Mindfulness. It means living in the moment. By now, most of us are well aware of the great emotional and spiritual promises of living mindfully. It is believed to lower high blood pressure, heal trauma, and enhance our problem-solving abilities. Studies show that mindful people may be happier1.
John and Elaine Leadem are licensed clinical social workers whose combined investment in the field of addiction treatment spans more than sixty years. Their commitment to helping recovering families has provided the core inspiration for the development of a "A Decision to Be IN Love"© which has helped many couples move from the traditional parallel model of recovery to strong united core support group.
Editor: Nadeem Noor
Many traditional philosophies however, stress the importance of purposefully going back in time and exploring our past experiences. We revisit where we have been and how we have become the people we are. Those of us who are members of 12 Step recovery groups are asked to complete a comprehensive 4th Step inventory on all the hurtful memories we may have endured.
Some people think that these two philosophies are opposites. We are either focused on the past, they insist, or the present, but we cannot to both. We disagree. We believe that going back and exploring our past is a prerequisite for true mindfulness.
The great 1950’s author, William Faulkner, wrote in his Requiem for a Nun that “The past is never dead. It’s not even past.”
Going back in time is not contradictory to mindfulness at all. We are who we are today because of our past and where we have been. We encourage everyone to “live in the moment” but it is also important to explore and acknowledge our personal back-stories. We each carry our stories with us.
So many times our experiences in various challenges, like in our romantic relationships for example, have strong roots in our past. Our coping strategies from years ago will usually follow us into our present life. They do not just disappear because at some point in our journey we have decided to make a significant life change, or because we have turned over a new leaf.
How we cope (or do not cope) as adults with any given situation will depend on the tools we have developed along our journey. If we have endured oppression, for example, or if we have been abused, our spirit can be crushed. How did we learn to cope through these experiences? We often carry the burden of those old memories into our adulthood and day to day lives.
We understand that it is emotionally convenient to pull out the “live in the moment” card and avoid the reality of how our past impacts us, but we have not found that method of avoidance to have positive results. So many of us think we are done with old challenges. “Let bygones be bygones” we profess. Well meaning family and friends tell us to forgive and forget. Daily facebook banners urge us to “just let the past go.” And finally, our personal [least] favorite expression we hear all the time on this subject: “it is what it is.”
No matter how much work we put into our healing and recoveries, there will always be specific present day events or actions that can trigger old feeling memories without warning. This emotional kind of time traveling is not some fancy clinical phenomenon; it is simply part of being human.
We have not found the belief that “time will heal all wounds” to be true at all. In fact, many of us who have spent considerable time and resources resolving conflict from our past are often surprised to find that the hurt can continue to show up when it is least welcome. It seems like some of our past is here to stay. Our work is to learn how to be mindful of it in the moment when it rears its head and to develop new ways of coping with old challenges.
We would like to know some of your experiences around coping with old feelings while also living in the moment. We do not want to live in the past, but we also understand the importance of re-visiting old experiences. Please click HERE to share some of your own personal experiences and/or challenges on this topic. We would love to hear from you!
This article was written by John & Elaine Leadem, senior supervisors of the Leadem Counseling & Consulting offices in Toms River, NJ and East Brunswick, NJ. The content of this article is based on their book “One in the Spirit: Meditation Course for Recovering Couples.”