The Past, Mindfulness and Future

A purposeful attention, awareness and acceptance of the present

Recently I started reading about mindfulness and trying to practice it consciously.  As I focus on breathing (when I could remember) and concentrate on my thoughts and feelings, I find this a little easier to do when I am at home alone.  Even with the knowledge of some techniques, practicing it has been a challenge.  It isn’t something I notice I am forgetting to do because of the very nature of forgetting about it. 😉

This challenge becomes more difficult when interacting with someone else.  In a conversation both participants have to be mindful enough to listen and not let their own views, judgements, fears, etc. get in the way.  I struggle with this immensely.  Yet, it was my one goal this past visit – (see post: Packing Light).

It may seem futile to even venture into an evening with a person who is narcissistic to think, “hey, let’s be mindful for the next four hours”.  However futile or naive this seems, part of re-wiring how I respond in any difficult situation (verbal attacks to subtle put-downs to manipulation) is to understand what is happening at that moment before I decide to chalk it up to another ‘N’ thing or delay my thoughts and feelings.

“Do me a favor. Do yourselves a favor. Stop talking, and look (at the painting). You’re not required to write a paper. You’re not even required to like it. You are required to consider it.” – Katherine Watson (from the movie Mona Lisa Smile)

Part of mindful communication was to listen and consider what the other person said without clouding it with my judgements and feelings – to really hear them.  It was one of the hardest things I have ever done, especially with FOO issues.  We also included sharing only our present in this definition (recent past and known future).

It isn’t that talking about the past or future is not essential.  There are genuinely circumstances when the past and the future play an important part in authentic conversations.  Because mindfulness is not an isolated concept.  The past and future intersect.  It is that unhealthy overlap in which we have to intentionally and uncomfortably fight – daily – to help us be mindful.

As I opened up my ears to people who have hurt me, frequently and consistently hurt me and probably will do so in the future, I began to hear the stickiness I had never heard.  It is a stickiness I am very familiar with, it is the kind of stickiness I’ve been getting unstuck from – the pain of my past and the anxiety of my future – my old patterns.  Being caught in either never really allows me to be mindful.

And as I tried so hard to hear my mother and DH’s FOO/friends, their stickiness and my own was hard to bear.  Because it wasn’t only that they were stuck, it was that they were trying to keep us stuck in the old way that “connected” us.  Dragging us back.  Every attempt in the conversation was to directly revisit the pain of the past or to cure the anxiety of the future.

The Pain of the Past with Anxiety of the Future

As much as DH and I purposefully focused our present, our FOOs managed to time travel – some 20 years ago, 12 years ago, 6 years ago, a year ago.

Bringing up our past decisions, choices and behaviors were relevant to them, they felt the pain of the past today.  That pain, I am no stranger to.  Our progress at getting unstuck from our own pain were met with countermoves, subtle insults and emotional blackmail – beckoning us to ‘change back’.

When we successfully managed to keep the present on track and deflect attempts to ‘change back’, they went further back into the past only to jump full speed ahead into the future:

Lou: When do you think you will come back to the US?

DH: I don’t know.

Lou: Do you think they’ll keep you in Europe?

DH: I have no idea.

Lou: Is Asia a possibility?

DH: It could be.

Anxiety about the future is nastier the more uncertain it is, especially when someone else is controlling it.  Anxiety grabbed me by surprise.  Usually my FiL joins us when visiting with his friends.  Here is what happened:

FiL: You guys go on ahead.

Me: You are welcome to join us, it is no problem.

FiL:  You guys go and visit and I’ll stay here.

Me: Are you sure?  It is no problem for you to join.

I disrespected his boundaries narcissistically.  I sat in shame for a while on that one.  And when DH pointed it out, I realized what happened.  I hoped that FiL would join, not because I wanted the pleasure of his company, but because I sought relief to deal with Lou.  Having another person, using another person, would help alleviate the stress of dealing with them – the stress of changing.

When It All Intersects

Pain and anxiety were actually two sides of the same coin – preventing my change.  My pain justifying my behaviors and my anxiety unsuccessfully alleviating me from future pain – continuing a vicious cycle.

As I think on this past year, I began to realize how difficult it is to be mindful when talking with someone else.  How emotions, near or far, past or future, unfelt or felt can come into play in basic conversation.  How in the smallest of sentences, words, emotions go unresolved.

“The past and the future only exist in our mind.  You can only ever experience what is happening in the present.”tweeted by Everyday Mindfulness (@mindfuleveryday; 14 February 2014)

I began to realize how the past and the future played huge roles in my relationships today, sometimes, the only role. There was no room for the present.  Our present was just as non-existent as our relationship.


