Working with past and future selves, naturally lends itself to considering the impact of your experiences and choices on how we express ourselves today. Something that emerged in the recent reiki group was this tendency to see a negativity bias when we work with past and future ideas of self. Quite often when we think about influential experiences, we first return to ones we wish has been different. We may think of a traumatic event and wonder who we would’ve been if that hadn’t happened, or we think about a decision that in hindsight we wish we had not made. This can actually be a really healing place to work, because we can confront some of those beliefs about what we lost in ourselves and be curious how to reclaim it (even though we can’t change what happened).
But we can also see that as a manifestation of energy: energy endures.
Just as there is no way we can undo the events of the past, our experiences do not actually eliminate parts of our being, only our access to them. The energy kept alive through detachment carries so much power, it draws us in and shines a light on our pain and fears. The tendency to see ourselves as changing in only one ever moving direction fuels this idea that the future is unknown (and sometimes scary) and the past is a time capsule where experiences no longer change.
In the mechanics of human memory, we know this isn’t true. Every time we access a memory we put our unique spin on it based on our awareness now. Our unconscious, perhaps, holds a more objective perspective but I don’t think that’s constant either. Indeed in Trancework sometimes we discover long forgotten memories, that differ from what we consciously recall about a situation. After reclaiming a joyous memory of my childhood, playing on a rock formation behind my home at the time, I had the opportunity to drive back through the town as my wife and I were heading back from a trip.
I had not been to this place since I was 12 years old. It was the scene of many night dreams and revisited memories since I left. On the one hand I had a pretty clear recollection of the layout of the town, though my sense of the landscape had become shaped by its appearance in my dreams. I was surprised by how disorienting this was, it was almost like an out of body experience confronting the similarities and differences. My old house had some major renovations since the 90s but the basic structure was the same and below a newly added deck I could see that rock formation from my memory. It’s strange as I’m writing this that the newer experience of actually being there seems much more abstract and dreamlike than the memory from 30 years ago that I revisited in trance.
Seeing it in-person was like visiting an unoccupied historical site, the life drained out of it from reexperiencing a memory mostly untouched since childhood. It was a memory of feeling so free and creative, playing with water pooled in the large craters in the rock, running in the damp wetlands behind the house, the smell of skunk cabbage, the sensation of stirring mud with a stick…it feels incredibly important and vibrant because it is shaped by the meaning I now attribute to it. In “real time” it’s a very cool looking rock that is now covered by a deck.
Rediscovering this memory allowed me to rediscover a part of myself that I had forgotten. Consciously when I think back to that time in my life it’s not a happy recollection, one I’m happy to leave in the past. But as I feel into it I can remember that there was a tremendous sense of joyful rebellion I left that behind as well.
When working with the unconscious, the past and future, it is often true that the poison and the cure are living side by side. We bury that which is painful, without awareness of what else is with it. And similarly we look to the future with anxiety and pressure, “will I make the right choices, what if I do the wrong thing, how can I get to this place that seems so impossible and far away?” and forget that it is also a vast and expansive place of possibility. That there are future versions of ourselves, from other timelines with different experiences that have extremely valuable resources that still live within us.
Our conscious mind shapes so much of what we think is possible, and even though there are limits to our free will (such as all the other people, and systems, and politics, and, and), how we experience ourselves within our own spirit— or consciousness if you prefer— is actually limitless. It is endless, ever changing, always changing.
I recently had an encounter, while practicing alone for my mediumship class, with the spirit of my maternal grandmother. Most of my memories of her from when I was a child were that she didn’t really know how to engage with a young person, and more so that my mom had a very challenged relationship with her. One of my most vibrant memories was actually my grandmother telling me stories of her mother (Bessie, one of the first Guides I connected with), when they lived in Mexico. She described in such loving detail how my great-grandmother’s long, black hair went down to her waist and and how she loved to feel its smooth texture. I actually have an image of it in my mind from back then (I was maybe 6 or 7) that is still completely alive, imagining my grandmother’s little hand stroking the long braid of hair down her mother’s back. My adult mind, as I reflect on it, is moved by the detail and emotional resonance she had in telling it, the love and longing she still felt for her mother who had died over 20 years prior.
Because of the many upsetting stories I had heard about my mother’s childhood, I was primed to be fearful of my grandmother. And to be fair, I have some less pleasant memories too, but honestly even now nothing stands out as particularly terrible. Still, I expected “bad things” to happen. I was not open to the idea of knowing her very well, and she died when I was 11. By extension of all this history, I had been fearful of encountering my grandmother’s spirit through much of my adult life. I imagined her to be frightening and harmful, unwell, definitely not someone I should connect with.
