How to destroy your past lives
“The hydrogen atoms in a human body completely refresh every seven years. As we age we are really a river of cosmically old atoms. The carbons in our bodies were produced in the dust of a star. The bulk of matter in our hands, skin, eyes, and hearts was made near the beginning of time, billions of years ago. We are much older than we look.” (Kevin Kelly, from his new book What Technology Wants)
I like the idea that every seven years we’re a totally new person. A whole new set of hydrogen atoms, a whole new reason to reinvent ourselves. Obviously this whole new person is defined somewhat by the grand design of our DNA structure, and the choices we make, but it still is a whole new body at it’s basic structural level.
For example, the me who ate bacon egg and cheeses every morning and while sitting at a desk and eventually developed a 34 inch waist line 3 years ago is very different from the me now — with a 29 inch waist line, who eats mostly fruit, veggies, coffee and the amazing food at The Summit SF, while taking double or triple yoga classes a day.
Frequently we find ourselves dwelling on the past.
We remember the night we said goodbye to the little blond girl in the rain that one night in Manhattan. We remember the time we danced all night until the sun came out in the basement of a school in Brooklyn. We remember the time that we took that first photo of the first day we got dropped off in New York. We remember the time we rode our bike to Lake Michigan at 4am and watched the sun come up over the horizon.
These were all beautiful moments, but they happened in the past. In many ways they happened a lifetime ago.
There’s a reason that so many spiritual and philosophical practices focus on bringing you into the present moment, your breath, your heartbeat. Because these two things can only happen now, not then, not in the future.
Many of the people who contact me about becoming minimalist are struggling with a past that they cannot forgive or forget. So they hold on. They hold onto the rocks they collected in 7th grade. They hold onto the memories of the loves they never really had. They hold onto the art they created five years ago, but never sold. They hold, hold, hold.
And these collections of memories, physical or emotional build up over time. These people become heavier and heavier, until they find no rest. They do this until all of their energy is dedicated towards keeping the past alive.
The reality is that the past is dead. It happened, it shaped who you are, but it’s gone now.
And it’s never coming back.
No matter how many Facebook messages you send to your high school ex-girlfriend/boyfriend when you’re drunk at night, you’re never going to be 17 again. You’re never going to share the connection you had then.
No matter how many times you look at that picture of the perfect halloween, with the displaced tribe of a dozen remarkable individuals, they’ll never be together again in the same way.
And this is okay. The world changes. We evolve into new and better individuals every single day.
The choice though is this: will you continue to build up your energy in order to focus on the person you were back then?
Or can you let it go, to concentrate on the faces around you now?
Can you look up into the eyes of the person across from you at the table at the coffee shop, or on the yoga mat next to you, or on the other side of that email and say:
“I am here with you now.”
Because, you are.
Here are a few actions that I’ve taken to clear the past, maybe they can help you.
1. Destroy your old unpublished work.
In the last few years I’ve adopted an incredibly healthy habit of burning Moleskin notebooks. When I’ve finished one, I take it somewhere like the edge of a body of water or the top of a mountain and a burn it. I like to think this releases the creative energy invested in the work into the universe, so that it can come back to me or others at a later date.
I’ve been writing a non-fiction story, a dialog between a young woman and man who survive the apocalypse and then go on to save the world, in notebooks for the last few years. Every time I finish a notebook, I burn it, then start writing the story again. Every time I write the story again it’s clearer, more focused, more important. Someday maybe I’ll actually write a version that I want to publish, or maybe it’s just an exercise to bring me closer to the creative side of my brain, who knows?
This also means I can’t grab a notebook and flip back to remind myself about how I felt about some girl I was in love with five years ago when I feel down at 3am on a Tuesday night. I can still feel down, but without the physical connection to the memory it’s that much harder to escape to the past.
I’ve been thinking about taking all of the photos/data on my hard drives collected from the dawn of time and destroying them too. I’ll let you know if/when I do how that feels. I never look at this stuff, why keep it?
2. Don’t collect souvenirs.
It might be obvious from the fact that I live with around 50 things that I don’t collect stuff from places. I don’t have any artifacts to remind me of my trip to Vietnam. I didn’t buy a I Heart NY shirt on the day I left NY. I don’t save sea shells.
If I feel like I need to be connected to an awesome experience, I go out into the world and have one.
3. I lose touch with (most) old friends.
There are certain people who I have a cosmic connection with, who I will continue to visit every time I wander through the city that they live in. We’ll go to each others weddings, we’ll say each others eulogies, we’ll make dinner together every time we cross paths.
My friends who are these people know who they are, and I know who they are. We just know, there’s no other way of explaining why.
But most people aren’t those people. Over the last year I’ve met thousands of people, I’ve received tens of thousands of emails. I’ve said ‘until next time’ to hundreds at the end of the night. Most of these people I’ll never actively seek out again, in essence, we’ll lose touch.
This sounds sad, but it isn’t. The fact is that most people aren’t your people. They’re just bodies passing in space and time. They might have something to teach you in the moment, but after that moment they don’t need your help anymore.
So you let them go.
Why we need to destroy our past lives.
The world is speeding up. 100 years ago, you’d probably have the same small group of friends who supported each other for your entire life. You never left the town you were born in. In order to get in touch you had to send a postcard via the, uhm, snail mail? Whatever that is.
In today’s world, it’s not uncommon to live many different lives over the course of your own. You’ll morph, change, your life will transition. You’ll move dozens or hundreds of times as the ever-growing cloud of connected information cares for your survival.
You have a choice, you can either let the pain and joys of the past build up until they’re too heavy a burden. Or, you can let everything go. Burn your notebooks, let the friends go, leave the souvenirs at the shop.
All that really matters is having a connection with the here and now. This breath, this movement, this heart beat.
What can you do to bring yourself here right now?