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Forgiveness and Letting Go of the Past
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Forgiveness and Letting Go of the Past
I want to talk about a very important subject—forgiveness, forgiveness. Why is it even important? It may seem like a small thing, but it’s deeply important because what you’re forgiving is the past, and what you’re forgetting is the past. And the only way the false self, the sense of “I” can survive is in a past and in a future. The false self is created by thoughts about me in the past, thoughts about me in the now, and thoughts about me in the future. It’s a story about me: my past, my present, and my future. And so, if that me doesn’t have a past, all that’s left is the me in the now or the me in the future. So that’s half the battle!
We carry the past, through thought, into the present moment and spoil the present moment. We automatically do that. We’re programmed to do that. We’d rather live in our virtual reality of what happened to me in the past and what I like and what should’ve happened and what could’ve happened and what would’ve happened if somebody didn’t do this or that. We’d rather live in the story about me and how my life is going and what I like and what I want and what my life will be like in the future than just be in life as it is right now.
It doesn’t even seem like the past is not real to this imaginary self, because when you’re identified with the false self, the past is real, the future is real to it. When you’re identified with this me, you’re into your past, and you’re into your future, and you’re into how’s my life going, and what happened to me in the past that’s ruining my life now and preventing me from doing something in the future.
But it’s all made up! There’s just now. There’s just this moment. And so, we need to drop the baggage from the past, which is just thoughts. There isn’t actually a bag to drop. There’s nothing physical to drop from the past—nothing at all. The past isn’t even here. Your past body, the way you talked, the way you looked—it’s not even here anymore. You’re not the same. Science tells us that all of our cells change in seven years. Who are you, then? All you can ever bring with you from the past are thoughts about the past.
Every moment is a fresh new moment. And you’re never the same. That’s the beauty and the gift of life too: We can always re-create ourselves anew. We can always begin again—and we do. We begin again every moment. Every moment.
And that’s one of challenges of waking up. It isn’t accomplished by learning about it or knowing about it intellectually. In every new moment, you have to make a choice to be here now. Every moment. Again and again and again. And that’s how the programming to not be present is busted. You have to practice this every single moment. There’s a choice to be made: to go back to the fantasy self, the pretend self, the thoughts that cause all the suffering in your life and everyone else’s—or not. Do you go back to those thoughts or not? How great are those thoughts? Why would you want to go back to them? Do they really give you that much pleasure? There’s nothing there for you.
It takes a certain diligence and commitment and choice to stay awake in each moment. But the good news is that being present gets much easier the more you practice it, just like practicing anything, right? Eventually being present becomes automatic.
And there’s really no other way out of suffering but to be here now. There isn’t some other more fun path. There’s no other way. You’re up against a wall: It’s either go back to the false self and your thoughts and your emotions and your stories and your suffering or just be here now. Just be here now. It’s really an obvious choice once you know that being here now is quite a nice place.
Being here now is full of gratitude. There’s just praise: praise for life, praise for existence, praise for it all. That’s what being here now is—praise for what is, for what is here, and not thinking about what isn’t here, not focusing on what isn’t here. When you think about it, that’s such a silly thing, isn’t it—that we’re programmed to focus on what isn’t here—that’s really crazy!
If what was here wasn’t adequate for happiness, then it would make sense to focus on what isn’t here. But when you focus on what isn’t here, you’re always unhappy, because your only hope for happiness is in the future when you finally get what isn’t here—if you ever get it. There’s no hope for happiness in wanting something other than what’s here. There’s only happiness in wanting what is here. And you don’t even have to want what’s here—you don’t have to be crazy about it. You just have to accept what’s here, that this is it. You just have to be willing to be with what is.
One of my favorite mantras, or ways to bring me back to what is in the face of a complaint or something like that, is: “It is what it is.” “It is what it is,” and that’s the truth. It always is what it is, and it’s not what it isn’t! :) When you think about that, “it is what it is,” there’s a relaxation.
These mantras like “Let it be” or “It is what it is” or “This too shall pass” or “All is well and unfolding as it needs to”—these kinds of positive statements that are aligned with Truth allow you to relax. They’re bridges into the present moment. So, when you get caught up in some thought or complaint or judgment or some “I don’t like,” come up with a phrase that works for you: “All is well and unfolding as it needs to,” “This too shall pass.” “It’s all good.”
Words work really well to release you from the ego, because the ego uses words to ensnare you. What you’re dealing with is the voice in your head that is talking at you in a negative way, telling you lies, telling you the opposite of the truth. You can choose to counteract the voice in your head with some phrase that is aligned with Truth. And this you that can do that is, of course, the you that’s waking up to the Truth.
So, this is a mystery, isn’t it? There are two yous here. There’s the you that’s identified with some idea in your head, who believes it. And then there’s a you who is able to step back from that idea and choose something else, make another choice, pull out a mantra or a phrase from your bag of tricks and throw it on the moment and see what happens.
That’s the real you. That’s the real you. It’s right here. It’s not some higher self off in some other dimension. It’s right here living your life. It’s listening to me right now. Who you are is not hidden from you. It’s just that it’s so ordinary and so close to you that you overlook it.
