How to let go of your past
A cold summer breeze enters the room through the open window. Right outside there is some commotion. A chatter of birds. It’s the American Robins pillaging my cherry tree. As I glance to my left, I can see what the whole ruckus is about. The birds are fighting over who gets to eat the juiciest cherries. They chase each other, poke each other to get to that ripest bunch. Everyday new cherries ripen, and every morning there is a struggle to be the first to eat them. They are now joined by the Blue Jays, and the squirrels who have the same agenda for their visit.
What will happen to the cherries if the birds and the squirrels do not eat them? The cherries will eventually fall and cover the entrance to my house in deep red slush, which is quite tough to clean. As I realize this, I welcome the birds doing what they are. Nature is taking care of itself.
Everything is, as it should be.The commotion is now a welcome noise, and all the resistance to it has fallen away. There is only the present moment.
Is it always like this? Or is the past a constant intruder in our present? The past, which is full of happy or painful memories and everything in between. The past, which is the whole spectrum of our personal and collective experiences. Some happy, some painful, and some irrelevant.
For some of us, our past is often problematic. Whether it is abuse by certain people or whether it’s our failures and fears, whether its separation, a loved one’s passing, a painful breakup, or losing our job. When we cannot let go of the negativity of our past, we suffer. It’s the negative which is the problem, not the positive. Right? We have no problems with our positive memories.
There seems to be something strange at work here. We want all the good memories from the past, while doing away with the painful ones. We want to remember our successes, and forget our failures. We want to experience pleasures and forget our fears. We want to remember our rights and forget our wrongs. We want a life full of happiness and do away with our suffering. That is partially the reason you are reading this, aren’t you?
The entire psychology of positive thinking also rests on this principle. Think about the good and ignore the bad. Keep thinking positive thoughts and keep suppressing the negative ones.Even if you have to twist yourself up and be under constant pressure, to the point of breaking, always stick to the positive. The law of attraction and all other methods focus on this principle.
Is it possible to be selective in what we remember from our past, or despite our best attempts, the negative memories and experiences always find their way in? Negative thoughts always arise in our mind, no matter how hard we try, don’t they?
When we take up a new job, we are worried that we might not be able to keep our bosses happy. When we begin to work towards our goals, there is always a fear of failing. If we are battling an addiction, or trying to develop a good habit, the fear of relapsing is always lurking in the background. Negativity always accompanies the positive. They seem inseparable.
Why is it so? Why can’t we inspire ourselves by looking at our past accomplishments, while not allowing ourselves to be discouraged by our past failures? In essence, why can’t we be selective in our memory?
To answer that, we have to look at how thoughts function.
How we think.
Our thoughts are essentially a rapid manipulation of our memories. Thinking is 99.9% remembering and 0.01% understanding ( No way to measure really, this is just a reference). You can observe your own thoughts and come to the same conclusion. Whatever you think, you have always seen or experienced before in some form. Thinking may seem new, but when you are thinking, you are recollecting past memories in some form. They are not direct experiences, but bits and pieces of your experience. Where else are the images in your mind coming from?
For example, let me ask you, “How do animals survive in the wild?”. It’s a pretty open ended question, but when you attempt to answer it you will see images from the National Geographic channel or the Animal planet flash before your eyes. You may remember something, you have read in a book. Any thought you may have about this question, will be deeply embedded in your past memories.Try it
In other words..
There is no such thing as a new thought.
Even when you are thinking like a scientist, and processing a lot of complicated information in the mind, that ‘processing’ is also a form of remembering different factual data and finding a correlation between them. You first have to remember a mathematical formula to use. If you are a genius, then you may have internalized the formulae, and use them unconsciously. Even so, they are still a part of your memory. The rest is understanding. So scientific thinking is still mostly recollection.
In other words, no matter how new you think your thoughts are, they are always old thoughts in some modified form. And the modification is nothing new either, that is based on your particular set of life experiences.
Side note on creativity
What about creative thinking? That surely consists of new thoughts, right?
A work of art, whether it is a tune, a painting, or a movie, is made up of the same fragments of factual memory, but they contain an aspect of beauty in them. For example, the colors in a brilliant painting are not necessarily new, but they have been rendered in a pattern which elicit beauty.
