Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Stepping Into the Future

The future is something which everyone reaches
at the rate of sixty minutes an hour,
whatever he does,
whoever he is.
~C.S. Lewis
Mooghaun Hillfort - Dromoland, Ireland
(MHopkins 2013)
People speak of “putting the past behind us”.  But where else can the past be put?  It has only one place it belongs and, once there, can only be a reference point for the future.  Yet we make it a part of our present by clinging so tightly to our experience.  We go round and round in our heads, remembering some conversation, slight or injustice, real or imagined, and we stay stuck in that feedback loop reliving it again and again, often exaggerated and out of context because now we’re focused on some isolated aspect of our otherwise fading memory, giving it life, meaning and a whole host of expressions that perhaps never were.   Imagine what we miss while running around the same tired circles!
Can you see it?  How clinging to an aspect of our past might prevent us from seizing something wonderful that is available to us in the here and now?  Consider this: 
A new form of clinical psychology known as acceptance and commitment therapy (ACT) stems from the understanding that a great deal of our psychological pain comes not so much from the experience itself, but from the words we use over and over to describe our experience.  Instead of getting stuck in our heads and avoiding any real forward movement, ACT encourages acceptance of the situation, conscious choice of direction and action, bringing more meaning and psychological flexibility into our lives in the process.
In his book Get Out of Your Mind and Into Your Life, author and ACT co-founder, Steven Hayes, suggests that we can actually repeat a troubling word or concept over and over until it loses meaning and power in our lives.  Take the word grass, for instance.  Hayes recommends repeating the word over and over for 49 seconds.  Grass, grass, grass, grass, grass, grass…  The theory is that at some point, your mind will stop associating ‘grass’ with the luscious green stuff and observe it as a meaningless noise.  This disconnect between words and reality will allow us to drop those mind movies that have been tormenting us.  Why not give it a go,  beginning with ‘grass’ or some other word of your choosing and then moving on to the more emotionally charged descriptors that unnerve you, like ‘rejection’ or ‘failure’ or ‘broke,’ or any other parade of horrible that you can conjure.  The idea is to rub out the sting these words carry so that you can deal with life free from the fear created by your internal dialogue from the past.  Sound feasible? 
Diagnosis, they say, is half the cure.  But we’re best careful with how we use our diagnosis lest it becomes the story we tell about our life, the reason for why we can’t have or be or do what we want.  For just as understanding the root of our problem paves the way for setting it right, so too can it provide a ready excuse for not living our best life.
Is there something that you’re ready to put down, let go of, and leave behind?  Are you ready to reach for something new and make it real in your life?  As you move into a great new year, now is a perfectly fine opportunity to trade what torments for something more solid and real so that it becomes part of your future.

Wishing you all the best in 2014!

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