July 23, 2024

Inner Peace: Reliving the past can hurt

Inner Peade
Image by John Hain for pixabay
September 27, 2023

Dwelling on memories that contain anger or fear can make the present painful; living in the moment takes practice

By Jim Hatton

Most people would agree that the Now is the only moment there is.

The past can be brought forward simply by thinking about it, by bringing it into our consciousness in the present moment. If we do not think about it, it remains in the past. If the memory of the past is enjoyable, bringing it into the now can be pleasurable and even beneficial. But if that memory is painful and contains anger or fear that is brought into the now moment, we can relive the pain, anger and fear. If done repeatedly, it can produce a harmful psychological condition.

Jim Hatton

Such can be the case with post-traumatic stress syndrome, depression and other psychological conditions. Ideally, forgetting the past and not bringing it into the present would be a simple but certainly not always easy solution.

Eckhart Tolle, author of “The Power of Now,” writes: “… the psychological condition of fear is divorced from any concrete and true immediate danger. It comes in many forms: unease, worry, anxiety, nervousness, tension, dread, phobia, and so on. This kind of psychological fear is always of something that might happen, not of something that is happening now.”

People who experience amnesia or multiple personality disorder can easily live in the now as the past is completely forgotten. This serves as an example but certainly not a solution.

Living in the Now moment takes practice. In Western societies we are taught not to live in the now with phrases like: “Think about what you did” or “What do you think is going to happen next?” Children are born living in the Now moment and are trained and educated to think about the past or future. Our children’s consciousness is being programmed away from focus, away from being in the present. This is compounded by the “flashing” in the media, presenting multiple images every second.

But reliving the past and being afraid of what might be in the future over and over creates an uncomfortable and possibly a painful experience. Sometimes professional help is needed.

For most, learning to live and be in the now can be relearned with practice. The first step is to become aware or conscious of when we are not in the now moment. Take a look at your thoughts. Are they about the future? Are they about the past? Is there a negative emotion tied to the thought? Or can looking at the past or future be done simply as an observation?

The past and future are not a bad thing. We can gain wisdom from the lessons of the past, and dreaming about the future can be a creative process. Visualization can be a very creative activity and a spiritual practice. But looking at either the past or future with fear or anger can be mentally or emotionally harmful.

Meditation is an excellent practice to learn to be in the now. In Eastern traditions it is a daily practice. Western science has demonstrated the benefits of regular meditation.

A Zen monk once asked: “What does a Zen master think about while driving down the street?” “He/she is just thinking about driving down the street” is the answer.

The World is not broken, Be in Peace …

Jim Hatton is an author, spiritual teacher and speaker. He makes his home in the Rogue Valley, Southern Oregon. Contact him at

Want to contribute? Send 600- to 700-word articles on all aspects of inner peace to Richard Carey (

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