The Union Path Podcast
"Burying the Past"
Full Episode Transcript:
Our past is real, what's happened to us has happened and our past shapes us A lot of ways. Our past, especially when we experience pain, can be highly formative, can really shape us, can really change us, can only change and shape and mold the person we are, but can really change the way we approach our life, change our perspective, change what we do, change what we don't do. Our past leaves an indelible mark on us Because our life, living our life, is what makes us who we are. We are, our being, and a big part of our being has been formed, has been shaped by the past. But especially if we've experienced a lot of pain, especially if we've experienced a lot of failure, it can be really important, it can be really useful, it can be vital to come to a place where we can bury our past.
Because pain is awful, suffering is terrible, but what makes it worse is when we drag the pain and suffering of our past into our present, when we maintain and perpetuate our own pain and suffering through our clinging to it, through our refusing to release it, that some of us can experience pain so severe that the focus of our life becomes simply the avoidance of pain. We adopt all sorts of avoidant behaviors, because we never, ever want to feel like that again. We want to make every effort to avoid ever feeling that way, if we can possibly help it. Going through these kinds of experiences or going through this kind of trauma can really shape us in ways where our entire focus, our awareness, can mold around it. We can become hyper aware of what's happening because we're working so hard to avoid pain, to avoid suffering, to avoid calamity. And if we've experienced a lot of this in our life, especially if we've experienced a lot of this early on, that affects our life in profound ways, not only from the pain we carry, but from the way it shapes our living of our life, from the influence that it has on our daily experience. In one of the ways we can free ourselves or liberate ourselves from this pain is by acknowledging it, by acknowledging what happened, what happened to us, what things have been like, and we can do this in however gentle manner we need to. We don't need to confront ourselves all at once. We don't need to run ourselves through a pain acknowledgement boot camp where we just beat ourselves over the head and flog ourselves with our own pain, because what's important is that we acknowledge it in whatever way we need to, because what's doing us a disservice is our refusal to acknowledge it as our attempting to hide it, our attempt to deny it, our attempt to just avert our gaze and never really look at it, to avoid it at all costs. But while it's being avoided, that avoidance is also creating avoidant behaviors in our own life. It can't help but do this. If we're avoiding feelings, certain feelings, we're also going to avoid doing things that have the possibility of creating those feelings as well. It's the same process. If we don't want to feel something on the inside, we're not going to volunteer for activities that could create that feeling on the outside.
But when we live an avoidant life, when we live a life full of avoidant behaviors, we limit our life in a very, very profound way. We limit our options, sometimes down to just a scarce few. We limit our potential. We limit possibility because we're so devoted to avoiding pain. This can be really hard to see, this can be really hard to acknowledge. This can be really hard work to feel our own pain. We avoid it for a reason. We ignore it for a reason.
Some of us adopt all sorts of compensatory or coping or avoidant strategies that end up dominating our life, like if we've been rejected a tremendous amount in the past. It tends to make us either highly reticent or highly defensive, or both. We see this play out in not only how we choose to live our life but on our interactions with others. But these blocks, these defenses, block our full experience of our own life, block us from doing what we really want to do, block our relationships from being as good as we want them to be because we've erected a barrier that stands in the way, like as an example.
Growing up, I experienced a tremendous amount of pain, mostly in the form of rejection, embarrassment and humiliation. These things were almost constant in my life. I grew up chubby kid with a pretty bad stutter, which is kind of funny that I spent so much time talking, because even well into my adulthood my stutter was pretty severe and, at least for me anyway, the experience of having a stutter was so embarrassing that I went through so many experiences of just having to absorb indignities, of not being able to talk, not being able to talk fluently, not having a normal cadence, not sounding normal, not speaking normal. It was weird and it was jarring for the other person too, because a stutter is kind of one of those things that you can't see from the outside. You only experience it when someone actually starts talking, and so when they do, it can be a little jarring. You're not really ready for it, you're not prepared for it. It's just happening and at the same time as the person with the stutter can catch you by surprise too. But it's actually worse when it doesn't. It's actually worse when you know it's going to happen.
Because one thing you realize when you have a stutter is the things that you tend to stutter the most are the things you can't dance around, are the answers that you can't fudge or change, that only have one answer, like, for example, what's your name? That's a tough one. That's a tough one to not even be able to get it out your own name. It's so simple, it's so basic, but because there's no way around it, if your name is Steve Stevens, you can't say your name is Alfonso Jones. You have to say Steve Stevens.
Same thing if there's any kind of social pressure built up, like if you're put on the spot or if there's people waiting for you to speak, you manifest that pressure internally has anxiety and that anxiety just makes things clamp down even harder and that the reality of living with a stutter at least for me anyway are such frequent experiences of embarrassment, shame, so many indignities of where I could see the judgment on people's faces, because the rejection wasn't always subtle, sometimes it was overt, it was being directly made fun of to your face and you just have to take it, you just have to absorb it. Or even in a situation that's important to you, you're in a job interview and you just can't talk. Oh my God, like all right. Well, there's another failure letter I just generated. I just generated from my own stupid mouth. I just can't make it move and work.
