How to Break Free from the Shackles of the Past

I think you’ll agree with me on this:

The simplest things in life are often the hardest.

Like trying to figure out how to break free from the shackles of the past. The past can be a heavy burden, and if left unchecked, it can control your thoughts, your emotions, your actions, and ultimately, your future.

In other words, no matter how hard you try to live in the “present moment,” the past will seep in.

Now, pause for a moment and think:

Do you believe you’re above and beyond your past, since now the past has “Gone?” Or do you think it still pulls the “invisible” strings?

And you know what is interesting?

You cannot live in the present when the baggage of the past is crushing your soul. You need a solid footing in the present to live your life. And for a solid footing, your feet need to be free from the shackles of the past because if they aren’t then no matter how much effort you make to fulfill your heart’s desires, you’ll always experience a tug of war between your present and your past. Your present will call you to move ahead and your past will not let you go.

And that brings us to the question:

Can you put your past behind you? Is it possible to erase what happened in the past? Can you say with totality that the past is finally “over?”

Can You Break Free of the Past by Condemning It?

Condemning is a silly tactic to make yourself “forget” something. It’s a subtle defensive mechanism of your mind to give you the illusion that now you’re free of the thing that was troubling you. But is it really that simple? Can you be free of your past by condemning it?

I condemned my past so I could forget the “nightmare” I had been through. Did I succeed? Far from it. The more I pushed the past traumatic memories away, the stronger they became.

And then I realized something.

I was being foolish.

You cannot forget anything by condemning it simply because in condemning you’re giving attention to it, and whatever you give your attention to, expands. So if you try hard to forget something, you’ll attract similar events and people into your life experience. And so, after years of head banging on the wall, I realized something was amiss. I have been an Osho disciple since 2017 (officially). Sitting in meditation and listening to Osho’s discourses made me realize that one cannot break the shackles of the past by condemning or fighting with it.

Is it Possible to “Change” the Past?

The past cannot be changed. It can only be embraced. And that’s where the difficulty lies. Accepting something that we don’t like is probably the hardest thing in the world. But guess what? There can be no peace unless we accept things the way they are (or were). My childhood was a traumatic one and I have been fighting with that reality until some time back. And it didn’t do me any good. (Fighting never does any good.)

Then I realized that what happened is what happened. I cannot undo the things that are done now.

But then again, you cannot “accept” the past. The acceptance happens on its own.

Wherever you are in your life is where you’re supposed to be. You could not have been what you are today without your past. In other words, the present could not have existed as it is today had it not been for the past. I remember the movie “Back to the Future” in which the protagonist tried to change the future by changing what happened in the past and things went haywire. Time is a continuity. You cannot alter the past without affecting the future. But that was a movie, right? You cannot change the past in real life, or can you?

Well, you cannot change the events that took place in the yesteryears of your life but that doesn’t mean you’re powerless. You have the power to accept what happened in the past.

Most of our suffering comes not from the past but from our unwillingness to embrace the past the way it was. And it doesn’t matter if you accept the past or not. The past will remain what it was whether you accept it or not. But yes, you can be at peace today, right now, by accepting whatever happened.

Because the moment you accept something, its grip over you loosens. Now, this “acceptance” is not based on submission. It’s not a defeatist attitude, like what can I do now? It’s done so I have no other option but to accept it. No, not like that.

You can embrace the past with two types of attitudes.

One is an attitude of “helplessness,” and the other attitude is of rejoicing. Helplessness and self-pity take away your power while an attitude of rejoicing gives you more power. And the power we’re talking about is not some sort of “hard” power. It’s kind of a “soft” one.

We are not talking about making things happen here. Because who will you make things happen against? Who is there to oppose you? When you try to make things happen, that means you’re trying to push against the world. And you cannot win by pushing and fighting against the universe because you’re a part of the universe. In fact, you’re the universe itself. A mini prototype. How can a part fight with another part and win?

Can You Accept the Past With “Love?”

I know it’s hard to embrace the past with an attitude of love (at least in the beginning) because if you feel injustice was done to you, you won’t be able to forgive the people who did that. And without forgiveness, there can be no peace.

So don’t push yourself to forgive or love the people who you think did something wrong to you. Instead, nudge yourself towards acceptance. It will take time, so be patient. And when you try to accept the past as it was, you’ll face some resistance from within, which is natural. And when that happens, accept that resistance too. It’s also part of you. In other words, don’t fight with your fighting nature.

Now, let me ask you this.

What’s the difference between a pond and a river? Both are waterbodies but the one major difference is that the water in the pond gets stale after some time while the river remains fresh. Because it keeps flowing. If you’re fighting with your past and asserting (unconsciously) that whatever happened should not have happened, your life energy is still stuck in the past. And when your energy is stuck in the past, it cannot remain available to you in the present.

And that’s the key point here.

The positive emotions we experience in day-to-day life are an expression of energy. But if the creative, life-giving energy is entangled in your memories, most of the time, you’ll experience negative emotions. Therefore it’s crucial to free up your life from the past entanglements.

Be gentle.

Don’t force yourself to “accept” the past. A gentler approach would be to let the past be embraced by you.

How to Get Over the Past?

See, the past is done. That part of your life is gone forever, in the infinite time stream. Now, either condemn it and attract more similar events or make peace with it.

In other words, get over it.

And how do you do that?

By accepting it.

You can get over anything, not by fighting, but by accepting it. Now, here’s a twist, you can also not “break” the shackles of the past but you can surely allow them to break on their own.

Let me clarify.

You cannot “make” things happen but you can “allow” things to happen on their own. And now, get ready to hear something unexpected. Something hard to digest.

There are no shackles. In fact, there never have been any. It’s all your making.  You are the creator of your own life experience. It was almost impossible for me to accept that the suffering, the disappointment, and the frustration I experienced were all my making. I gave them power by focusing on them, by talking about them, and by regurgitating the emotional pain day in and day out.

But how could it be? Why would I do such a cruel thing to myself? Well, it was a strategy to make myself feel “like somebody.” It was the only way I knew to feel important. Fight. Struggle. Make things happen. That’s how the ego functions. If it cannot find something positive to feel good about, it tries to associate itself with “great suffering.” (If I can’t become the happiest person around, let me become the most miserable one.) 🙂

Take Responsibility for Your Life

If you are considering breaking free from the shackles of the past, then taking responsibility for your life is vital. Realize that your life is your making, and you’re free to mold it the way you want. One way to make your life joyful is to assume that you live in a friendly universe.

Now, in reality, the world is neither friendly nor unfriendly. It simply is. If you develop a friendly attitude towards people and the world, the world will behave in a friendly way.

Do you want to live in a friendly universe or an unfriendly one?

Only you can decide how your life is going to be. You decide what kind of people and experiences will come into your life. If you feel friendly towards the world, the world shall behave in a friendly manner. And if you believe that the world is a dangerous place (like the news channels want to make you believe) it will become dangerous, for you. That’s what free will is. You’re free to choose how you want to perceive the world. Want to meet friendly people? Get friendly. It’s that simple!

When your friendly attitude gets ingrained in your psyche, you’ll find the world cooperating with you. Consider the world as a mirror. If you don’t like what you see in the mirror, then breaking the mirror won’t do any good. You only need to change yourself.

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