I’m going to start out this teaching with a story. Logan is a man in his 30s. He was born to parents whose marriage was not a good one. Neither of his parents wanted to look at their own dysfunction or unsavory personal truths. As a result, they focused on what was wrong with Logan. For example, when his father didn’t feel inclined to dedicate any quality time to Logan and spent time in his garage working on cars, instead of seeing that the issue was his lack of desire to show up as a father, he made Logan the problem for being needy of his time and attention. And when Logan’s dad would get explosively angry at him, his mother would make excuses for it and tell Logan he had to change so as to not make his father upset. Instead of seeing that the issue was her own relationship insecurities and how they led to chronic conflict aversion and enabling of really destructive behavior in her husband, she made Logan the problem for not tiptoeing around his father and not preventing family conflict. Logan became the family problem. As a result, his self-concept went into the trash can. He saw himself as inherently bad and because he couldn’t seem to change that about himself, he spent his life torn between really wanting to be light and good but at the same time, embracing his darkness and badness as if that were the truth of who he was. He fell into the only crowd he related to. He covered his body in dark and aggressive tattoos. He spent his time listening to heavy metal music. He hung out every day at a grungy motorcycle repair shop. He got into fights regularly. And he got addicted to meth.
Logan made an appearance one day in his twenties to a family camping holiday. He was dreading it. Sure enough, about one hour after arriving, Logan’s dad started criticizing his life choices and they got into a verbal yelling match. The argument got so heated that Logan’s father got into his caravan to drive off. Everyone was so focused on the intensity of the conflict that they had not noticed that Logan’s two-year-old niece, Josie was playing in puddles in back of the caravan. When Logan’s father angrily put the car in reverse, he backed over his own granddaughter. They tried to give her CPR and mouth to mouth. But she was declared dead on the scene.
Needless to say, this tragedy ripped the family even farther apart. Logan blamed himself for what happened. He could never get over what happened. He spent the next ten plus years of his life pushing against the past. I mean all of it. He obsessed over what he should have done differently as a child and in his teens and on that day that his niece died. He obsessed over how his family should have been different and what every person should have done differently. The sense that something needed to have been different about the past filled him with a desperate need to change the past. He fantasized about a different life he could have had. Any time he would communicate with his family he would get furious at them for things they had done. He could not accept that what happened in his life had actually happened and that it could not be un-done. As a result, he grew more and more unwell on a physical, mental and emotional level. And all he experienced was utter powerlessness. Logan increased his use of drugs to try to mitigate that pain.
When something unwanted happens, especially if what happens is life altering in what a person perceives to be a bad way, he or she will usually immediately enter into resistance with what is and what was. The refusal to accept what has happened and that what was done cannot be undone, leads us to a mental, emotional and even physical obsession with trying to change what has happened. It leads to denial. It leads to fury. It leads to slipping into protector personalities. It leads to depression. It leads to confusion. It leads to bargaining. Acceptance does not mean that you are ok with something. It does not mean that you approve of it. It means that instead of pushing against something, you let it in (own it) and recognize it as real, valid or true.
The problem with pushing against anything that has already happened, is that it is wasted energy. It is futile. No amount of effort you put towards it will ever lead to any results. It will not cause any wanted change. And it will keep you fixated on what was, where you are powerless, preventing you from making any positive change to the here and now. And seeing as how no one else can change what already happened either, you trap them in a desperate powerlessness to being able to make anything better when you expect them to change something about what they did or didn’t do. Doing this is one of the hardest things to do in life. But doing this is also one of the most freeing and empowering things you can do.
To stop pushing against the past, accept it instead and re-orient yourself towards what to do from here going forward is one of the hardest things to do because it means you have to admit to truths you don’t want to have be true. Look at realities that are so hard to look at that you don’t trust yourself to be able to deal with them. Swallow the fact that you have lost something and that it is gone. That something specific that you wanted for your future will never be. And recognize that some things will never be the same going forward, and in ways that you would never have wanted. Doing so seems to run up against the truth that you are a creator of your life experience and that you can prevent what you don’t want and bring about what you want.
But there is empowerment to be found in accepting that what has happened has in fact happened and that you can do nothing to change what has already occurred. In that place of incredible simplicity, all you are left with is what can be done now and what can be done going forward to make things different than they were. All you are left with is: What now?
The value of becoming aware of what could have been different and what you or someone else should have said or done differently is that it gives you an answer about what to say and do differently from this point on. And it gives you a picture of what you need to change or need other people to change from this point forward. What now? Reality is really your only axis of power. It is the place where your focus and energy will actually lead to results and cause positive change.
To use our previous example, Logan would have to accept a great many things. Such as the fact that his father didn’t want to be a father. And that his father was violent and not there for him. And that they had a terrible relationship and still have a terrible relationship. That his mother is a codependent, who was more concerned with her own security than his wellbeing. That he had no one to protect him. That he was the family scapegoat. That he formed his identity around that role he played in his family. That his family is dysfunctional and as a result, he coped with that in ways that only enhanced that pain. He would have to accept that his niece is dead. That his terrible relationship with his father and the family dysfunction was a huge contributing factor in the fact that she died. That she is never coming back no matter what anyone does. His childhood, which is gone, was a suffering one.
Logan would then have to accept that what has happened thus far in his life has in fact happened and that he can do nothing to change what has already occurred. He cannot go back and un-do or change anything. He has to let go.
Logan would then re-orient himself towards: What now? He would pour his thoughts, words, time, energy and action into how to change things for the better going forward. For example, he might become aware of what he needs from his father going forward and clearly communicate that to him. He may ask his father the same thing. He might devote his focus to changing the way he sees himself and challenging the bad guy/problem person narrative he adopted and has been maintaining so far. He might deliberately seek out relationships with people who live a healthy lifestyle and who are into self-growth so that he is influenced to live a healthy lifestyle too. And so that he can experience people looking at their own dysfunctions rather than simply avoiding that self-reflection by focusing on him being the only problem. He might decide to keep a picture of his niece in a locket as a reminder to try to understand what another person is really perceiving, feeling and needing and why when a conflict occurs, rather than to simply slip into defense. He might make people aware to make sure they know where the kids are at all times, especially before moving any vehicle. He may use the completion process to go back and create a sense of resolve for what happened, as well as to become aware of what unmet needs he had then, that he can now meet from today forward.
Notice when you are pushing against what happened or what is, as if all of your energy is going towards trying to make something that already happened, unhappen or be different. What do you need to accept? And once you accept it, what now? Where should your energy go now to make things more like how you know you want them to be?
Use your awareness of what you should have done differently to clearly define how you want to act differently today and in the future. Use your awareness of how you needed people to act differently in the past to clearly define how you want or need them to act today and going forward. Use your awareness of what was unwanted about what was and what is to re-orient yourself towards putting your thoughts, words and actions towards what you want the rest of today and the future to be like instead.