The concepts of mindfulness, living in the now, and being present have all become mainstream today. As human beings, we crave having fun, being happy, and enjoying life. The present moment is the only time we have, and it is the only chance we have to make choices and live our lives fully. For most of us, it is our past that keeps us from living in the now. We have regrets and begin thinking, “If only I had done this or that.” Or we cling to the good old days, as if our lives could never be as wonderful again.
The truth is, the past exists only in our minds. It is not a place we can visit or change to suit our wishes. The past is simply a string of thoughts that pay us a visit from time to time—or, in some cases, every day, subtly interfering with our energy, causing us to feel down or irritated for no apparent reason. Many of these thoughts are reminders of something we want again or something we never wanted.
Sometimes our thoughts weigh us down, hold us back and cloud our judgment with fear, anxiety, sadness, loss, or longing. You may ask, “What about our pleasant memories from the past?” They have a beautiful place in our lives and we want to be the one choosing when we will reminisce and enjoy them with fondness. In every instance, when the mind leaves the moment, we are not really here.
Since the past exists only in the mind, this is where we must begin to let it go. It is completely within our power to be here fully and live with courage and happiness.
Connect with the present moment
There is no better way to start letting go of the past than by being present—this is what a daily practice of meditation helps you do. Meditation is the training of attention: When you sit with yourself, thoughts will come to you, but rather than engaging the thoughts or pushing them away, you gently place your attention on your breath with each inhale and exhale.
Here’s the image: Thoughts come in the mind and you notice them, continuing to be aware of your breath; thoughts keep coming, while you keep focusing on the breath. Your thoughts are white clouds in the blue sky, and your breath is the sky. Place your attention on the blue sky. Can you see the brilliance in this training? Now, you go into your day and the mind starts thinking about a past event, you can pause, take some breaths, and bring your mind back to the moment.
Memories of time past
Becoming aware is everything, so ask yourself, “What memories am I holding on to that are keeping me from fully enjoying my life?” Look at these memories, identify what you learned or discovered through the experiences, and really feel it in your body. How did you change as a result of those experiences? What strengths or qualities did you gain as a consequence? This is not at all easy to do, but what a worthwhile journey it is for releasing the hold the past may have over us. It can be painful to look at certain memories, so be compassionate, gentle, and patient with yourself. Imagine that you are in training for the most important job of your life—living free and fully alive in each moment.
We have no control over the past. We cannot change anything that has happened, but we can heal the past and forgive others and ourselves for things we may have done. In this letting go, we are not forgetting what occurred. Instead, we are leaving it where it belongs and releasing any hold it has over us.
Our happiness lies in living each and every moment as the only moment we have. When we can do this, we begin to see that we hold the key to our freedom. When we live without attachments, we have the power to live our ordinary moments fully present, and discover that those ordinary moments are truly extraordinary.