trauma. It’s the way out … by asking yourself, “And now what?” you come back to the present moment and to your power and you make powerful decisions.
So what’s your next move dear one?
- “The Power of Now” by Eckhart Tolle
- “When Things Fall Apart: Heart Advice for Difficult Times” by Pema Chodron
- “Tears to Triumph: the Spiritual Journey from Suffering to Enlightenment” by Marianne Williamson
- “Loving What Is: Four Questions That Can Change Your Life” by Byron Katie
- “The Four Agreements: a Practical Guide to Personal Freedom” by Don Miguel Ruiz & Janet Mills
- “Rising Strong” by Dr. Brene Brown, LMSW
- “Carry On, Warrior: Thoughts on Life Unarmed” by Glennon Doyle Melton
- “Warrior of the Light: a Manual – Short Notes on Accepting Failure, Embracing Life, and Rising to Your Destiny” by Paulo Coehlo
- “The Body Keeps the Score: Brain, Mind, and Body in the Healing of Trauma” by Bessel van der Kolk, M.D.
- “Radical Acceptance: Embracing Your Life with the Heart of a Buddha” by Dr. Tara Brach
- “True Refuge: Finding Peace and Freedom in Your Own Awakened Heart” by Dr. Tara Brach
- “The Untethered Soul: the Journey Beyond Yourself” by Michael Singer
- “Somebody Should Have Told Us! (Simple Truths for Living Well) ” by Jack Pransky
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Tamara Powell, LMHC is a licensed therapist, former university psychology instructor, and empowerment coach who believes life should be lived as a journey that is “anything but ordinary.”
She loves quirky existential convos and pretty much anything that smells like eucalyptus, trees in general, or jasmine. Fun fact: people who smell good are always rated as being more attractive.