Who are you? We are mysterious creatures, dual creatures. Eventually, the you that identifies with thoughts disappears as this other you wakes up to itself. So, that’s what’s happening. There’s a divine self in all of us that, at a certain point in our spiritual evolution, wakes up to the truth. Your true self, your divine self, has allowed the ego to play its games. Then at a certain point, when it’s right for your soul, that you wakes up and begins to take over the life, begins to rule, begins to gain mastery over the false self, over the ego, over the primitive urges that make up the ego.
The ego is just programming—primitive programming. It isn’t an entity. It isn’t a thing. It is nothing but programming. And it’s so great that we have computer language to talk about this and understand this better—because that’s what it is. It’s programming. The ego is a programmed sense of a self. You’re programmed to believe that you are the person you describe yourself as: “I’m this, I’m that, I like this, I don’t like that, I need this to be happy, I had this happen to me so I can never do this or that.” All of the stories, all of the likes, all of the don’t likes, all of the fears, all of the beliefs—it’s just programming. There’s not a self there. Just like a computer program—like Siri—there’s no one there. There’s no Siri. Siri’s a computer. Your ego’s a computer.
How wise is a computer? Not so wise. It doesn’t know how to live your life. It doesn’t know how to make choices that will make you happy. It’s a computer gone rogue! It’s a Frankenstein monster! It’s pretending to know, and it’s giving you very bad advice. Its advice is based on security, safety, comfort, being better than, being right, power over. Those things are not going to make you happy. Only unity, love, and peace and the essential qualities of your true nature will make you happy.
The ego’s desires and goals only take you away from peace, love, and the other things that will make you truly happy. You can’t fall into peace and love if you’re trying to be superior or you’re insistent on being right. If being right is more important than love, you’ll never have love. But the ego doesn’t care. The ego doesn’t want love. It wants to be right more than it wants love. Two egos in a relationship will never be in love—not really. They can’t share love. They have to drop out of their egos at least some of the time. The ego knows nothing of love, not a thing. It’s the enemy of love.
So, forgiveness... Forgiveness gets us beyond the past. We forgive for ourselves. We do it for ourselves, to free us from the suffering caused by our thoughts about the past. Forgiveness is emotional hygiene—because if you carry the past into the present moment, you’ll be unhappy, it will limit you, it will keep you involved with the ego and all of its misperceptions, desires, and lies.
To be happy, there is one thing you have to surrender—the me. You have to surrender the me in order to be happy, in order to be awaken, and in order to love. And since the me is created by thoughts about the past and thoughts about the present and thoughts about the future, you have to be willing to surrender those thoughts. I’m not even saying you have to surrender your past, because—guess what—you already don’t have it! You only have to surrender your thoughts about the past. They’re just thoughts.
Can you not think a thought? You don’t really have a choice about what thoughts arise in your mind. We don’t have control over that. And so, it’s best to realize that and accept that—that whatever thoughts arise in your mind, it’s not up to you. You didn’t put them there, you didn’t ask for them. They show up unbidden by you. And they mean nothing about you—about the real you.
But once they’re there, then you can choose to believe them or not. But that’s only possible if you’re aware of them. So, awareness is huge. You have to become aware of your thoughts about the past and see how you bring them into the moment—automatically. For most people, the present moment is colored by the ideas that make up the virtual reality they live in. These thoughts color everything, they distort and exaggerate certain things.
As you progress spiritually, that’s what gets cleared away—this accumulation of thoughts that are brought into the present moment. Just notice—when you meet someone, for instance, how instantly your mind pretends to know something about that person. You bring made up ideas and beliefs into the present moment, and then those thoughts affect how you interact with others. This happens so quickly and automatically that we hardly realize this is happening.
You can really see this in romantic relationships. We carry around, in our heads, an image of the person we’re in relationship with. We have our stories, we have our judgments, we have our imaginations and fantasies about this person. And they have their images and ideas about us. And so, we aren’t meeting each other fresh.
Then, over time, those images become more and more negative, as resentments and anger accumulate. And because the mind tends to want to be right and to judge, it piles on negativity, so you no longer see the person as they actually are and you don’t even remember what you loved about him or her, or what you were once grateful for about that person. All you see is your negative image and stories of them. That’s how relationships are killed.
So, when you give up the past, you’re giving up all the old images and stories you have of everybody and attempting to meet them fresh in the here and now without all of that. Of course, the mind might try to create new images and stories, but if you see those, you don’t have to carry them forward. So, there’s all this garbage we carry into the present moment from the past. And yes, we have our fantasies too, and those are also problematic, but it’s the past that causes the most suffering for most people.
The ideas and stories we have about ourselves really hurt and limit us too, because we tend to see ourselves from a lens of past mistakes—things we wish we’d done better or stories others have told about us that we’ve believed: “You’re not smart enough” or “You’re not pretty enough” or “You’re not tall enough,” and that becomes your self-image and sense of self. And you walk around with this sense of self and bring it into every moment.
