From one of my favorite blogs…https://zenhabits.net/
4 Step Guide to Letting Go of the Past
BY LEO BABAUTA
We’re constantly struggling with the past, in so many ways:
- Mistakes we’ve made that we regret or that make us feel bad about ourselves
- Anger about something someone did to us
- Frustration about how things have progressed up until now
- A wish that things turned out differently
- Stories about what happened that make us sad, depressed, angry, hurt
- An argument that we had that keeps spinning around in our heads
- Something someone just did (a minute ago) that we’re still stuck on
What if we could just let go of things have happened, and be present with the unfolding moment instead?
What if we could let the past remain in the past, and unburden ourselves?
What is we could see that our holding onto the past is actually hurting us right now … and look at letting go as a loving act of not hurting ourselves anymore?
It can be done, though it isn’t always easy. Here’s the practice I recommend, in four steps.
Step 1: See the Story That’s Hurting You
In the present moment, you have some kind of pain or difficulty: anger, frustration, disappointment, regret, sadness, hurt.
Notice this difficulty, and see that it’s all caused by whatever story you have in your head about what happened (either recently or in the more distant past). You might insist that the difficulty or pain is caused by what happened (not by the story in your head), but what happened isn’t happening right now. It’s gone. The pain is still happening right now, and it’s caused by whatever story you have about the situation.
Note that “story” doesn’t mean “false story.” It also doesn’t mean “true story.” The word “story” in this context doesn’t imply good or bad, false or true, or any other kind of judgment. It’s simply a process that’s happening inside your head:
- You’re remembering what happened.
- You have a perspective about what happened, a judgment, a way of seeing it that has you as the injured party.
- This causes an emotion in you.
So just notice what story you have, without judgment of the story or of yourself. It’s natural to have a story, but just see that it’s there. And see that it’s causing you difficulty, frustration or pain.
Step 2: Stay with the Physical Feeling
Next, you want to turn from the story in your head … to the feeling that’s in your body. This is the physical feeling: it could be tightness in your chest, a hollowness, a shooting pain, an energy that radiates in all directions from your solar plexus, an ache in your heart, or many more variations.
The practice is to turn and face this physical feeling, dropping your attention out of the story your head and into your body.
Stay and face this feeling with courage — we usually try to avoid the feeling.
Stay and explore it with curiosity: what does it feel like? Where is it located? Does it change?
If this becomes unbearable, do it in small doses, in a way that feels manageable for you. It can get intense if the feelings have been intense.
But for most feelings, we see that it is not the end of the world, that we can bear it. In fact, it’s just a bit of unpleasantness, not all-consuming or anything to panic about.
Stay with it and be gentle, friendly, welcoming. Embrace the feeling like you would a good friend. You’re becoming comfortable with discomfort, and it is the path of bravery.
Step 3: Breathe Out, Letting Go
Breathe in your difficulty, and breathe out compassion.
It’s a Tibetan Buddhist practice called Tonglen: breathe in whatever difficult feeling you’re feeling, and breathe out the feeling of relief from that difficulty.
You breathe in not only your own pain, but the pain of others.
- If you’re feeling frustration, breathe in all the frustration of the world … then breathe out peace.
- If you’re feeling sadness, breathe in all the sadness of the world … then breathe out happiness.
- If you’re feeling regret, breathe in all the regret of the world … then breathe out joy and gratitude.
Do this for a minute or so, imagining all the frustration of those around you coming in with each breath, and then a feeling of peace radiating out to all of those who are frustrated as you breathe out.
You can practice this every day, and it is amazing. Instead of running from your difficult feeling, you’re embracing it, letting yourself absorb it. And you’re doing it for others as well, which gets us out of a self-centered mode and into an other-focused mode.
As you do this, you’re starting to let go of your pain or difficulty.
Step 4: Turn with Gratitude Toward the Present
As you feel that you’ve let go, instead of getting caught up in your story again, turn and see what’s right here, right now.
What do you see?
Can you appreciate all or some of it? Can you be grateful for something in front of you right now?