Further reading on Mindfulness

The Mindfulness Project: Six Ways to Make Your Day More Mindful

Everyday Mindfulness: Mindful Communication

Everyday Mindfulness: Modern Focus (lack thereof)

For Star Wars fans from Luke, I’m Your Dad


12 thoughts on “The Past, Mindfulness and Future

  1. Thanks for sharing what you’ve learned. I’ve worked hard to learn to be mindful, but I stumble all the time. I hadn’t thought about using them to deflect their friends. Kind of a rock and hard place situation. It is in those spots where I want to learn to behave in a way that I can walk away feeling honorable. The only way is to practice, which guarantees some failures along the way.


    • You’re welcome. Me2! It is a struggle even when I’m at home by myself and it is quiet.
      “It is in those spots where I want to learn to behave in a way that I can walk away feeling honorable.” Exactly!

      So true, failures are a part of it. I didn’t realize what I had done with FiL until DH told me. It is funny, although I wasn’t aware of my own anxiety and trying to cope with it, the failure helped me to recognize how I really felt about Lou and my next steps. xxTR


  2. I’ve been working on mindfulness too. I find it easiest when I’m outside, or in my garden, or in the woods, or with my kids. But it is definitely helpful. I hadn’t thought about applying it in narcissistic situations specifically. But as I think about it, I can see how I’ve used it at times to be able to accurately assess the situation, instead of viewing it through other ‘lenses”.

    I hadn’t thought about “using” people in order to not have to deal with someone alone. I confess, I’ve done that. I always preferred that SIL and BIL were around when we got together with MIL. SIL is narcissistic, but she generally doesn’t bother me and I don’t mind her company, and I could “hide” with her and keep MIL at a distance. Interestingly, several years ago, MIL picked up on this. She told SIL that she didn’t like hanging out with us (me and SIL) together, as I “acted differently” (which is true, but not in the way she said. She said that I was “distant” and that she had a better time when she was alone with me. This is not my experience, as I generally was very anxious and uptight when forced to deal with MIL alone. I actually felt more myself when everyone was around.) SIL gave in immediately and told MIL that she’d stay away when MIL wanted to hang out with me and DH, which made me sad. Maybe for my own selfish reasons. I’ll have to think about this. Thanks for sharing.


    • Hi Jessie,
      That what was helped the most “to be able to accurately assess the situation, instead of viewing it through other ‘lenses”. I had a hard time understanding what was happening in real time and then later I would get angry and have to back track when it came to narcissistic situations.

      “The More the Merrier” approach. I use it a lot especially during the holiday season. 😉 In the case of my FiL, I was using him (as opposed to serving 2 purposes) because I can’t tolerate him in restaurant situations – his gunning for my food and drink and the waiter stuff, etc.

      I wonder if your MiL has an easier time with control if she handles you separately? The fact you feel yourself with others around makes you less susceptible to her tactics?


  3. What a fascinating point about how IF one can be mindful of staying in the present, with those who have patterns of hurting us, and just ‘hearing’ what they are saying, you can “hear the stickiness.” This is an amazing way to think about certain phrases. That they have a ‘sticky” tackiness, like gum between fingers. “When do you think you will come back to the US?” I can feel the stickiness of that between my fingers. With my father,it’s anything he says about how I am looking “You look like a professor in those glasses” (stickiness); or “so, any chance we’ll see you this summer?” (STICKY). I’m not good at “mindfulness” in the meditative sense, I need to get better at practicing it. I can see how it would be possible, around people who trigger us, with enough practice to see which sentences have Gorilla Glue coating on them. This post has given me a lot to think about, since there are many “sticky” phrases and sentences that I allow myself to get stuck to in my head. Wonderful post. xo CS


    • I love your comment! I am laughing so hard, right now – at the references – glue between your fingers! This made my day! OMG – I can’t stop laughing – Gorilla Glue coating on them. Okay, I need to calm down so I can properly respond.


      • Oh man, I loved how you put it because that is effectively what happens in a conversation with them. That stickiness is what connects us to them – they say/ask things that are not conducive to healthy conversation and we respond in an old way (a sticky kind of way, which they like b/c we were trained that way) until we learn how to not do this anymore. Even when we change our patterns they are still stuck in the old way. They only know of one way of ‘connecting’ with us.

        And what you say about glue and velcro (so funny) is so true. Because an intimate, real relationship is not based on tools of carpentry and our relationships were very much like that – their nappy ends fit with our flat ends.

        Oh on the mindfulness stuff, I don’t mediate per se. I usually remember to breathe (deep breaths) and rest when my mind goes all over the place. And with people to try and pause before responding, not react immediately. Not easy. xxTR


  4. You know, TR, I just thought that we go through our lives with the flat (receiving) pieces of Velcro all over us and the people who have hurt us have the nappy (attaching) pieces all over them. I’m going to start picking at the adhesive behind the Velcro on myself.


  5. Terrific post. And it is part of why I cannot have any relationship with my mother. No matter how hard I try, she wants to put me in a box that suits her and I want to be my own person. Heck, my EF tries to keep me in that same box to make my NM happy. The biggest problem is when I try to let go of the past when dealing with them and be only in the present, it’s me who gets screwed because they are always the same. It’s that bad history repeating itself. I had to change the script by getting out of the play.



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