An artist uses the same colors to draw a beautiful painting, which a regular person finds quite uninteresting. But the beauty of the painting does not come from artist’s thinking. It comes from that tiny space in which her mind is quiet and simply observing. In that fleeting moment of quietness there is an insight into beauty, which translates flawlessly into colors
It’s not much, and therefore creative people often credit an otherworldly source to their work. They feel like a channel, through which creative work comes into the world. Truly creative people rarely boast about their creations, because they know how fickle inspiration is.
Creativity is not thinking, but what happens after thinking (recollection) has come to an end.
Now that we have beaten this horse to death, we come back to the original question;
Why can’t we be selective in our recollection? Why can’t we remember the good and forget the bad completely?
The blind retriever.
The reason is, that the Thinker is a blind retriever.
You are the Thinker, the Ego, the Actor, the Doer, the Center of all experience. That Thinker is a blind retriever.
What does this mean?
It means that the mechanism by which we recollect bits and pieces of information from our memory, does not understand how to distinguish between the good and the bad memories. Just like a glass, does not know if the water in it is pure or impure, its job is to hold water. The role of our thinking mechanism is nothing but to retrieve information from memory. It’s just like a hard drive reading pictures stored on it. It does not know what the pictures contain, it retrieves them irrespective of their content. Or a blind dog who fetches a ball without knowing its color.
When we are thinking, our brain has no idea whether our thoughts are good or bad. When our body reacts to that thought, we know if it was a positive thought, or a negative one.
When our body reacts to a thought, in the form of changes in blood pressure, sweating, or nervousness, do we realize that we just had a negative thought. If our body feels relieved, relaxed,or energized we realize that we just had a positive thought. We know exactly which is which, only after our body feels it. If our body does not feel any change, then we know we had a neutral thought.
What does this have to do with letting go of your past?
As we saw earlier, Thinking itself is never completely new, it is always some version of our past experiences. It is a mechanism of blind recollection from memory. For all practical purposes, we can say that;
Thinking is an activity rooted in the past. So if you want to let go of your past, you have to let go of all compulsive thinking.
As long as you are thinking, negative and positive thoughts will arise in the same proportion as are your negative and positive life experiences. Only when there is a break in thinking, there is a break in this cycle of positive and negative, good or bad, up and down. And that break in thinking, is your ticket out.
A break in thinking creates a temporary space in which the mind can relax. It is unburdened of the past, and therefore it can actually rest. Even if you are completely awake, you can be deeply at rest if your mind is in the present, totally.
If thinking has come to a stop naturally, then the brain begins the process of regeneration and renewal.
It is no longer fighting and struggling it is just here and now.
But how do you get into that place, where the past is no longer an intruder in the present? How does a person find that space between two thoughts and hold on to it? Thinking, is too quick, and the window does not last long, so how does one hold on to the quiet moment?
The answer is, you don’t.
You accept who you are, as you are, where you are. Whatever has happened, has happened and there is no way to change it. It already happened. You cannot change it. The more you fight it, the more it becomes stronger. It obviously will become stronger, because you are giving it more and more strength by resisting it, by thinking about it, by manipulating it. You are fueling the fire by adding more oil to it.
Accept your past.
The hardest thing in the world is acceptance, but paradoxically, it is also the easiest because;
What you accept, cannot hurt you anymore.
Acceptance frees up the mental resources which are engaged in fighting a losing battle. It increases your chances of changing your life, simply because you are now free to do whatever you want with your mental energy, instead of trying to change the past. Anything in your life, which refuses to go away is something you have been trying to change. If deep down you accept it, immediately you will become free from it. In other words…
Release all the tension you have been carrying in your body and mind. That tension is a sign that you are refusing to accept the past, and therefore are fighting what has already happened. If you release all the tension in your body, using meditation, or exercise, or whichever method you choose, you will become free of your past. This post about What is Self-Awareness is a perfect way to begin that process.
Accepting your past is the only sure way of going beyond it. Fighting, struggling, and pushing harder and harder everyday only nourishes the past. Memories linger when you refuse to accept them deep down. You are angry because you were wronged, and the whole anger is about the situation turning out one way, and not the other. Your mind is trying to change the memory, and therefore it is stuck.
A memory can never be changed. An experience can never be changed. It can only be accepted.
There is no method, no technique to this. You just have to do it. Accept your past, and your thoughts about your past will come to an end. You will find that space in which you recover and heal from your past wounds.
To let go of your past, all you have to do, is accept it, as it is.
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