Sure, there are the common side effects of our choice to live a conscious life: our wardrobe no longer fits our lifestyle, or we hate the dishes we eat off of every night, or we shed so much clutter that at times our closets and cupboards feel a little too bare.
We realize that we’ve outgrown people – friends, family members, communities.
It may seem as if we have no tribe to support us when this happens, and this can feel a little lonely, even if we have faith that we will soon find the right folks to repopulate our lives.
There’s another side effect, though, that I’ve noticed that isn’t just detrimental to your personal progress, but also damaging to your tender (and newly vulnerable) heart and soul: the tendency to pick over past actions, failures and mistakes and berate yourself over how you could have done better.
We look at a younger version of ourselves and can’t believe we were that ignorant.
We worry about all the people we impacted negatively during those years – our children, our spouses, our friends, our neighbors. We dwell on how we could have done a better job at being a mother or father. We focus on how we could have been more loving and accepting and aware of the pain someone was going through and how we should have been more help.
We obsess over how much of our life we wasted by sleep-walking through it.
I get it. I know that when we finally wise up and see different and better ways of living, the numerous ways we could have lived better, made smarter decisions or treated others more kindly will crop up.
For me personally, just the knowledge I’ve gained on how food affects our bodies has me cringing when I think of the meals I used to put on the table as a parent to small children. But of course the meals are small potatoes compared to some of the mistakes I made as a mom.
I’ve tormented myself over how I could have done better. I can’t tell you the number of times I have wished that all of these beautiful coaching skills (and the wisdom) I have acquired in the last decade were a part of my toolbox twenty years ago when my girls were little.
But let’s be honest here, shall we, darling? Those mistakes we all made in the past?
That’s precisely how we gained some of the wisdom we have now.
I come from a professional background in Quality Assurance, so my natural go-to with failures and mistakes is to evaluate for lessons learned and corrective measures to take. While this is a good practice in awareness (especially lessons learned) we can’t go back years and apply the corrective measures.
Because wisdom and awareness don’t form a time machine that allows us to undo stuff. Instead, they become vehicles for growth and change.
The deeper truth is that when you begin going down the road of beating yourself up and focusing on the mistakes and failures of the past, it’s easy to get lost there. We can become so lost in all the things we did wrong that we lose sight of the fact that we did a hell of a lot of good and right things, too.
To lose ourselves in that past doesn’t honor our journey – and it does nothing for allowing those lessons to grow into wisdom and inspiration to move forward. It keeps us stuck and stagnated.
It sets us up for going back to old ways of living that we chose to leave behind us.
The best way I know to deal with our own past is to make peace with it. To understand that while we acted out of ignorance or exhaustion or frustration, the actions weren’t done from a desire to hurt someone we love nor were the actions malicious.
We were doing the best we could with the tools that we had at the time.
Though I’ve used this mantra to help some of the healing of those childhood wounds, including forgiving my mother, that grace has to extend to myself: I did the best I could with the tools I had at the time.
The biggest gift you can give your past is to allow yourself to honor all the pieces of your journey. Yes, examine the past for lessons learned, but don’t wallow in it. Yes, look back upon the person you were a decade or two ago, but also celebrate how you’ve grown and shifted.
Life gives us many lessons over the journey. Offer yourself grace and celebrate how far you’ve come.
The fact that you are berating yourself for things you did (or didn’t do) in the past is actually a good sign: it means you know how to give and receive love. If you didn’t, you wouldn’t be able to feel like you didn’t do a good job. After all, we don’t think less of babies for being born without the ability to walk. We embrace the fact that they will learn first to crawl, then to stand, and then to take their first steps into the world.
A part of creating a life that feels loving, nourishing and supportive is the choice to leave the past – especially our mistakes – behind us.
By accepting the lessons of the past, we can take the skills we’ve since gained– the ones that let us be better people– and choose to move forward, being merciful to ourselves and gracious with both ourselves and others.