So, how can you be happy when you believe all these limiting thoughts about yourself? It’s not like people carry around positive baggage: “I’m God’s child, and I’m beautiful and loving and at one with life.” This is not what the ego tells you! :) It tells you the opposite. So, most people are carrying around negative self-images, which affect how they interact with others. How you feel about yourself inside—that isn’t kept to yourself! Others pick up on that, if you don’t out and out tell them, which we usually do too. Women do this all the time—they share their wounds, their weaknesses.
These stories and images aren’t who you really are, and this is really good news, really good news. But we can’t strip away all of these images instantly. They get stripped away through awareness, through a serious commitment to seeing them and then turning away from them—because certain thoughts will not continue to arise if you don’t continue believing them. So, once you become aware of a thought, then you can investigate it—ask if it’s true, see that it’s not true, and then it will come up less and come up less strongly. So, it’s awareness that heals.
Sometimes being aware of a thought is enough for that thought to eventually drop away and stop coming up, but not always. If you’re noticing your thoughts but you’re still believing them, then they’re still preventing you from experiencing who you really are. You’re still involved with your mind, although you’re experiencing it from the stance of a witness—which is an improvement from being identified with it. But to free yourself from your thoughts, you have to do more than just be aware of your thoughts. You have to turn towards what is real and true here and now. And the way you do that is to get into your body, because reality is primarily a sensory experience.
The problem is that the mind thinks sensory experience is boring, uninteresting. The mind prefers its virtual reality—its imaginations—to reality any day. It pays only as much attention to sensory experience as necessary. But reality is sensory experience: Reality is what you’re seeing, what you’re hearing, what you’re sensing in your body, and what you’re sensing on more subtle levels, like intuitions, inspiration, energetic sensations, and drives to move in certain directions—all the ways the deeper self communicates with us.
Those arise in real time and are experienced as part of reality, but they’re on a more subtle sensory level, which you could call the sixth sense. There are the five senses, and then there is a more subtle level. This is reality. What else is there?
This body-mind is a sensory device for reality. So, if you want to experience the deeper reality of your true self, you have to first get into reality, into your body and senses. But don’t stop there. Then, let that sensory experience broaden to include the more subtle sensory experience of your divine self so that you drop into that. And then you’ll begin to experience the world from the vantage point of your divine self.
If you stay in your body and senses long enough, you’ll drop into Presence, because that’s where Presence is. That’s where the Divine lives. It’s experiencing life through your body and senses. So, when you’re not off in some virtual reality, your mental reality, the only other place you can be is in your body and senses. Then you can begin to experience life as the Divine experiences it through you, stripped of all of that garbage of the virtual reality.
So, get into your body and senses. How do we do that? Lots of ways. Whenever you’re very focused on doing something physical, like a sport, for instance, you are in your body and senses. This is one of the reasons runners get high—running gets them into their body, and this contact with reality feels good! When you’re doing something physical and you’re fully focused on the experience of your body, you’re not in your mind anymore. This could include very simple physical activities too, like taking a shower or folding the laundry. Focusing on the experience your body is having will bring you out of your mind.
Whenever you’re really focused on something other than your thoughts, you’ll drop into Presence. You can focus your mind on a mantra or a sound or a candle flame or a picture of a saint, and that will help you still the mind and drop into Presence. But one of the reasons that it’s so often suggested that you pay attention to your breath as a way of meditating and getting centered and dropping into Presence is because the breath is a physical sensation. Paying attention to your breath is paying attention to your body, to a sensory experience. Meditation is essentially paying attention to some sensory experience. So, do whatever gets you out of thinking about “me, myself, and I.”
If you spend enough time in Presence, there will be a certain amount of healing of the past that will naturally happen, because you won’t be reinforcing the ideas about the past. The only reason those thoughts continue—or any thoughts—is because you keep thinking them. When they show up, instead of turning away from them, you repeat those thoughts to others or you think more about them. This is something to watch out for. So many of our conversations are about our stories and our past: “I’m this way, I like this. This happened.”
As you become free of your own chatter, you’re less interested in other people’s thought-streams, and you find that listening to other people’s thought-streams only reinforces your own. So, you get quieter and quieter. You interact socially a little less and talk less. So, that’s pretty natural. Sometimes people are worried about that. You run out of things to say when you’re not telling stories or talking about the past or what “I like or what I don’t like.” If you eliminate those from your conversations, you find there isn’t so much to say.
What we’re really doing when we forgive is we’re just letting everything be as it is and letting everything be as it was—realizing that we can’t change what happened in the past, knowing in our hearts that we’ve learned from all of it, and in that sense, whatever happened in the past was the right experience.
One of my favorite mantras is: “You’re always having the right experience.” What if you really felt that and knew that at your core, so that you saw that even your past experiences were the right experience? You apparently needed to have those experiences for whatever reason—for your learning, for your growth.
Can you accept that? Can you accept that other people couldn’t have been any way other than the way they were? And that they are also continuing to grow from their mistakes and that we’re all imperfect and we’re all making mistakes. Seeing things this way will make it easier for you to forgive and let go of the past.
Life is a school. The only way we grow and evolve is by making mistakes. That’s how we find out what works and what doesn’t work. There’s no manual. There is no manual that tells us how to go about life without making mistakes. The manual is the mistake. The mistake is the manual.