You Are Not Defined By Your Past. They Are Lessons Learned, Not Life Sentences

Are You Aware Of Your Conscious Motives?

“By seeking and blundering we learn.” ― Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

Do you ruminate about the past with regret?

Do you think about wanting to change the past?

Welcome to life where many people have similar regrets whether they be tied to intimate relationships, family, or career.

It’s easy to look back on the past with new information knowing you could have lived it differently, but it’s simply impossible.

Author Mary O’Malley explains in What’s in the Way Is the Way: A Practical Guide for Waking Up to Life how we can wake up to the troubles of the past by noticing what is taking place within us: “In the past when you were triggered by experiences in your life, you fell into victim mode. The more often you can make a you-turn and become interested in what arises inside you, the less reactive you are and the more quickly your reaction passes, opening you again to the spaciousness of your heart.”

You are always governed by your level of awareness at any point throughout your life. That is, how open-minded and aware of your conscious motives you are.

Those with regrets may act unconsciously. Similarly, there are those who are unaware that their unconscious beliefs create their reality. It’s only when events don’t turn out as planned, they wish they could have made better decisions.

I’ve always enjoyed writing and speaking about the past with openness. In fact, some years ago I wrote a book titled: Reconstructing The Past To Create A Remarkable Future in which I explore how to heal the past to create a better future.

You might ask whether I have any regrets.

It would be remiss of me if I didn’t. In fact, my regrets relate to career, intimate relationships and health choices.

Do I wish things were different?


Do I live with regret over those decisions?

Absolutely not.

The reason being, I’ve made peace with the past because every choice constituted the level of awareness I held at the time.

Many of my choices paved the way for immense personal growth and new opportunities in the years to follow.

Were it not for those choices, I wouldn’t be here writing this article. Whilst they caused pain and suffering, they opened me to a greater understanding of myself and my purpose.

Your Life Experiences Shape Your Character

“Failure is instructive. The person who really thinks learns quite as much from his failures as from his successes.” ― John Dewey

Through your darkest hour there will emerge a beacon of light to guide you in the direction you’re meant to be.

There are no mistakes in a purposeful universe even though it looks that way. We simply haven’t allowed for a complete picture to emerge and base our judgement on limited information.

One of my regrets is not having pursued personal growth earlier in my life while it was conducive. I would have gained a jumpstart on my writing and speaking career had I invested in myself earlier.

Instead, I spent time and money on frivolous things that didn’t matter. These included: drinking and socialising and working out to look good.

You might say this is typical behaviour for young adults and I accept that.

However, I wish I used that time more thoughtfully and invested in myself. I would have sought a mentor to guide me, read more books and attended personal development courses.

Whilst these are mild regrets, they are avenues for self-enquiry because I appreciate my work more than ever. I also realise I was not mature enough to have pursued this line of work earlier in life.

You can hold on to the past or use the experiences as lessons for personal growth. The former means you are stuck recalling negative memories, without learning from them.

The latter means gaining the lessons that shape your character and reflected in the person you are now and will become.

The Zen Buddhist teacher Joan Halifax writes in Standing at the Edge: Finding Freedom Where Fear and Courage Meet of being patient with ourselves in order to change the narrative of our past trauma: “But if we are patient and careful with ourselves and others, the narratives can shift from dreadful to heroic, and what was traumatizing in the past can become medicine for the present and the future.”

Regret and guilt are toxic emotions that steal away the present moment. They convince you life could have been different and so you hold on tightly to this false image of the past.

Although, it is a mirage held together by distorted thinking. It is when you examine the thoughts and make peace with them that you realise regret doesn’t hold a place in your life.

You are ruled by the past if you use it as an anchor to drag around. Those who carry their emotional wounds highlight their pain and suffering by eliciting sympathy from others.

They don’t realise the disempowering nature of that state because it keeps them stuck and unable to change their life.

An Awakened Heart And Mind

“The person who is to succeed will never let his mind dwell on past mistakes. He will forgive the past in his life and in the lives of other people. If he makes a mistake, he will at once forgive it.” — Ernest Holmes

You are not defined by your past any more than the words you spoke yesterday.

Granted, you may have said something you regret, however you can make amends and rewrite the karma of the past if you choose so.

Nothing is carved in stone.

Even those incarcerated may ultimately atone for their wrongdoings and seek forgiveness. Depending on the degree of the act and the dedication to their personal growth, they can change and become better people if they are committed.

There is nothing you cannot make peace with to start over.

Every unfortunate experience that took place are lessons, not life sentences, so don’t allow it to dominate your life.

Don’t be a prisoner to the past, but look upon it with kindness and compassion to rewrite a new karmic destiny.

It is the author and psychotherapist David Richo who writes in: The Five Things We Cannot Change: And the Happiness We Find by Embracing Them: “The practice of loving-kindness can be applied to people who have hurt or criticized us in the past and whose voices still impact our self-confidence in negative ways.”

Bathe yourself in forgiveness and make amends for any transgressions, knowing the person you were then is not the person you are now.

Use your lessons as a badge of forgiveness. The depth of our humanity means we will veer off the straight and narrow every now and again.

But it is not in how we transgress but in how we compensate for our misdemeanours that makes a difference.

Your lessons are food for growth that lead towards an awakened heart and mind. Release any memories that no longer serve you by bringing peace to them.

Practice letting go a little each time.

Notice how good you feel as you forgive and release your past memories.

Soon you will appreciate that every experience is perfectly orchestrated to awaken you to your infinite potential.

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2 Responses to You Are Not Defined By Your Past. They Are Lessons Learned, Not Life Sentences

  1. William says:

    I found this article, thought provoking and inspiring. We have all done things we regret, sometimes so long in the distant past that the details of our wrong doing becomes vague and fudged. If we are careless we can, unconsciously, fill the voids in those details with events that didn’t happen and which serves to only make us feel worse.
    Forgiving those who have hurt us in the past is as freeing as it is enlightening,but often it is easier to forgive others than to forgive ourselves.”Don’t be a prisoner to the past, but look upon it with kindness and compassion to rewrite a new karmic destiny.” This one sentence speaks volumes.

    • Well said William. Thank you for your comment. The past does not have to define the future but can be used to create a renewed path.

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