Distracted by the Past
If we are bothered by things that happened in the past, we must realize that they are irrevocable. There is nothing we can do to change anything from the past, so leave past experiences in the past! Past events don’t really have the power to affect our present mental or spiritual state, unless we let them do so by allowing our unobserved, compulsive thoughts to run wild, constantly ‘reliving’ past pain, outrage, or regret. Unobserved, our minds, with their propensity for incessant thinking about the past, act like television sets that are stuck on perpetual channel surfing mode with a constant stream of visions and sounds. Unfortunately, we tend to forget that these images and sounds are mind-generated, and expend too much effort reacting emotionally to them and reliving pain. The more time and energy we spend focusing on and reacting to the stream of unreal, mind-generated thoughts about the unchangeable past, the less time we spend being aware in the present moment where our life unfolds.
Eckhart Tolle says that, “Die Stille ist die Freiheit von Gedanken” or “Silence is the freedom from thinking.” He tells us that by objectively observing these unreal and compulsive thoughts, we can begin to separate ourselves from them, creating much needed space. The more we can observe and be aware of negative and compulsive thoughts, the more we can distance ourselves from them and experience the stillness behind them where our true essence is. As soon as we are inwardly silent and present, we are able to “hear blessings dropping their blossoms around” us, as the 13th century Sufi mystic Rumi writes. As long as we remain preoccupied with the past, we will be too mentally distracted to notice the constant and sometimes subtle flow of joys and blessings in the present.
The medieval mystic and spiritual teacher Meister Eckhart emphasized the power of gratitude: “If the only prayer you ever say in your entire life is thank you, it will be enough.” Rumi also writes, “Wear gratitude like a cloak and it will feed every corner of your life.” Being grateful for past joy-filled experiences can help us realize the innumerable blessings we have already experienced in our lives. But longing for the happy experiences of the past is just as distracting and harmful as brooding over perceived or real injustices and painful experiences because both positive and negative past experiences can equally distract us from the present moment! If we are doggedly preoccupied with the past, whether the ‘happy’ or the ‘unhappy’ past, we won’t able to be conscious and aware in the present, and many of its blessings and beauty will go unnoticed and unappreciated. Our distractions with the past also make us less grateful in the present! The only thing that should ultimately flow from the past is gratitude and objectivity: gratitude not only for past blessings, but also gratitude for and an objective acknowledgement of the mistakes we have made and the pain and suffering we have experienced. Past negative experiences can teach us to make wiser choices in the present and also allow us to transform ourselves into more sensitive and compassionate people. We can choose to transform our past mistakes and suffering into fuel for making positive changes in the present moment! Viktor Frankel challenges us to “bear witness to the uniquely human potential at its best, which is to transform a personal tragedy into a triumph, to turn one’s predicament into a human achievement.”
Distracted by the Future
The unobserved mind also loves to obsess over a future which has not yet happened, either worrying about calamities that may befall us or longing for better circumstances to replace the present moment that we view as unsatisfactory. We can become mentally and physically debilitated in the present moment by letting our unobserved and compulsive thinking convince us of a terrifying future—a future that has no present reality. Our unobserved minds obsessing about the future, also act like television sets that are stuck on perpetual channel surfing mode, but now with a constant stream of future visions and sounds. Our constant mental channel surfing of the irrevocable past and/or an imaginary future has the same effect—we are missing out on the present moment where our life unfolds, our spiritual awakening occurs, and joys and beauties abound! Yes, the present moment may present us with challenging circumstances, but then we simply do what we must do with presence, focus, and calmness, undistracted by our unobserved mental babbling. The Hindu religion coins the term ‘maya’ as the delusion of this world that keeps us tied to that which is unreal. Our addiction to unobserved thoughts of the past and future and our emotional reactions to them are maya’s most devious delusions, because they distract us from the present moment.
I tell you the truth, any object you have in your mind, however good, will be a barrier between you and the inmost Truth.
There exists only the present instant... a Now which always and without end is itself new. There is no yesterday, nor any tomorrow, but only Now, as it was a thousand years ago and as it will be a thousand years hence.
Stop identifying with the world created by your mind, and a new world will open up before you.
Do not dwell in the past, do not dream of the future, concentrate the mind on the present moment.
The mind that is attached to a thousand different things, pulls you in all directions.
To the mind that is still, the whole universe surrenders.
Keep a close watch on the mind! It is a clever liar that stops you from being aware of your true nature, the Self.
The past is like a cancelled cheque; it's futile to brood over it.
Put your thoughts to sleep, do not let them cast a shadow over the moon of your heart. Let go of thinking.