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I wonder if you have ever played the game Jenga?

I am sure you probably have, or at least know of the game.

You build a tower comprising of alternating layers of blocks (normally 3 across) and then take turns removing a block each and replacing it at the top of the tower.

In time the top blocks become the bottom blocks and so it goes on until the tower falls or is knocked down as a result of instability.

Actually it can be great fun, although not a good game for the less steady handed amongst us, and I am sure has provided a lot of good clean entertainment for many a family.

But what if instead of blocks they were experiences and what it instead of a tower it was a life – your life that we were dealing with?

In the game of Jenga the more blocks which are removed and replaced the more unstable (unless you are extremely cautious) the tower becomes and thus the longer the game goes on.

Blocks are placed slightly askew or in the wrong place and this in turn adds to the instability of the tower and increases the chance of it coming crashing down.

Of course within the game you don’t have the freedom, on spotting a block or blocks which is making the tower unstable, of going back and replacing or repairing it in order to stabilize your tower.

(It would after all kind of defeat the purpose of the game)  But is that, does that, have to be true of our lives and those experiences that we spoke of earlier?

Oscar Wilde, the Irish writer and poet, once said…

One’s past is what one is. It is the only way by which people should be judged.

It’s an interesting position isn’t it?  Not one that I entirely agree with it has to be said, although I do have some sympathy with the idea that we are, at least in part, made up from our pasts.

But then the same Oscar Wilde also said…

Every saint has a past and every sinner has a future.

This is something which I more fully agree with, although it could be argued that the two quotes are almost somewhat contradictory.

Isn’t it true that sometimes our pasts can sometimes alter our perceptions or indeed do sometimes come back to haunt us in life?  Sometimes for the better and sometimes for the worst?

For me personally I fully believe that the past is a ghost which has a voice in our present only as much as we allow it that voice.

And like all ghosts we need to be very careful just what voice we do actually afford it.

But we also need to remember, I think, that like all ghosts it is not always seen even if it is there, and even when it is having an effect on our present.

How many of us have had experiences in the past which still haunt our dreams? Experiences that are the fuel of panic attacks and the playground of our nightmares?

But what about the less obvious, the less dramatic and yet just as harmful effects? How many of us have taken on board the labels or attitudes or self-images that where repeatedly thrown at us throughout our childhoods?

I know I certainly have, and I am fairly certain I am not the only one.

The truth is that unlike our game of Jenga, where we do not have the freedom to revisit those blocks which are causing our towers to go slightly askew or become unstable, in life we can revisit those experiences which are or have sent our lives or our perceptions askew and which are making us unstable.

Isn’t this the very essence of a lot of therapy?

The English writer Leslie Poles Hartley (1895-1972) once wrote these words…

The past is a foreign country; they do things differently there.

Well whilst I might agree with him in respect of human history and of society, I have to say that in terms of our individual pasts sometimes it is an invader who forces us to do things differently here.

The question we are left with therefore are, in respect of our own life, for the sake of both our present and our future, are we aware of that invasion and what are we going to do about it?