“The good news is, you don’t have to worry, you can’t change the past.
The bad news is, you don’t have to worry… you can’t change the past.”
~ Charles Yu
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Time heals all wounds, some say. But, like many other popular phrases, the truth of this one withers under thoughtful analysis.
Time doesn’t do anything but pass, or, in some special instances, seem to stand still. Einstein described his Theory of Relativity in layman’s terms this way: “When a pretty girl sits on your lap for an hour, it seems like a minute. When you sit on a hot stove for a minute it seems like an hour.” In other words, depending on what’s happening (and your reaction to it) time can slow or speed up.
As far as healing properties, there’s actually more evidence that time doesn’t heal. From a website on grief recovery: “Time is not a healer. The passage of time may take the edge off of acute pain, but it does not heal pain. On the other hand, time can be used well for healing purposes. When time is used well, in terms of healing wounds, then it is because we do something specific with and within it. We take time and shape it in order to do inner work. It is inner work coupled with courage and honesty that heals all wounds.”1
All of us carry traumatic memories around with us. It’s impossible to avoid damage in this world. Ironically, some of our greatest humans have survived the worst traumas. They have been imprisoned, tortured, ridiculed, bankrupted, jailed… yet they persevered. We write about them and make movies about their heroism. We champion their ability to heal their wounds enough to overcome the damage and blossom.
So, it’s not the passage of time that heals wounds but the inner work we do on them. Sadly, modern civilization is increasingly frantic, leaving us less and less time for introspection and, hence, less healing is happening at deep levels for many people, who seem to need more dramatic distractions every day, simply to stay functional. If those avoiding what’s really going on inside them turned away from their screens and into their hearts, they might discover just how wounded they are.
Those who have the time and money for therapy can benefit from professional support to discover, understand, and seek to heal trauma. Leslie Becker-Phelps Ph.D., writing in Psychology Today, says: “After feeling your emotions and treating them with compassion, it is time to refocus on other things – preferably situations, activities, or interactions that feel good. If, like many other people, you need to return to the painful feelings again (even repeatedly), be patient with yourself. Working through your feelings takes time.”2
This presents a balanced approach somewhere between denial and obsession. Feel the pain and move on, seems to be the formula. Those of us who have undertaken such inner work can report both the benefits and the challenges. It takes courage to face our wounds because this often requires reliving an experience that can feel almost as traumatic as it did when it originally happened. But we can witness the memory, remaining identified with our mature self and, as we become comfortable with the process, even learn how to transmit healing energy into the memory, effectively changing-not the memory itself, but the impact it has on us.
In some ways, this does change the past. At least a memory can cease to have such an influence in our lives today. As valuable, is the experience of empowerment that comes from addressing our memories this way because a central feature of most trauma is the residual feeling of powerlessness. Now, many years later, we can take our power back, as we observe, feel, and offer what was missing back then. In this way, we can become our own best healer.
The long-standing tradition of spiritual masters floating above the travails of human suffering is fading. Today’s masters are more human. They have their failings. They suffer. They fail and learn and grow… just like everyone else. Sterile wisdom is being replaced by fertile compassion and, for all of us who have benefited from such soulful guidance, the best reward we can return to our teachers is to do likewise. Every one of us are surrounded by people who need reassurance and comfort and the silent entrainment that emanates from those of us doing our inner work, healing our wounds, and can say – teaching without words the way true masters do – “Don’t give up.”