Why is this step important? Because when we’re stuck on something that happened in the past, we’re not paying attention to right now. We’re not appreciating the moment in front of us. We can’t — our minds are filled up with the past.
So when we start to let go of the past, we have emptied our cups and allowed them to be filled up with the present.
We should then turn to the present and find gratitude for what’s here, instead of worrying about what isn’t.
As we do that, we’ve transformed our struggle into a moment of joy.
My Upcoming Course: Dealing with Struggles
I wanted to let you guys know about an upcoming video course that I’m launching next week — it’s called Dealing with Struggles, and I’m very excited about it!
This course is aimed at anyone who has struggles:
- Anxiety about life or social situations
- Frustrations with themselves or other people
- Difficulty with procrastination
- Trouble forming new habits or quitting old habits
- A feeling of unhappiness with ourselves
- Struggles with finances, clutter, productivity, health issues
- Stress about work, life, relationships
As it turns out, we all have struggles.
This video course will aim to get to the root of our struggles, and learn how to apply mindfulness practices to work with them.
It’s a four-week course, with two video lessons and two mindfulness practices a week … and it will start in April. More next week!
Just a small reminder to some people about attachment to material things. I found this useful and thought I would share. A reminder that as quickly as somethings come, they can be taken away.
I’ve been finding more and more that the Buddha had it right: pretty much all of our struggles, from frustrations to anxiety, from anger to sadness, from grief to worry, all stem from the same thing …
The struggles come from being too tightly attached to something.
When we’re worried, we are tightly attached to how we want things to be, rather than relaxing into accepting whatever might happen when we put forth our best effort. When we’re frustrated with someone, it’s because we’re attached to how we want them to be, rather than accepting them as the wonderful flawed human they are. When we procrastinate, we are attached to things being easy and comfortable (like distractions) rather than accepting that to do something important, we have to push into discomfort. And so on.
OK, if you’re ready to accept that being too attached, clinging too tightly, is the cause of our struggles … then the answer is simple, right? Just loosen the attachments. Just let go.
Easier said than done. Any of us who have tried to let go of attachments knows that it’s not so easy in practice. When our minds are clinging tightly, we don’t want to let go. We really, really want things our way.
So what’s the answer, then? In this short guide, we’ll look at a few practices to help with this.
Letting Go Practices
We can help dissolve these attachments with a few different practices:
Meditation. Meditation is simply sitting still and trying to pay attention to the present moment — whether that’s your breath, your body, or what’s around you right now. What you’ll find is that your mind runs away from the present moment, attaching to worries about the future, planning, remembering things in the past. In meditation, you practice letting go of these mini attachments, by noticing what your mind is doing and letting go, returning to the present moment. This happens again and again, and so you get good at it. It’s like muscle memory after doing it hundreds, thousands of times. You learn that whatever you were attached to is simply a story, a narrative, a dream. It’s not so heavy, just a bit of cloud that can be blown away by a breeze.
Compassion. In this meditation, you wish for an end to your suffering, or an end to the suffering of others. What happens is that this wish transforms you from being stuck in your attachment, to finding a warm heart to melt the attachment and find a way to ease it. You become bigger than your story, when you wish for your own suffering to end. And when you wish for others’ suffering to end, you connect yourself to them, see that your suffering is the same as theirs, understand that you’re in this together. What happens is that your attachments and story become less important, not such a big deal, as you connect with others in this way.
Interdependence. Try meditating not only on the wish for the suffering of others (and yourself) to end, but for others to be happy. All others, whether you like them or not. Again, through doing this, you start to see that you’re all connected in your suffering, and in your desire to be happy. You are not so separate from them. You’re not separate, but interdependence. This connection with others helps you to be less attached and more at ease with life.
Accepting. At the heart of things, attachment is about not wanting things to be the way they are. You want something different. That’s because there’s something about the present moment, about the person in front of you, about yourself, that you don’t like. By meditating, practicing compassion and interdependence, you can start to trust that things are OK just as they are. They might not be “ideal,” but they are just fine. Beautiful even. And you start to become more aware of your continual rejection of the present moment, and open up to the actuality of this moment instead. Over and over, this is the practice, opening and investigating the moment with curiosity, accepting it as it is.
