The past is an integral part of our lives.
Everything that we experience right now, at this moment, will become the past. And when the moment fades away, its outcome stays with us. If the memory was pleasant, we yearn to repeat it. If it was bad, we fear reliving it.
Although the past doesn’t exist in this moment, it certainly stays within our emotional and mental system. According to Buddhist philosophy, the discomfort and pain that we repeatedly experience results from our minds. We have an idea of how things should be and are hesitant to accept that nothing stays the same.
That said, when we struggle to let go of an event or experience, the difficulty lies in letting go of the idea in our minds rather than the moment itself. That’s why the Buddha regarded meditation as an imperative practice to decrease our worries. Since meditation is an exercise for the mind, we can use it to abolish false notions and find stillness.
Before starting any practice, we should keep in mind that consistency is a must. When we practice something like analytic meditation, which involves deep investigation of our past, some memories or notions might be threatening to our emotional comfort, making staying with the practice a challenge.
During my Buddhist courses in India and Nepal, we did various types of analytic meditation. It was difficult for me to keep up during the first few sessions as I would burst into tears while reliving unpleasant emotions. However, with each practice, I became better at accepting and observing.
Don’t feel discouraged as you meditate on the past. In order to release something, we must come into contact with it first. If you want to release a balloon into the air, would you keep it hidden in your room? No, you would take it out into the light so you could let it go.
Another important thing is to reflect on is the notion of letting go. So long as we believe that letting go is a physical action, we’ll never fully understand how to accomplish it. Releasing begins in the mind. Be it a person, an object, an event, a place, or an opinion, know that you are holding on to the image you have of it in your mind. Understanding this truth helps us to release and move on without attachments.
A Meditation to Release the Past
To begin this meditation, make sure you are sitting comfortably. It doesn’t matter if you are sitting on a chair, in lotus position on the floor, or lying on your back on a mattress.
Before starting the meditation, reflect on which part of your past you would like to release. It could be a person you wish to forget, an event, a trauma, or simply a memory.
Take a few deep breaths to ground yourself and calm your mind. Personally, I like to practice what Lama Yeshe recommends before starting the meditation: close the left nostril with your left thumb and inhale from your right nostril. Then close the right nostril with your right thumb and exhale from your left one. Repeat three to five times.
Start to mentally relive the memory that you wish to release. Go through it in as much detail as you can. The most important part of any meditation is what the Buddha taught: acceptance of emotions as they arise.
Naturally, our emotions might run rampant or thoughts based on judgments might surface. Don’t block them or judge yourself. Let them be. Use the breath as your anchor to not drift away into the ocean of the memory again. Whenever you find yourself judging, reacting, or escaping your emotions, return to the breath and focus on it as it enters your nostrils and leaves them.
To release the memory, imagine yourself in it, observing, but without taking part in it. Keep on doing this meditation until you are finally capable of watching the memory without judgment or expectations—we can never release something that we wish could have gone differently.
Observe the people in your memory and wish them well. In Buddhism, it’s called “sending metta”—to wish people joy, health, love, harmony, and peace. Regardless of the harm that people from your past might have caused you, send them metta anyway. With time, you’ll be able to forgive them and understand that what happened back then has led you to where you are today—your bigger purpose.
At the end of this meditation, say in your heart, “I’m ready to release the past because it’s not serving me anymore. It’s only holding me back and stopping me from enjoying my present moment to the fullest. I forgive you. I forgive myself. I understand that I can’t change some things, but I can perceive them differently so I can cease my mental and emotional anguish.”
Author: Elyane Youssef
Image: Chaz McGregor/Unsplash
Editor: Nicole Cameron
Copy Editor: Catherine Monkman