‘It’s all in the past now’

I heard that saying again recently.

I felt relief at the time, because it would have been uncomfortable to discuss what had passed between us.

Remembering those words as I worked on this piece, I became aware of a sense of loneliness and embarassment.

It seems to me that when we say the past doesn’t influence what we do now, we are in an unsafe place of denial and resistance and distrust. I guess I heard judgement in those words about ‘all in the past’- as if it was ‘wrong’ to have offered to talk about it in the first place.

I don’t agree that the past has no impact on the present. However, I respect that you don’t want to talk about it. And I’m kind of glad not to too, given the pain I felt when you spoke to me last time … But, if there was an agreed way we could explore it, understand each other, respect what we were both trying to do, safe from blame and rejection … I’d dive right in.

This is how it feels when I picture moving through the workplace, how it feels interacting with colleagues, pretending that their ‘yes’ or ‘no’ is all business, buying in to the belief that we should all be purely here and now and ‘moving forward’.


Listening to a speech in a meeting, hearing the edge of intensity or frustration or indignation in a leader’s voice, seeing a colleagues shoulders lift, or hearing them exclaim ‘why do people make this so hard! They’re lazy! Hopeless! Dumb! Rude!’

Please. Acknowlege that the past is as much a part of your present as it is mine. Ours. I’d love shared reality, mutual vulnerability, openness to exploring whether we’re making a wise decision about our work … not one that’s predicated on unexamined fear or fantasy.

I doubt anyone is an island in their own history. Our bodies and minds have travelled a path to be here.

If I hear you acknowlege that your reactions can often be much deeper than simply the business at hand, then I reckon will be at great ease with you, more willing and able to give more of my energy and care. Until then, so long as you insist that the past is the past, then a great portion of my energy when I’m with you will be paddling a moat around my heart, keeping it safe from the risk that you might vent, misinterpret, blame and punish.

‘It’s all in the past now’. Is it? The funny thing about that sentence is that it ends with the word ‘now’. As though the sentence itself is a riddle. Sardonic. Tongue in cheek. It rejects its own assumption. All. Past. Now. I’ve heard that in many cultures, time is not linear. Past, present and future are all experienced as now.

Maybe the effort of trying to keep stuff in the past is wasted. Could you acknowlege that? Maybe it’s wise too – setting the past aside to make the most of our time here now. Can I acknowlege that? Anyway, it’s been a relief to explore it, name it, see it for me, free myself from wanting others to share my views and path.

Now I sense more room for curiousity. I want to respect the needs someone is trying to express when they say, ‘it’s all in the past now’. Maybe they’re wanting efficiency, ease, hope, healing …?  Ah yes, I share all those beautiful needs too. They all matter. And there are unlimited paths for fulfilling needs together or alone.

I celebrate being even dimly aware of the price I would have paid by continuing to talk about the past when someone had asked not too. I celebrate the beautiful wisdom and needs that led me to offer my heart. And I celebrate the wisdom and needs that led them to say no to that invitation … which was perhaps yes to looking ahead and keeping us safe from discomfort that they weren’t confident we could handle together.

I’ve been integrating Raphael Cushnir’s writings on emotional connection. Feeling so grateful for the hope of what’s possible when I stay with the sensations that come up within me.

I enjoyed his vision and daring: describing how workplaces can explicitly teach, model and support self-contained emotional connection as an efficient and powerful way of achieving safety, productivity and success.

I celebrate that the more I grow my own capacity to ‘drop the rope’ at my end in unacknowledged emotional tug-of-wars, the greater joy and contribution I can make. I am free to feel, to choose my next action, to translate demands with tenderness for myself and the other, to sense, be silent, speak only when I’m ready, to respect spoken or implied requests for space.

Sad. Glad. Free. Longing. Choice. Past. Now. Future. Accepting that it is all present in our minds and bodies, and there are limits to our capacity to be aware or accepting of that in any given moment. Expanding to sense all of those things … The possibility of common ground is closer now.

Thank you.

Ink on water paper, then cut out into a collage and modge podged into a journal, with a touch of red acrylic paint, oil pastels, paper towel and some scraping.