Master Oogway on Kung Fu panda says it best “Yesterday is history. Tomorrow is a mystery. Today is a gift. That is why it is called the ‘present’.” We know this to be true. This is an example of knowing does not equate to doing. If we know this to be true, then what do we gain from dwelling in the past, or projecting into the future? When we dwell in the past we experience depression. We can project into the future we experience anxiety. When we stay in the moment, we are at peace. In this moment, is where peace dwells.
Only when our thoughts dwell in the past are we capable of feeling regret. What do we gain from feeling regret? We can not change what was. We can learn from our past. Our past experience, can be of benefit to our present state.
I remember many times in my life, and perhaps you do as well, when others actually expected me to feel regret. It’s as if they believed, that if I showed the proper amount of regret, then that indicated that I had learned from my mistake. If we get over it quickly, then others somehow feel deprived that we did not suffer enough. There are actually people who want to cause us to suffer, to punish us, to see us in pain, as an indication that ‘justice’ has been served.
This is illogical because another’s suffering does not change or amend any harms they inflicted. It can not repair the past. We may even want or wish for someone to suffer if we believe they have ‘wronged’ us. For many years, many of my thoughts were focused on hoping that others would get what they ‘deserved’ as determined by me! I had fantasies of “Kill Bill” scenarios running through my mind.
So my thoughts were focused on ‘their’ suffering. The human mind can not hold two conflicting beliefs at the same time. So this means, as we wish someone else to suffer for their mistakes, what we are also telling our brain is that we should suffer for our own mistakes.
That answers the question of what we gain from dwelling in the past; a way to punish ourselves for mistakes that we have made. I have often said that forgiveness is a gift we give to ourselves. Forgiveness does not absolve someone else for what they have done.
Forgiveness will set us free from suffering anymore over what they have done. When we think of forgiveness we often think of forgiving others. We must learn to forgive ourselves. If we have truly forgiven ourselves, then we would be incapable of experiencing regret. Again, the human mind can not hold two conflicting beliefs at the same time. So this means that forgiveness has no order. If we forgive others then our brain sends a signal that we are free to also forgive ourselves.
The inverse is true; someone with deep regret must also hold deep resentments. They must also experience depression to the proportional level of their regret. The more regret; the greater will be their depression. They have not learned how to forgive. They are hard on themselves. They are consumed with their past perceived failures. As a result of their beliefs, they wish to administer punishment on anyone they perceive has ‘wronged’ them. This is their model of the world. This is my model of the world when I dwell in the past. This is the human condition. So it is. So it has always been. Since the beginning of the beginning of time.
If it’s always been this way, then there is no need to beat ourselves up for our humanity. What is more interesting is the idea that we can be mindful of our thinking minds predisposition toward negative thoughts. Once we can be a witness rather than a reactive slave to our thinking mind; then we can experience great joy for greater sustained periods of time.
So how does all this work. The masters understand how simple the process is. They also understand how much discipline it takes to achieved longer sustained periods of joy. The steps are simple:
1. Be willing. If you do not believe this is true then you will not be willing to do the work required to change your state.
2. Be mindful. You must learn to tune in and be aware of your thoughts. If you numbly or unconsciously or worse actively work to repress, suppress or medicate your feelings then you will interrupt the learning process.
3. You must take action. When your mind leaves this moment, bring it back. This takes active participation on your part. I personally used mantras and nature to start the training process.
4. Reflect on joyful moments or what there is to be thankful for in your life. If you are going to drift into the past, then why not dwell on moments that bring you joy. This will start to train your brain to search for happiness instead of those old worn out thoughts we relive over and over of past hurts, pains and regrets.
Our training may be something like this; a stream of thoughts, random, negative or judgmental. An awareness that we are not present.
“Oh I’m not present. Let me bring my mind back to the present moment. I feel the warm sun cascade across my face. The sound of a hawk overhead. The grass under my feet.”
While at work a stream of random thoughts or manic reactivity from one thing to the next. Pause. Slow down. Breath. This conscious tuning in will make us sharper and more clear headed.
“I am thankful for this moment to share my gifts with the world. I am present for this person; let me relax and clear my thoughts of all I need to do.”
While at home a stream of thoughts about the kids, the dog, the laundry, the work setting, what she said, what he needs to do, what I want, what happened…. Pause. Breath. Inhale. Exhale.
“I am in my house. I have a house. I am thankful for all that I have. Let me focus on my task at hand. Let me notice my breathing. Let me notice what is in front of me. Let me change my thoughts about this task. This laundry means I have clean clothes, I am thankful for clean clothes (those damn kids they need to….) I am thankful for my children. They are a blessing. I can state what I want from the children. I can leave the laundry. I can choose to do only my things. I have choices. I can be present in this moment and choose to do something different. I no longer have to stay stuck in this pattern. I have the power to create a brand new life just by changing my thoughts.
REPEAT and let the joy begin 🙂