“Because it’s so easy to be caught in the past, it’s helpful to have a reminder to stay in the present. In Plum Village, we use a bell. When we hear the bell, we practice breathing in and out mindfully, and we say, “I listen to the bell. This wonderful sound brings me back to my true home.” My true home is in the here and now. The past is not my true home. You may want to say to the little one inside you, the past is not our home; our home is here, where we can really live our life. We can get all the nourishment and healing we need here in the present moment.
“Much of the fear, anxiety, and anguish that we experience is there because the inner child has not been liberated. That child is afraid to come out to the present moment, and so your mindfulness, your breath, can help this child to realize that she is safe and can be free.” ~ Thich Nhat Hanh
Present and Past
To completely forget the past would be to become unable to function. We would never learn anything if we couldn’t remember the past. Possibly, we would keep getting burned by touching the hot stove. We would come out of the mall and not know which car in the parking lot was ours. Actually, we wouldn’t be able to walk out of the mall because walking is something we learned how to do in the past. We would be like an obsessive-compulsive person brushing his teeth every half hour. Or maybe not, because we wouldn’t know that we should brush our teeth at all.
So we can’t just forget the past. We learned a lot there. But we can’t get trapped in it either. We can’t let the things that happened in the past prevent us from acting now. We have to know that getting our fingers burned on a hot stove means we should always be careful around stoves. But we shouldn’t avoid all dogs because one bit us ten years ago.
Living in the Present
When I was a kid, I saw a horror movie where a monster was crawling out of street drains and grabbing people. For weeks after that, I tried to avoid getting close to storm drains in the street. That was the reaction of a child who doesn’t understand that a movie is (usually) not real.
I currently live in Nevada. I haven’t gone to a casino for over two years. When I did go, I sometimes heard people say things about slot machines like, “This one is due to pay off! I’ve been playing it for hours!” Others might say “Don’t use the push button, pull the arm. The odds are better.” I just shook my head when I heard such things.
Both of those statements are based on ancient slot machines from a century ago. Modern ones are controlled by internal computers. A random number generator is generating ten numbers a second. When you press the button, or pull the lever, a program running on another computer chip grabs the current random number. It uses that number to spin the wheels to the predetermined setting for that number. There is no such thing as “due” with these machines. But that is the kind of foolish thing people can think when they are trapped in the past. When we use such thinking to control our behavior, we make many mistakes.
A Gentle Reminder
Hanh tells us that in his spiritual community, they use a bell to remind them to stay in the present and not let the past prevent them from moving forward. We might all try using some gentle reminder. Post a little sign where you will see it everyday that simply says something like “Today is not Yesterday.” Have messages pop up on you computer when you sit down to use it. Put a plaque on your desk that says “Today is a New Day.” Whatever it takes, remind yourself to remember the past without being trapped in it.
Being trapped in the past, and having a fear of change is one of the major reasons many of us don’t develop our spiritual side. Some part of us is thinking, “We never did that before, why should we do it now?”. And our subconscious mind is often full of false beliefs from the past that prevent us from seeing the reality of the spiritual realms. We need to work on removing such limiting beliefs. We need to have a truly opened mind to see spiritual reality as it exists in the present.