I had started to wonder a few years ago if that was true in the context of my relationship to her. Some of you may recall me sharing a story of how after a particularly powerful Breathwork group focusing on ancestral healing, my mom called me describing a dream where she forgave her mother and she thought it quite bizarre (which is to say she didn’t consciously forgive her at all). I had this moment of thinking “whoa, this ancestral healing stuff really does extend beyond me!” 😳
And so when I finally did feel the presence of her spirit in this meditation I was a little nervous, but was open to the idea that there was a good reason why she was here and that it was coming from love. She took me on a mind journey (when a spirit shows you through an important scene or story from their life), and I was able to observe how different her life was before becoming pregnant with my mom. She was in her mid-forties, she had a full and vibrant life that did not include having children. She was a traveler and an intellectual, afforded a life of independence that was not common for a woman living in her time. And when she unexpectedly got pregnant (during menopause, I happen to know) she was suddenly dropped into a life of being a housewife and mother. Something she never wanted to be. This lined up with the stories I consciously remember being told.
This was a profound shift into another timeline that did not bring out the best in her. I felt both her pain at having her life so abruptly turned upside down, and her deep regret for the pain she caused others. I understood and felt that she had lacked the resources she needed to cope. She had already struggled with depression her whole life, with very few meaningful treatments available to her. I felt her deep longing for forgiveness, and her awareness of how much I resemble her in many positive ways: her love of writing and travel, her appreciation for ceramics and fabrics (you should see my collection of blankets!), and a deep spirit of independence. I even look a lot like her when she was my age. I began to see my own memories of her in a new light, the ways that she really did love being a grandmother, even though she did not know how to express that to a child. I felt the intention behind her strange ways she tried to connect with me.
In this new awareness I skipped through timelines as well, to another version of my experience where I wasn’t tending my mother’s ghosts. The repeated suggestions from my mom, “it’s unbelievable how much you are like your grandmother,” never really felt like compliments, and I suddenly accessed a version where they were. I could begin to imagine a path in this new version where I could lay down those relics and let them rest. This was not my personal burden to carry.
Timeline hopping can be a brief exercise that’s more goal oriented, like resolving an inner conflict, but it can also be expansive and lead by something deeper than what you can remember. When you open the door to seeing yourself in this way, to seeing that you are not fixed in one position— not now, and not in the past or future— you can open up to completely new ways of being.
The more we can release our conscious expectations, or just be willing for them to be wrong, more and more doors of possibility open. We simply need to cultivate the curiosity and openness to another narrative emerging alongside. If this sounds like a spiritual bypass, I can assure you that it’s not because it’s actually very hard work. Those conscious and trauma-based narratives are persistent, powerful, painful, and clever. They really have a way of crashing the party at the worst moments! And I also think over time it becomes easier to practice this way because you learn how to stop fighting your stories and let them be. That’s a version, just like others I’m exploring.
This has been one of the keys to freeing myself of living in what I often refer to as a “trauma vortex,” allowing the stories to exist in the background where it doesn’t interfere with where I want to go. The family mythology can broken down piece by piece, and new stories emerge. I feel excited to think about a future self 5, 10, 20 years from now who could look back at this moment. She says “buckle up, because you’re just getting started!”
Those future selves with a sense of humor are appreciated.
Want to try out some timeline hopping on your own? It’s pretty easy in concept, it just takes practice and patience.
You could start with drawing out a lifeline, a dynamic timeline of the most influential or important experiences in your life both positive and negative.
Notice the clusters of events that occur at important ages, notice the entrances and exits of “important” people. Pick a time period to turn your awareness towards.
Maybe you want to connect to that by revisiting some neutral memories from that time, or listening to some music you liked, or even revisiting a physical place you used to go.
Allow yourself to be aware of how events from that era of your life sculpted the current timeline you are in. Common themes might be moves, changes in interest, relationships that began or ended, as well as perhaps working with more difficult memories.
Allow yourself to be curious about how things may have progressed had that important event not happened. Take it forward to the present age.
Who would you be, what would be different and what would maybe be similar still?
Are there elements there you wish to rediscover in you? (they are still in there, the seeds of possibility)
Are there challenging aspects that can be important reminders of certain instincts or proclivities that live within you? (with awareness, we are more able to make choices)
Maybe you can even imagine dialoguing with the future self, inviting them into your life to collaborate as you work through a challenge you’re experiencing now.
Maybe you could draw a picture or imagine a collection of selves, sitting around a table sharing stories about you from the past and future.
Maybe you want to tell the story of your current timeline and see what they have to say…