Thoughts on the “historical body” – sensing the “past self”

In a recent conversation I said something interesting.  I was talking to someone who made this statement, “I don’t reflect much on my past . . .” and it made me think of this:

For me, I feel its important to always reflects on ones life.  It should be done often and regularly.  I went on to say that we should view our life as an entirety.  Most people tend to only view the immediate “now” and forget their past.  I tend to feel that our past is a significant part of who we are and one should feel ones entire life as a whole.  I called this the “historical body” and compared it to our physical body.  I said that our past, or history, is just as much a part of who we are as our own physical body as well as the immediate “now”.

Some aspects that are good to reflect on include:

  • What type of person we were like in the past.
  • What we like and dislike about the person we once were.
  • What life was like.
  • Things that we did and events that took place.
  • What we considered important and unimportant at certain times of our lives.
  • What bothered us at certain times of or lives.
  • Conflicts and crisis.
  • Joys and happy events.
  • Events that changed our lives.
  • The particular quality that make up what it was like to be younger.

One thing that becomes apparent is that we are not the same people we were in the past.  In fact, we could very well say that the person we reflect on in the past is a totally other person.  In some cases, looking at ones self in the past is no different than looking into the life of another person . . . we can be that different.  This self of the past we could call the “past self”. 

Most people view their self from the perspective of the “immediate self”.  This is the self in the immediate moment.  It is really reflective of the culmination of ones life and reflective of the current existing conditions.  In this way, it is really a narrow aspect of the self, though it has a basis in ones whole life.  Because of this, it cannot be considered reflective of ones entire self.

Typically, people generally associate the “past self” only in relation with the “immediate self”.  That is to say, what one remembers of the “past self” is only aspects of it that somehow are relate to and are relevant to the “immediate self”.  In this way, they are only seeing the “past self” as a representation of the “immediate self”.  Its not the “past self” they see but a modified version of the “immediate self”.  Because of this, it tends to be a distorted aspect of the “past self”.  Perhaps we could speak of this as the “reflected self”, as it is only the “immediate self” using the “past self” to reflect on itself.

What this shows is that the “past self” cannot be found in the immediate situation or on reflection.  This makes the “past self” very unique.


The “past self” has several qualities:

  1. It is not a part of who we are (that is, its like another person).
  2. It is a part of us (its our former self and so always remains attached to us and who we are).
  3. It is not overtly “felt” by itself (that is, its not necessarily easily accessible to us)
  4. It must be seen from the framework of the “immediate self” (this tends to create something like a disconnect because of the differences between the “past self” and the “immediate self”).

As a result of these things, its hard to experience the “past self” as something tangible and real.  When it is reflected upon (by the “reflected self”) it is usually treated as a dead abstract memory and removed from who one is, as if it were a rock.  In many cases, ones “past self” is viewed as a non-entity, as if it doesn’t exist and isn’t even something considered.  What all this shows is how difficult sensing the “past self” can be.  I get the impression that many people can’t sense it.


It seems that a person must have some prerequisites in order to sense the “past self” as something tangible and real.  These are:

  • Awareness – An awareness of ones self in ones past.
  • Interior sense – A “connection” with ones self that continues through time.

These show that the “past self” isn’t just a memory you reflect on.  You’re not just reflecting or remembering what happened in the past.  Instead, the “past self” is a part of ones self.  As a result, it must be “felt”, or, rather, “experienced”, as a part of ones self.  This is often achieved through what can be described as a “sense”.  That is to say, a person must be able to “sense” their “past self”, not reflect or remember it.  Any remembering is just remembering an event, not the self.

Typically, our past memories consists of images, in one form or another.  The “sense” of the “past self”, though, goes beyond images and is deeper.  It can begin with images but that’s not where the “past self” is.  It is found on a deeper level and must be sought there.  Its as if there is a progression from superficial to deep:

  • Images – memories, events
  • Emotions – feelings, reactions
  • Awareness – knowledge of certain things and qualities
  • The “past self”

In this way, a person must as if progress to the deeper aspects of the self to find the “past self”.  A person can begin with an image, an emotion, or an awareness, but it always has to progress to the deeper levels to find the “past self”.  In other words, the “past self” is not found with images, emotions, or awareness . . . they only point the way.

