Past and future Have No Reality of their Own – Unknown
Letting go of the past is essential if we wish to experience peace and contentment in the moment. What happened or what may happen exist only as ideas in our head. As our attention can only be in one place at a time, when we are lost in thinking of the past, we miss the moment, current reality and miss out the simple contentment that is available to us right now. We spend our present days playing mental movies of the past and future in our heads. And in doing so, we miss the gift of happiness that the present moment contains.
The Present Is a Gift
Even when we are caught up in a continuous loop of thinking about some difficult past events or worrying about the future, we can still experience moments of peace and contentment.
When we are absorbed in a favorite pastime, a stimulating conversation or a creative project, for example, we temporarily forget about the past and future and we are content. When we are fully absorbed in the present moment, not distracted by mind movies, all problems vanish and contentment simply happens – by itself. We don’t need to look for it. It is simply a by-product of being in present.
Letting Go of the Past Moment by Moment
Letting go of the past, whether it be an unhappy episode that happened years ago or an upset that arose two minutes ago, can be achieved in simple way by keeping past and future thoughts out of mind.
Following story provides a good analogy.
There were two Buddhist monks walking in silence along a mountain trail in Japan. It was raining heavily and conditions underfoot were muddy and treacherous.
As they rounded a bend on the trail, they came across an elderly woman attempting to cross the path. She was clearly struggling with the conditions. Upon seeing her, one of the monks approached her, gently picked her up and carried her safely to the other side.
The pair then continued on their way in silence. Several hours later, the second monk said to his friend: “Do you feel that picking up and carrying that woman across the path was appropriate behaviour for a monk?”
To which his friend answered: “I put her down several hours ago. Have you been carrying her in your mind all this time?”
In the case of the monk in the story, he wouldn’t have been overly unhappy about the actions of his friend. We all regularly leave the present moment to think about this or that. For some people, thinking excessively about past hurts them. Grievances or believing that happiness belongs in the past, can be very painful and seriously impact our ability to experience joy now.
Like the first monk We can simply choose to drop it, to stop giving it attention, to be happy in that moment than continuing to run the mental movie. This approach can work for relatively minor grievances.
We need to learn from the first monk, attain inner peace by focusing on present. Present should act as a perfect balance between past and future.
When the tendency to relive the past over and over is more persistent, more deeply ingrained, however, we need to take a moment by moment approach. Living in present is the simple key for it. Every time you catch yourself going off into the past or future, realize that you have a choice in that moment – to continue or to choose the present moment is more important than following the mind’s story.
A good tool you can use straight away, to bring your attention back to the now is to focus on the breath. This is a key part of mindful meditation, which is a great practice for developing the skill of being present. Each time you notice the old pattern is running, simply shift your attention to the breath going in and out.
As your awareness can only be on one thing at a time, the unwanted pattern will fade into the background. When the pattern is strong, it will of course, resurface again and again. That’s fine! Don’t judge it, don’t resist it – just come back again to the breath with an attitude of kindness and compassion.
If you patiently keep up this practice, over time, you will discover that the pattern gradually loses its grip on you. Your awareness is far more powerful than any thought.