Why does the past seem so infatuating?
Imagine a place. It can be anywhere. It can be within the empty residence of a loved one recently departed or at a seaside where you used to make sandcastles as a child. Perhaps this place holds good memories for you, orperhaps it holds bad ones. The point is, on a subconscious level, you cannot physically be wherever it is and not think about the past in some way.
Essentially, anything that drastically takes your perception away from the here and now can be damaging to the human mind. Yes, even feelings of nostalgia can be as detrimental to our health as, a recent YouGov poll back in 2015 suggests that as much as 71% of Britons think that the world is turning into a dismal place. While undoubtedly there are terrible things going on all over this planet, right even now as I type up this entry, this is still a very high number. Some would say it is too high to take seriously. After all, humanity’s history is hardly a picture of universal peace and good will.
So why are people often so convinced that the past was in some way superior to the present? There are several reasons for this:
– We like to view the past in an abstract way, where the bad parts of it are ignored in favour of the good.
– It’s all about circumstance. Just because you fondly recall a specific moment in your life does not mean that you would have a similar reaction if you were presented with the same situation now.
– We have the luxury of knowing how the past turns out. We are, after all, alive to reminisce about it. On the other hand, everybody fears the unknown, which is something characterized by the future.
– Our emotional responses when considering the past are often more intense than our emotional responses to what is going on in the present. Hence why there is a tendency to idolise what has been as opposed to what is currently happening.
The result of all this is that, instead of enjoying each moment as it comes, life passes you by, and while you may be having good experiences in the present, the worst thing is that you’re probably not even aware of it, such is your distorted interpretation with what has happened before.
So how do I focus on the present?
Thankfully there is a relatively simple way to combat this unhealthy infatuation with the past. It is called mindful meditation. While the images this can conjure up may raise a few eyebrows, there has been much research carried out that suggests that meditating can have a range of medical benefits when it comes to anxiety and depression. Just a few changes it can have on the brain include:
- Reducing the size of the amygdala, the part of the brain that is responsible for fearful and anxious thoughts.
- Activates the anterior cingulate cortex, ventromedial prefrontal cortex, and anterior insula. These are parts of the brain that perform functions such as emotion regulation, cognitive flexibility and planning and problem solving.
- Builds up your temporo parietal junction (TPJ), which is the part of the brain associated with emotional intelligence, perspective taking and empathy.
As someone who meditates I can testify that, as the above points infer, it has had a positive impact on my psychological well being. For instance, I have always had trouble concentrating on even the simplest of tasks. After I began meditating on a daily basis, I found that I could focus far better than I did before, and with much more ease. Additionally, my ability to handle stress drastically increased, so instead of making a mistake and being overly critical of myself for it, I am now (more often than not) able to step back and see the bigger picture.
Though keep in mind, something like this is only effective if it is maintained over a significant period of time. While it differs from person to person, many sources suggest that, assuming you do approximately 15-40 minutes meditation a day, it will take around 8 weeks to feel the benefits of the practise, so some patience and perseverance will go a long way to this activity’s success.
Is it really that important?
The importance and relevance of meditating cannot be underestimated. Here are just some of the reasons why it should be taken seriously:
-It has been backed by the NHS advisory body the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (Nice), and the Mental Health Foundation research charity.
-It has been sanctioned for use for US Marines, in order to improve their performance and minimize the effects of PTSD.
– There have been over 1500 separate studies on meditation since 1930 – quite a substantial number!
So you see, all of this is what meditation can do for you. The numerous and often unpleasant memories that clog up our way of our perspective of the world are washed away and we are placed into the here and now. Thus, by actually being fully aware of the present and what is happening around us, we move one step closer to achieving that illusive feeling of true happiness…
Do you meditate? Just how much of a difference has it made to your life? Perhaps you’re completely new to it, or perhaps you’ve been doing it for many years. Either way, please feel free to share your own experiences in the comment section below.
Emotional support helplines:
Samaritans :116 123
Rethink Mental Illness advice line 0300 5000 927 (Monday to Friday 09:30-16:00; local rate)
Sane Line:0845 767 8000
Mind also has a useful guide of support and services, which can be found by clicking the link right here