But the more I worried about it, the more I perseverated on it, the worse it got, because, especially as a kid, the strategy I adopted the most is just to hide. I would be terrified in class to be called on because that was the worst, because that combines those two qualities. If you're asked to answer a problem or a question, there's only one answer. So you can't dance around it. You can't substitute another letter, another word. You have to say what it is. You're locked in. But also you have the pressure, the attention of the entire class. But if you trip up, it will be noticed.
And when it's noticed, well, there's another indignity, wonderful. There's another bit of embarrassment, and this persisted for so long and in countless other aspects of my life, I was rejected constantly Because I felt rejected within myself. I was rejecting myself, I felt terrible about myself, I was embarrassed of myself, I felt shame about myself because it's the basic thing that everyone else seems to be able to do and I can't. I don't even feel disabled, I don't even feel handicapped, I just feel broken. And because we spent so much of our lives talking, so many interactions are predicated on talking. This came up over and over and over again. And the higher the stakes, the worse the pressure, the worse it got, which is also a fun combination. And it's one thing to stutter when it didn't matter, it was quite another when it really did and it got way worse.
And my point is my point in telling the story is, through experiencing that pain, through experiencing that rejection, through experiencing those profound failures over and over again, it really shaped me. It really shaped me in a couple of very profound ways, of one building in avoidant behaviors where I just wouldn't speak, I wouldn't speak up, I was the quiet one, I was the one that was just quietly competent but never really making a fuss. No one really knew I was there. My ideal is just to walk through life as kind of an invisible ghost, where I do what I need to do but no one really ever knew. I wanted to somehow find a way to just adopt the perfect camouflage, to never be seen, never be called on, because the embarrassment, the shame, the indignity was so unbearable. And these patterns of rejection played out over and over and over again for a very long time, well into adulthood, of where I seemed like I got rejected from everything, or it seemed like everything I did just was set up for failure. Or I lived my life feeling like there's this oppressive thumb in the sky that, whenever it wanted some entertainment or excitement, would just come down on my head and squish me. I could never really get ahead, I could never really get anywhere.
And it's only through a lot of years later, it's only through a lot of hindsight, that I realized that my core issue was that I was choosing to hide. I was choosing to hide because I was so full, full to the brim of pain. I had so much pain from all of that rejection. I oozed it. It came out of my every pore, it dominated my every thought, it changed the way I did everything, because everything was in a response. Everything was a reaction to this pain and my life redounded, to the avoidance of further pain that I'd had all I could take. I couldn't take any more. I couldn't take any more failure. I couldn't take any more rejection.
So what did I do? I played it safe. I biased my choices around the avoidance of rejection. I chose to surround myself who weren't even close to as capable as I was. So I could hide my abilities. But I never really have to try, I never really have to shine, I never really have to be my full self, because I was safe. I was surrounded by people who would never really challenge me, never really push me, never really notice If I was doing my best, if I was being my best, if I was really trying. I could hide. I could be a ghost and just float through life, desperate to be invisible, avoiding at all costs being seen. But there came a point where I realized that this ocean of pain that I had inside of me was not serving me in any way. Quite the opposite was quite a disservice. It was quite an anchor on my life. It was quite an impediment, but my reaction to the pain that things like my stutter had created had eclipsed the pain of stuttering.
The effect that the past had on me was greater than any potential effect the present would have that. I was living out the past over and over and over again because I was holding onto it. I was avoiding all of the pain within me which just allowed it to accumulate, it allowed it to pool, allowed it to go stagnant because it was never released. I kept reliving my past because I never buried it, I never allowed it to be the past, I never allowed it to fade into memory, I never allowed it to just be. I continued and perpetuated the past into every present moment.
I wasn't really able to get any kind of relief, any kind of separation from the pain, until I started to actually feel it, until I started to bring it up, to bring it up into the light, because as long as I kept it in darkness, as long as I kept it hidden, it not only couldn't move through me, couldn't be released, but kept having an effect. He was still part of my being, he was still active, and so he was still exacting its influence. I was still living my pain of the past in the present. So at some point, I think I arrived this largely by accident, or perhaps I arrived at this by necessity, but I found a way to start letting it go. And I started to let it go simply by starting to acknowledge it, not avoiding thinking about it, not avoiding remembering it, because some of the pain I've experienced is so severe that I have huge gaps in my childhood that I don't remember at all.
And there's probably more there that I'm not aware of and I might even be a little grateful that I'm not aware of, because, as much of an advocate I am for feeling pain, it's like, okay, I don't need everything to be on maximum hard level, but that's part of it too. I don't intentionally dredge up the past that isn't active. I deal with what's currently affecting me, what's currently happening, what's currently having an influence, and I do that by acknowledging it, by bringing it up, allowing myself to feel it, not being scared of my feelings, because even though it may feel like this pain is so great and it's going to destroy me, it can't. My feelings can't really hurt me and they're already there anyway. They're already having an effect anyway. So I might as well deal with it, because pretending and ignoring hasn't really worked. If it's already there anyway, I might as well deal with it. If it's having an effect, I might as well do something about it.