Expansiveness. All of these practices result in a more expansive mind, that is not so narrowly focused on its little story of how things should be, not so focused on its small desires and aversions, but can see those as part of a bigger picture. The mind can hold these little desires, and much more. It’s a wide open space, like a deep blue ocean or dreamy blue sky, and the little attachments are just a part of it, but it can also see the suffering of others and their attachments, it can see the present moment in all its flawed glorious beauty, and be present with all of this at once. Practice this expansiveness right now.
The Zen Habits Method
The way to deal with attachments isn’t simple, and it takes practice.
Meditate daily, focusing on the breath for a couple of minutes every morning. See your suffering and your story and attachments, as you meditate. See this after meditation as well.
After a few weeks, add compassion meditation. Wish for your suffering to end, then expand it to others in your life, then to all living beings.
Learn to see your interconnectedness with others, and practice acceptance of the present moment exactly as it is, in little doses. Small steps. Practice expanding your mind to include these things and all other things in the present moment.
Then, when a difficult attachment arises in your daily life, see the suffering, see the attachment, and expand your mind beyond it, giving yourself compassion while seeing that you are bigger than this attachment. Let it be there like a little cloud, floating around in the wide expanse of your mind, and then lightly let it float away, rather than sinking yourself into it.
With practice, this method can result in contentment with the present, awesome relationships, and less procrastination and distraction.
Hidimbi Devi Temple, also known variously as the Hadimba Temple, is located in Manāli, a hill station in the State of Himāchal Pradesh in north India. It is an ancient cave temple dedicated to Hidimbi Devi, wife of Bhima, a figure in the Indian epic Mahābhārata. The temple is surrounded by a cedar forest at the foot of the Himālayas. The sanctuary is built over a huge rock jutting out of the ground which was worshiped as an image of the deity. The structure was built in 1553.
Mantra: Om Padma Krodha Arya Dzambhala Hridaya Hum Phat
Meditation is too often overlooked as a valuable form of self-improvement. If you’ve ever tried it, then you know how helpful it can be to the mind, body and spirit. If you haven’t tried it, then it is entirely possible you are carrying around way too much stress in your life that could eventually cause long-term physical damage. The threat of stress is real, and taking some time to clear your thoughts and focus on peacefulness is highly recommended, not just for your own private thoughts, but also for how you feel physically. But how do you meditate effectively, and why is it important to your continued development as a human being?
The first thing you need to do when you get ready for meditation is find a private place, where you can de-stress and focus on anything but the demands of your day. Meditation requires a place of focus, but not necessarily silence. Some people prefer to play music or sounds of nature while they meditate. The key is finding what works with your personality. What relaxes you? Once you find the answer to that question, your thoughts will then become free enough to roam in a constructive and coherent manner. You want to build absolute and complete awareness both within and outside of yourself, and if the environment isn’t right, then that won’t be possible.
Once the environment is established, it’s time for you to run back through the events and the thoughts of what happened during your day. You need to bundle them all together as if boxing up Christmas decorations. Once you get them into the right container within your mind, it’s time to put them away until the time comes where you may need them again. It takes a little preparation and training, but gradually you learn to let the big things fall away, and that makes it much easier to de-burden yourself from the rest. Letting go of the past and the present and opening your thoughts to an absolute state of awareness is essential in the meditation process. More than essential, it is your actual endgame.
Once you get in to a routine of meditation time, you will become better at it, and your environment will start to take shape into the one that you wish for it to be. Perfect meditation does not happen overnight, but it does happen with the more routine you make it. And it is important to make it a routine. Why? Because it teaches you that health and wellness – and that means all forms of health, not just physical – are essential for long life and quality of life. Don’t take the practice for granted. – Kyle Quandel
One of my favorites, from Rumi, of course. “You’ve seen my descent. Now watch my rising.” – Rumi.
Truer words have not been spoken. Perfectly fitting my mood lately.