When Is The Past

I know many people for whom the words in the meme below are true…not so much for me however. Time is a slippery and confusing thing living inside me.

If there is only ‘now’, as we are told, then how is ‘the past’ in the past? When is ‘the past’? Where is ‘the past’?

I very often experience ‘the past’ as ‘now’…and it can be disorienting and overwhelming…how can I be so fully immersed in the feeling-memory and not be back in time when that event actually took place? How can I be so fully immersed in that feeling-memory and those events not be taking place right now?! As I say, it’s disorienting to my nervous system.

I’m not confused that the events I’m experiencing/re-experiencing are events presently occuring in the space around me…I’m not hallucinating those events…I’m aware that there is a ‘now’ and a ‘time before now’…but inside me those events have a full visceral/emotional life ‘as if’ they are happening now…

So, for me ‘the past’ has always been mostly a sad place to visit…even to visit events that were happy at the time they occurred because they are gone…I can feel them very deeply but…where are they? How can I feel so fully that I’m in that ‘past’ event but it’s not actually happening now. As I say, it can be a bit disorienting to me.

I’m curous to know if anyone else experiences something akin to what I’m describing?


I’m afraid I have never experienced anything similar to what you described. I feel how disoriented and overwhelmed you become when the experience is as if it is now. I so wish there was something I could do to help you. :heart:

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Thanks Norene…I’m learning to help myself through those moments when it’s most intense which isn’t all that often and to be honest the feeling doesn’t last that long at that intensity. It’s particularly strong if I look at old photos of my kids or friends from the distant past. But then I get busy doing other things and it passes.
But I have for most of my adult life had this strange pervasive sense of disorientation that I can best describe as “Where am I?” and “When am I?” It’s mostly a vague, but unpleasant, sensation. In my informal questioning of people it seems that it isn’t a common experience. I’m guessing it comes from my childhood and how my nervous system responded to those circumstances of abandonment, alcoholism and general emotional mayhem. In fact the word ‘disorientation’ contains the ‘where’ and ‘when’ of it all. When we orient ourselves to our surroundings those are the time/space co-ordinates that we use to locate ourselves…so disorientation would be the experience of uncertainty around ‘when/where’, ‘time/spce’.
That’s how I’m unpacking my experience anyway… :slight_smile:


I so understand what you mean, Glenn. I don’t want to visit the past either because it is a sad place to visit. I experience this every time I get ready to go to a doctor’s appointment - even if it isn’t my appointment. It happens “automatically” the scary feelings come up. I know this is primitive brain stuff but it has happened almost my entire life. Where is this past? Is it lodged in my primitive brain? Is it sitting out there in the ethers? Since everything is energy I do wonder how one releases them. Yes it is disorientating for sure. I may not be experiencing it the way you do but I also feel them deeply.


Glenn, this is so beautifully expressed, as always. I can relate to this in a lot of ways, and I think it has to do (for me, anyway) with wanting/wishing things could have been different. It’s strongest when I see children engaged with their parents, who are clearly interested in them and what they have to say. Who clearly love them so very, very much. Sometimes - not as often anymore - I can feel in a dissociative state that leaves me unsure as to when/where I am, and it seems to be a combination of jealousy/envy (why couldn’t I have had that?) and confusion (people actually do that with their children?)


Thank you for sharing your experience Margo…I really appreciate that and I can easily understand why you would have those ‘where/when’ dissociative sensations…it seems very ‘emotionally logical’ to me that someone might have that experience given your personal history.

Ever since I was quite young it’s fascinated me how we each construct and maintain our own subjective reality. Even when the construction may be forced on us by external circumstances and events it’s we who maintain that subjective reality structure once it’s formed…and that’s a really important and powerful thing to understand I think. We may not have planted the garden but we are the ones that maintain it…that keep it watered. Understanding how we maintain it through our thoughts and behaviours is probably of key importance and the key to transforming it into something more nurturing and healthy for ourselves…so the garden can actually feed us and nurture us. We can keep the garden but we might want to replace the toxic and poisonous plants with delicious, edible varieties of plants

Okay, I have no idea why I got so deeply into a garden and plant metaphor…that’s weird…I’m sounding like Chauncey Gardner from the movie ‘Being There’. GREAT movie btw starring Peter Sellers for those who haven’t seen it… :slight_smile:


I keep coming back to what a lot of folks call “flashbacks” where a trauma or fear-threat seems like it is happening NOW!

Why wouldn’t that circuit also activate not just for negative events?

I realize that photos on my photo frame in the kitchen will show a random picture, and while I generally do not “lose contact” with here and now, there is a quality of “part of me” going there, to that captured moment, if it was one I was in. Not if it is a picture Jem took where I wasn’t there. Interesting…


Yes…that’s it…absolutely. Especially, in my case, when ‘the past’ in general, as a concept, is a sort sad and traumatic thing regardless of the nature of the past event. A happy event is embedded within an overall sad context.

The exploration of subjective time is really interesting and is foundational, I think, to how a person constructs their inner reality. Time/space coordinates have a life inside of us that often don’t match ‘objective reality’.

And, again, back to my statement that if ‘now’ is truely the only experience we have then where and when is the past? How can we let go of ‘the past’ when it is really ‘the now’? LOL…a predicament? Ya think?!! LOL. So, my sense is we can’t ‘let go’ of the past but we can reframe it’s meaning to include much less triggering of unwanted emotions.

In NLP there has been a lot of exploration done with how we subjectively experience time…it’s potent stuff that can really alter a person’s experience of the past, present and future. For most people ‘the past’ is located behind them as evidenced by statements such as “It’s all behind me now”. the present is typically located in or close to the body and the future “lies ahead of us”…we “look forward” to it. And people will gesture while speaking to indicate ‘where’ they are experiencing what they are talking about. There are many individual variations of that and some people have very distinct ways of ‘tracking’ time and where it is placed in their personal space. Interesting stuff indeed!!