I recently went through the 21 Day Challenge with Jesse Elder, and it inspired a new meditation practice for me. A practice I now refer to as “the lookback method”.
A common theme throughout his challenge was “looking back” – taking time to reflect on what you have been through in the past and how that has brought you to where you are today. Taking time to reflect on your journey and see how far you have come.
It’s a principle that he never directly states, but consistently hints at across the exercises that he challenges you to complete.
For example the first challenge is to take a walk for 5-10 minutes outside….but walk backwards the entire time.
Huh?! Walk backwards? What the hell is the point of that?!?!
Because rather than looking forward to where we want to go, we can look back and see where we have come from instead.
Small shift in perspectives can give us big changes in how we view our lives. Paying attention to where you have come from is a small way in exercising appreciation for how our past efforts have led us to where we currently are.
Then in the next challenge he asks you to do another interesting exercise…
Find a picture of your 7–10 year old self and imagine having a conversation with yourself at that age – what would you say to the younger you? What information would you bestow upon them? Knowing what you know now about what they will go through and face in life, what advice would you give them?
Once again, talking to your younger self forces you to think about the journey you have been through from that age until now. All of the learnings along the way. All of the experiences. All of the positive memories and difficult challenges you have overcome.
Personally this was one of the most powerful parts of the challenge. I sat there and talked to myself for at least 30-45 minutes. I went back through the memory vaults and looked at my life like a timeline.
It made me appreciate my own unique story. My own unique experiences. It made me realize that despite all of my stressing and anxiety about “will things work out ok?!”…they always have.
It made me appreciate ME. MY story. MY life. MY personality.
Then in the next challenge we were told to think about our relationship with money — but this time he didn’t tell us to do a lookback….this is where I went rogue.
Inspired by the previous two exercises, I created a lookback meditation on my entire history with money.
I thought about the money that I was born into – the money I received without ever having to do anything. I thought about the lessons my parents instilled in me about money from a young age. I thought about what they taught me about work ethic and how it correlates to money.
I thought about all of the jobs I’ve ever had. Working in my dad’s warehouse. Selling his merchandise to my friends. Working at Homegoods. Delivering food. Door to door sales. Cleaning swimming pools. Selling pot (lol!). Tutoring. Writing essays for people. Teaching English.
All of the jobs that would probably never be on my “resume” but nonetheless were my first experiences with earning my own money and having the ability to choose how I spend it.
I thought about how I spent money in the past. What type of lifestyle I’ve lived. The things I spend money on vs. the things I avoid spending on. I thought about my discomfort when spending too much. I thought about the feelings of not having enough.
And most importantly….as all of this arose I made it a priority to FEEL what came up. What types of emotions did these experiences rise within me? What type of feelings came up?
It taught me a lot about my emotional relationship with money. The feelings that arise when I think about the money I have or the money that I need to spend. My resistance or openness to money depending on the situations that arose.
It was very powerful to FEEL my relationship with money. To understand the tension I hold around it. To feel the gratitude for the money I DO have and what it has provided me with.
Sometimes a simple awareness of our feelings can create drastic shifts in perspective for how we want to feel about that topic in the future.
…And it did. Ever since then I’ve changed the way I spend. Changed the way I save. Changed the way I think about and deal with the money that I currently have.
This was the first time I made it into a meditation of sorts. Where I closed my eyes, thought back through my life, and felt everything that came up, good and had.
I felt like I was onto something. If doing a “lookback meditation” about money was able to produce a drastic shift in my mindset in a short period of time, what else could I apply this to?
Ever since that fateful day, once a week (usually on Sundays), I practice the lookback method.
I will pick a topic in my life that I want to think about and feel, and I’ll take myself through the cinema of my mind and watch the movies of my past experiences, all the while paying close attention to the feelings that arise.
To name a few, so far I’ve done this for my relationship with relationships and sex, family, friends, travels, exercise and fitness.
Here’s how I practice it, so that you can try to do the same at home.
- Pick a topic that you want to think about and contemplate
- Sit down with your eyes closed in a comfortable position for as much time as you need. I don’t use a timer but I will make sure to block out at least 1 hour to ensure no interruptions.
- Think back to the first memory that you have on that topic. Visualize it. Take yourself through it as if you’re watching a movie. Try to recount as much detail as you possibly can.
- As you think about the topic, try to feel what emotions and feelings come up. Try to notice the physiological response associated with that memory. It could be chills. It could be heat. It could be tightness. It could be warm and fuzzy. Don’t judge it, just feel it.
- Continue this process as if you’re taking yourself through a timeline of your life – go year by year or experience by experience until you arrive at the present day.
Note: As you encounter uncomfortable or unpleasant memories, perhaps even memories that are painful to recount (and you will), try to think about what you learned from this bad experience.
How did it help you become a better person? What changes in your life did you make afterwards? How did this seemingly bad experience improve your life for the better in the long run?
This is the most important part, because we can change how we feel about our past.
We can change the emotional responses that arise when we think about something by sitting with that topic, feeling the discomfort, appreciating how it helped us to become a better person, and then feeling the gratitude for having been through it all and come out on the other side.
By doing this we can transmute our pain into gratitude. We can use our emotionally charged negative experiences as energetic fuel to live a better life in the future.
This method has also helped me to see all of the things I take for granted in life. All of the incredibly amazing experiences that I’ve had. All of the memories that bring a smile to my face.
Now when I try to think about moments of gratitude or happiness in my life, I have an arsenal of memories to look back on that make me feel good. In times of crisis these positive memories become the anchors to realizing life isn’t so bad and I will get through whatever I am going through.
In summation, take time to reflect on where you have come from and how that has helped you become who you are today.
Remember that you’ve always gotten through it and come out on the other side. It might not have been pleasant at the time, but you got through it nonetheless.
If you don’t know how you feel about your past it will continue to influence your present. If your past feelings are ones of pain and fear, you are still carrying that pain and fear around with you. The only way to let go of your past is to sit with it, feel it, and give yourself distance to it. Eventually over time change it into something positive.
Keep in mind as well that you might need to do multiple sessions of this depending on the experience and how overwhelming the feelings are. The first time you try to do this it might not have an immediate effect. But keep going. Keep working. Keep exploring.
Good luck on your journey. Now go dive into the depths of your experiences and feel it all one memory at a time 🙂
Also published on Medium.