Who Can Control Their Past?

Recently, I received a sales pitch from a service that offered to help me search my family tree. It suggested we could search back hundreds of years to learn about my origins – to open the door to as many yesterdays as my family history had recorded.

I must confess, initially it intrigued me. Being of proud Scottish descent, I suddenly had visions of an early me, face half-painted blue and shouting allegiance to Robert the Bruce while brandishing a pointy stick in the air (a la Braveheart!) … and just for a moment, it was fun. However, the truth is that what I have already learned about my very early ancestors – and the harshness and brutality of life, death, and treachery in the wild highlands of Scotland – is more than enough to satisfy my curiosity.

But even so, it did start me thinking about my ‘past’ … in general. Not of my ancestors, but that of myself – my own yesterdays. I began revisiting some of the many different paths I have traveled over the years. I especially looked at decisions I had made (or had not made) and the outcomes that followed, and wondered had I chosen differently, where I might be today.

It’s an interesting exercise, as long as one doesn’t allow regret, bitterness or resentment to color the edges. Of greater value is to return to those moments through a more academic perspective and, applying what we know now to what we didn’t know then, imagine where those various paths might have led.

Naturally, some decisions won’t have been critical enough to have made much of a difference to how our life is unfolding … but certainly, some will. Those are the ones that can teach us the most and – especially with the advantage of retrospection – can reveal aspects of our current decision-making that may benefit from some deeper analysis. In the words of Spanish philosopher George Santayana, “… those who do not learn from the past are doomed to repeat it …”

Nobody can control their past. It’s done, and permanently written into our Book of Life. But it still contributes to who we are today and who we become tomorrow – and the proverbial table that we set for ourselves.

The value of yesterday is that we learn from it. The value of today is that we experience it to the fullest extent, selecting or rejecting opportunities according to our conscience. The value of tomorrow is that we will all be twenty-four hours wiser and, therefore, slightly more evolved than we just were … and this gives us access to all the potential we dare entertain.

If we are to live life going forward, there is no time to waste on regrets or resentments; no benefit to holding onto miseries we encountered long ago – except for what they have taught us about ourselves and our world as it was then. We can use that knowledge to make a better today for ourselves, and this can compel an even better tomorrow … as long as we allow it. And yes, allowing it takes forgiveness ­– of ourselves, but also of others – of those who we may consider responsible for our miseries, our misfortunes, or our failures. But even if they were, what good does it do us to remain emotionally paralyzed within that time? We can only control our future, not our past – so the sooner we make friends with the story of our history, the sooner we can embrace an unfettered future.

When you examine those darker moments in your Book of Life, do you find traces of unresolved conflict lurking there? What steps can you take to release that baggage and send it back to the past where it occurred? How good would it feel to approach the upcoming holidays with a more peaceful heart? Don’t you think you deserve at least that much?

… and as you consider this, remember to stay focused on the Good Things in Life!

Posted in Things To Ponder ... permalink

About Lily-Ann MacDonald

Lily-Ann MacDonald is a fully-trained Certified Life Coach and author, whose engaging articles encourage readers to reconsider their perspective on a wide range of personal growth and social development topics. Her comfortable narrative puts the reader at ease, while giving them food for thought. To find out more about how to work with her, visit http://stepoutofthemist.com and get better acquainted.


Who Can Control Their Past? — 8 Comments

  1. Hi Lily-Ann,

    Great question! What steps do I take to release the baggage? I first find any underlying beliefs that are hidden from me. Once I discover those I can make better choices about life and how I view it. Things seem to clear up for me. I also bless the situation with love – possibly use some Time Line Therapy and move forward the best I can knowing we are all here to learn and grow with one another.

    I, too, believe it important to use the past as a tool to move forward in great ways so yes, we reference it. Letting go however we can is a lovely way to embrace the now and look to a more glorious future.

    Thank you so much,


    • Hi, Dawn …

      Ah, yes … Finding those underlying beliefs – that’s the trick, isn’t it? It’s so easy to file away ‘some unresolved issue’ for later consideration, only to never again think of it – except we don’t realize that over the years, it might have gotten shuffled into the area where we keep our ‘perspective’, and it could now be affecting how we see the world around us.

      Long ago, I learned that during the process of growing up, we inherit many of our values and beliefs from the adults in our life .. and that part of becoming an adult ourselves includes verifying those values and beliefs as being consistent with our true nature. Some will be, and some will not be – and the challenge we face is to determine which is which, and then set about making adjustments.

      Here’s to peeling back the layers and finding our true selves! Thanks for stopping by and leaving a comment …


  2. Great article Lily! It struck me this week that if Nelson Mandela can forgive his captors and also live his words more than any person I can think of on the planet, then I can live my truth and follow my own divine guidance for a better, richer life as well. Even in death the man continues to inspire me.

    • Hi, Kim …

      You are quite right – Mr. Mandela will always be the personification of forgiveness, won’t he? Talk about fostering a pure heart – we can certainly learn from his example. I’ve long been an advocate of forgiveness as a means of releasing our own burdens and enriching our life, but Mr. Mandela has established a new benchmark for what the human heart is capable of. An inspiration, indeed … the world has lost a paragon of peace – but I’m sure heaven is jubilant at his arrival!

      Thanks for sharing your thoughts here … come back anytime!


  3. I find when we really let go of the lurking conflict we can feel so much lighter and able to be mindful of the beauty in life. Letting go is very much a decision and not one bound by life circumstances.

    Thanks for your post,

    • Hi, Carrie …

      Letting go is a beautiful thing, isn’t it? If we could just reach right inside and scoop out all those nagging, irksome little snags that our serenity keeps getting hung up on, we could get down to the business of being who we’re meant to be. But that’s actually the tricky part, I find … not just processing those snags – although that’s often hard enough – but even identifying them in the first place … admitting they’re even there.

      Once we find the courage to do that, letting go becomes much easier. Until that moment, it can be a challenge – but once the purging begins, you’re absolutely right … we will feel so much lighter and know an inner peace that had been eluding us for quite some time. I agree that it is a conscious decision to allow ourselves to be present in the moment, and to allow our battered old baggage to be jettisoned back to the past where it belongs.

      Thanks for checking in and leaving a comment …


  4. Hi Lily-Ann ~ Your message is timeless and ongoing in that we create the past with each passing day … releasing is something we can do, by choice, daily too.

    I find that at the end of the day a review and release is helpful and somewhat of a sleeping pill for those, like me, who may have difficulty quieting the mind enough to fall asleep

    I agree that connecting our dots backwards, reviewing past behavior, and our decision making process then and now is an excellent way to see and note ones growth as well as assess areas that require more work … great article, be blessed!

    Livin’ in the light!


    • Hi, Lyndah …

      And that’s exactly how I see it, too … today is tomorrow’s past, so the question becomes “what are we doing to ensure we aren’t leaving new baggage behind?” It’s a good way to face each tomorrow … clean slate, and all that. It’s a little harder to confront baggage from before we became aware, though … and that’s often where I find most of my own work still needing to be done. I’ve done a lot of clearing, I’m pleased to say … but I’m an ongoing project, so there still seems to be lots of left-overs waiting for me to get to them.

      I like the concept of connecting the dots backwards … that’s pretty much what it is, for sure. Thanks for stopping by and leaving these comments.


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