There are many things that seem to affect the sensing of the “past self” which include:

  • States of mind – generally, the more worldly the state of mind the less the “past self” is sensed
  • The strength of the “immediate self” – the stronger the “immediate self”, the less the “past self” is sensed . . . this shows that the “immediate self” is so powerful that it pushes the “past self” away
  • Age – this often causes a deadening or a weariness of the self overall which makes it harder to sense the “past self”

A person generally has to put themselves in a particular state of mind in order to sense the “past self”.  Interestingly, this often takes on a religious quality as you go deeper.  This is because much of the “religious sense” is similar to the sensing of the “past self”.  Some traits of this include:

  • Must be open to the “past self”.
  • Must “let go” of the “immediate self” and ego.  The stronger the “immediate self” the harder it is to discover the “past self”.
  • Must allow things to happen.  This requires a lessening in the power of the “immediate self” and ego.

Because of the similarity between the “religious sense” and the “past self” its not surprising that the theme of the “past self” is seen a lot in religion.  Some aspects of this include:

So what we see is that the “past self” passes into other aspects of the self.  In this way, we could say that there is this progression (going from superficial to deeper):

  1. Memory with “immediate self” – The memory of actual events in ones past.
  2. Memory without “immediate self” – The memory of a childlike quality . . . not based in actual events.
  3. Memory of “past self” – The memory of another life.

The fact is that this tendency to feel as if there is another “life” is based on the fact that the “past life” is another life . . . it is different from your “immediate self”.  As a result, the “past self” tends to be “felt” as another life.  Because of this, its not all that surprising that people tend to believe in things like reincarnations and other lives.  They are really sensing their “past self” as another self.

This sense of another self, though, isn’t perceived as another self alone, that is removed and separate from you, like an actual person.  There is this quality of it being “separate but with a connection” to you.  This, it seems to me, gives it some unique qualities, such as:

  • A spiritual quality.
  • A sense of some “guardian” or “something watching over you”.
  • A sense of “magical abilities”.
  • A sense of “hidden qualities”.
  • A sense that there is “more”.

This gives a greater and deeper sense to ones self and how one perceives who one is.  Perhaps one could say that the great depth of what a person is, and what they are, is found in the sense of the “past self”?

What we can see is that one of the benefits of sensing the “past self” is that it tends to “link” different aspects of ones self’s.  It makes ones self more whole and unified.  I often speak of the quality of “linking” different aspects of ones self as the ‘cross-self experience’ (see my article “Thoughts on observing the “nature-as-living” images – the ‘cross-self experience’ – the ‘pre-imagination’“).  Some ways that promote this experience include:

  • Some religions.
  • The recollecting of ones past.
  • Having a simple “childlike” way.
  • An attitude of openness.
  • The forgetting of ones “immediate self”.
  • Even something like a psychoanalysis or a deep inquiry into ones self.
  • Contemplation or meditation of some sort.

Oftentimes, though, the sensing of the “past self” tends to jump into the “religious sense” and the “past self” is forgotten altogether.  But when this happens one loses the “past self”.  I think this is a common scenario.  Sensing the “past self” is beneficial because it is a reflection of an aspect of ones self.  The “religious sense” goes beyond ones self and tends to not reflect ones self.  In this way, one as if “loses ones self” in the “religious sense”.  One could also look at it from the perspective that there is this relationship:

  • The “immediate self” – worldly
  • The “past self” – deeper sense of self
  • The “religious sense” – goes beyond self

As a result of this, one tends to quickly pass by the “past self” and go to the “religious sense” as it seems to be grander.  But, in so doing, one loses the self-connection.  One wants to try to keep this self-connection as it places a person in the world as a human being and gives them depth.  In this way, we can see that being “too religious” actually impairs a person.

Copyright by Mike Michelsen

This entry was posted in Existence, Awareness, Beingness, Consciousness, Conceptionism, and such, Life in general, Living Images: Nature-as-living images, living memories, etc., Philosophy, Psychology and psychoanalysis and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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