When Your Past Is Present

True or false? “You can’t change the past!”

This statement is made by many who have experienced painful things in their past. The pain may have been experienced in childhood, in a previous or current marriage, or in some other kind of relationship altogether. Analogous to the “Get-out-of-jail-free” card in Monopoly, this partly-true saying serves as a “Get-out-of-difficult-emotional-work” card for many walking wounded.

The statement is true in part, but not fully. That we cannot change the facts of the past is obvious. What happened – whatever happened – happened. We cannot undo what was done, no matter how desperately we might want to. The funds embezzled by the business partner and squandered on drugs are unrecoverable. The lover who left has not even looked back. The deceased loved one is gone. The fact that you were sexually violated is as irreversible as it is horrible. Indeed, we cannot change what happened.

We don’t live with the facts of damaging life-events alone. We carry away from those events some things that are not immutable. What do we carry away besides the facts? We walk away with our understanding or interpretation of the facts. We carry our conclusions about ourselves and others based on our – sometimes faulty – interpretation of our experiences. We also carry our decisions about how to live in light of our understanding of those facts. Recognizing this difference between the facts and our understanding of them and choices based on our misunderstanding of them is invaluable. The facts are immutable; but many things associated with the facts can be changed, and should be changed.

When we are unable to recognize the difference between the changeable and the unchangeable things, we are set up for one of two serious problems: unnecessary misery or unnecessary exhaustion. The famous Serenity Prayer addresses our situation eloquently: “God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can and the wisdom to know the difference.”

Consider three essential issues in this prayer. First, we must find peace (serenity) regarding certain unchangeable things – things about which we desperately desire change. Indeed, we need God’s help (grace) to find that serene place of acceptance of what feels absolutely unacceptable. Second, we need courage (perhaps more accurately stated, God’s power released in us) to change even the changeable. Sometimes the “doable” is only done with the help of God and others. That which falls into the category of “changeable” is sometimes terribly difficult and/or frightening; thus, we need courage to do what must be done to effect the change desired. Finally, the prayer affirms our need for God’s wisdom to know the difference between these two – the changeable and the unchangeable. It is not obvious. Our minds can trick us; we can be deceived. We may imagine that we can change the “unchangeable” if only we try harder, manipulate more craftily, or beg more intensely. Of course, this results in our unnecessary exhaustion – physically, emotionally, and spiritually. On the other hand, when we file things in the “unchangeable” category which are in fact changeable, we can live many years in misery unnecessarily, and even with unnecessary levels of misery. If only we had realized that courage and effort would have paid off in time… This prayer for “wisdom to know the difference,” prayed until it is fully answered, can keep us from unnecessary misery or unnecessary exhaustion.

We can agree that the facts of the past cannot be changed. What then can be changed? Sandra Wilson, in her excellent book Hurt People Hurt People, identifies four things that can and must be changed, if I am to be changed. They are:

1. My perceptions of my experiences.
2. My conclusions about my experiences.
3. My choices in response to my experiences.
4. The life patterns I have formed as a result of my experiences.

All of these are indeed changeable, but not necessarily obviously changeable, nor easily changed, and rarely changed over-night.

Much of the family dysfunction in our culture is rooted in these very issues. Wounded people, instead of finding healing, pretend to be well. It may not be too difficult to keep up the pretense in public, but at home we are found out. We are not as well as we want people to think.

If you’ve had painful experiences in the past, and you’ve concluded, “nothing can be done about it,” please consider this “second opinion.” If an honest assessment of your life indicates that your past is showing up in the present, seek the help needed. If disproportionate anger, distrust, suspicion, or defensiveness is evident in present relationships, this may be a sign that your past is pathologically present.

You can “be transformed by the renewing of your mind” (Romans 12:2). This is true Christianity. Jesus accepts us just as we are, but He never intended that we stay just as we are. He wants to transform us. And the “Good News” of His Gospel is that no one is so badly broken as to be beyond the power of His change; and conversely, no one is so good as to be beyond need of it. Not only will you benefit in this transformation Jesus will bring to you, but those closest to you will be blessed, too. You will probably need help in this transformation – help from books, lectures, and specific relationships. Seek until you find all the resources God has for you.

If you would consider a professional counseling relationship, you might provide a potential helper with a copy of this article. Request that he or she read it and tell you if they think they could help you sort out these issues and effect change in your life. Finally, don’t resist investing money in this process. Most of us readily invest money in education to make a better living; too few invest in counseling to make a better life. Proverbs 4:7 says, “Though it cost all you have, get wisdom, get understanding.” Even in this point – especially in this point, I would encourage prayerful wisdom in making such investments. Invite God to lead you to put the past in the past.

Basic Negotiation Skills You Need to Know

Learning some basic negotiation skills can go a long way in your attempt to be successful in the business market. A good negotiator will be able to save money for their business and potentially make a lot more money in the long run. Here are some of the basic negotiation skills that you need to know.

One of the basic negotiation skills to learn is how to ask for something that you want. Many people go into negotiations and they never actually get around to telling the other person what they want out of the process. You need to be able to articulate your requirements to the other party so that they can work on fulfilling them. If you do not actually alert them as to what you want, you will most definitely not get it. Even though it might feel awkward, you need to get up the courage to ask them.