Because, more than anything, I just wanted to be free of it. I wanted to be liberated from it. I didn't want to keep repeating the same patterns over and over and over again. I was sick of rejection. Oh my God. I couldn't stand to be rejected another time. But at the same time I didn't love the fact that it didn't really even seem to affect me that much anymore. I just expected it, it was normal. I didn't want that either. I didn't want to believe as rejection as my default state. I wanted to move on. I wanted to let it go.
That, as painful and real as my past was, I don't need to keep reliving it. I don't need to honor it through my own repetition. I can bring it up, I can acknowledge it and then I can bury it. I can let it go. Yes, those things happened and yes, that was awful, but it doesn't need to keep happening. I can release it, I can relinquish it, and when I release it and relinquish it.
I can spot all the avoidant behaviors in my life, all the ways that I've tried to hide, all the ways that I've gone for less than I really want, all the ways that I've been less than I really am, and let that go too. That's a two-way street. I can let go of the pain and I can also let go of the avoidant behaviors the pain has created. I can let the pain go by releasing the avoidant and compensatory behaviors that I've adopted, and this has been really complicated. I've had a really unhealthy relationship with substances. I've had a really unhealthy relationship with work. I've had a really unhealthy relationship with all sorts of things, and thankfully nothing ever really got that bad. I don't have a story where my life was absolutely destroyed and brought down to nothing through my own addictions, to my own compensatory behaviors. But it doesn't mean that these behaviors were a good thing either. It doesn't mean these behaviors should have been allowed to persist, because once I'm able to move this pain around and release it, I don't actually need these compensatory behaviors anyway.
But because a lot of them are habits, I had to learn different ways of being and sometimes to release the compensatory behavior I had to intentionally do something else. First, I had to intentionally choose not to use a substance. I had to intentionally choose not to overeat. I had to intentionally choose not to try to distract myself with some kind of novelty or excitement and stay present, stay in my being, stay right here, right now. What's happening? Don't jump, don't time travel. Focus on what is. If I can't do anything else, just breathe. Then, when that pain comes up, just breathe, breathe into it, feel it, Allow it to pass, because it will, and it doesn't have to be overwhelming. We can deal with it in whatever way we want and whatever chunks we want. This can be our process, because this is our pain, this is our life and we get to choose. We get to choose how we heal, we get to choose when we heal.
Because we get to choose when we start healing, when we decide to heal, because, especially if we look into our life and our life is a lot smaller than we'd like the life is a lot more bleak or routine, mundane, just less than we can look at our own compensatory behaviors and ask ourselves well, why have we been choosing this life? Because, of course, random circumstance happens to us, but over the long term, our life is a culmination of our choices. So if our life is less than we want it to be, we need to ask ourselves why are we choosing it? Why would we choose this? Because it may be unconscious. We may have to dig around a little bit. We may have to realize oh wait, a minute.
I've been choosing to involve myself in situations that I don't actually want. Because reasons? Because I've been trying to avoid something, because I've installed avoidant behaviors, because I don't want to feel a certain way that I don't go into my life really trying to be successful as much as I go into life trying to avoid failure, that I don't go into my life trying to be happy. I'm really more trying to avoid pain. And we can use this information, we can derive clarity.
We can live the life we want by acknowledging and letting go of pain. We can live the future we want by bearing the past. Let it go. Find closure, release the past, release everything that's happened to us. Yes, it has shaped us. Yes, those experiences have been formative. Yes, those things are a part of us, but they don't need to be the dominant one. They don't need to be the loudest voice in our head. They don't need to have veto power over what we do or don't do. We can liberate ourselves from our past by bearing it, and if it's past pain that's limiting our current life, we can acknowledge our pain, we can feel it and we can let it go. We can choose to set down and jettison our avoidant behaviors and actually go for what we want, actually attempt to do what we want, actually make an attempt, endeavor after the life we actually want to live because we're living it in the pursuit of the ideal, our ideal vision of our lives. Live through the ideal version of ourselves.
Because we can't fully connect with the present, we can't fully be alive in the present moment, if the past is still taking up space. To live fully, we need to clear this space. We need to create the space, the present moment, to be experienced fully, and often we do this by releasing and relinquishing the past. We can honor it, we don't have to deny it. We can honor that the past happened and that these things shaped us. They made us who we are. We don't need to let our past be the dominant aspect of our being. We can become, we can live, we can express the full version of ourselves when we're able to relinquish and bury the past, let the past be the past. The present is now, the present is what's happening now and we live the most full and most complete now. By letting the past go, by creating the space for the present moment to exist fully and completely in an unmodified way, we can release the influence of the past by burying it, by letting it go. And when we bury our past, when we let it be in the past, we can move forward. We can move forward completely. We can move forward with the space, the present moment to be lived and experienced fully.