Another basic negotiation skill that you need to learn is how to avoid negotiating against yourself. Many people make the mistake of taking the side of the other individual during negotiations. For example, they will make an offer to the other person and the counter party sits in silence contemplating it for a few seconds. During the silence, the person that made the offer starts to feel awkward and immediately makes another offer. Instead of negotiating against yourself because you feel awkward during the silence, you need to learn how to sit quietly. After you make an offer, sit there until the other person says something.

When you go into a negotiation, you also need to know what your bottom line is. You need to have a number that is held in the back of your mind that represents the highest amount of money that you would pay for something. By doing this, you will give yourself a little bit of room to work with and a safety net. You should always start out with a price that is significantly different than your bottom line. Then you can work your way back to that if the other party still wants to negotiate the price.

One of the most important basic negotiation skills that you can develop is the art of listening. You need to sit quietly and attentively when the other person is talking. Pay attention to what they are actually saying and try to determine exactly what they want. If you can determine exactly what it is that they want, you will have much better chance of giving it to them. If you can give the other person what they want while still getting what you want, the negotiation process will be a success.

Overall, there are several different basic negotiation skills that you should attempt to learn. These skills will be able to make a big difference for you in your overall level of business success.

The Spiritual Posture of Present-Moment Awareness

Once we have become aware of our dysfunctional ego, we can begin to look at each moment of our lives differently. The awareness developed to see our own dysfunctional ego can now be turned outward to the world around us. Each moment of life can now be viewed with fresh perspective. This is another of the spiritual postures – present moment awareness.

The present moment is that little bit of time and space that exists between the past and the future. It’s what is happening right now at this very moment. The present moment isn’t as long as a day, an hour, or even a minute. It’s a continuous flow of very short time segments through the space around you, within your field of awareness.

Consider any action, such as walking. As you walk, think of every single step you take as being the present moment. The last step you took is already in the past, and the next step you take is still in the future, even though it’s just moments away. The most important step you take is the one you are taking right now, this very moment.

“Time is measured by a threefold division, past, present and future… If you consider the present, it is through Him [God] that you live; you, however, are master only of the present.” (Gregory of Nyssa, The Lord’s Prayer)

The challenge we face with each moment is that although our bodies and souls live in the present moment, our egos thrive on the past and the future. Egos cannot survive in the present moment. They cannot survive in the light of awareness and truth. They thrive on the pain of the past and the worries of the future. This is what gives them their identity.

Consider the walk we are taking. We may see an obstacle ahead of us which may generate concern or fear, or we may remember how we stepped on someone else’s toes a few steps ago (carrying from the past guilt or the shame of our clumsiness). Both the warning of the danger ahead and the memory of the past event become part of our ego’s identity in the present moment. The ego uses these events to affirm its illusions about life and the necessity for it to maintain control. How we deal with these past and future images in the present moment makes them either debilitating baggage or benevolent gifts. They will either block our sense of the present moment and our connection with God (thereby feeding the ego), or they will be used to develop a better understanding of ourselves and others (thereby reestablishing our connection with God).

The present moment is the only period of time when we’re truly conscious. If we’re thinking about the past or the future, then we’re not truly conscious to life. The connection we make with God and to His kingdom only happens now, in each moment. As Anthony de Mello writes:

“To find the Kingdom is the easiest thing in the world, but it is also the most difficult. It is easy because the Kingdom is all around you, and within you, and all you have to do is reach out and take possession of it. It is difficult because if you wish to possess it you may possess nothing else.”

Present moment awareness holds the key to enlightenment, to releasing us from the grasp of the dysfunctional ego. Spiritual consciousness brings us this light of awareness; consciousness is only possible in each moment – not in the past or the future.

Present moment awareness is the key to living a full life. It’s the essence of being. Everything real that happens to us happens in the present moment. Our connection with God only occurs in the present. Our connection with others and with the earth only occurs in the present. Our presence in the present moment links us into the field of all possibilities; it’s where we connect into the spiritual Internet, allowing our prayer power to flow out to others, and where we receive the flow of love and blessings. We will begin to see things differently, and think about things differently, and behave differently. The interconnectedness of all life splashes brilliant colors of love throughout our awareness.

Living in the present moment does not mean we forget the past or ignore the future. What it means is that we use these other two time frames in the proper way. Our past experiences are great teachers, and we must learn from them. But we avoid dwelling on them to the point that they interfere with our present moment. Planning for the future is important, too, but the steps to get to the future all happen in the present moment, one at a time. Now is when the future is made.

How can we live in the present moment? The first of two techniques is to practice the spiritual posture of ego awareness; to become the observer of our thoughts and how we’re spending our time. This will alert us to when we’re not in the present moment. By catching our self dwelling on the past or the future, we immediately return to the present moment. The ego shrinks and our true self is able to function more freely.

The other key technique involves becoming more aware of the physical world around us. It’s using our five senses with intentionality. We go slowly through each moment of life with the curiosity of a child, noticing things around us. Jesus said, “Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.” (Matthew 18:3) This awareness includes paying attention to our own breathing, or feeling the movement of our limbs as we walk, or watching the flight of a bird, or seeing all the shades of a color where before we thought we saw only one. Listen for the voice of God in the wind, and in the words of another person. Feel the grass or the leaf of a plant. Treat objects as sacred gifts of God. Look at people as temples of God. Consider each of your movements as a sacrament to God.

This all takes practice, but is well worth the effort. Ego awareness and present moment awareness go hand-in-hand. A third spiritual posture will then come in to play, the Practice of the Presence of God which we shall discuss in another article.

(c) 2010 Daniel D. Schroeder All Rights Reserved