Letting Go of the Past

Duck Fight

Photo courtesy of Smoobs

Many of us are unwilling or unable to let go of the past. We carry this burden with us and instead of sending our energy to our work, our goals, or to spark our creativity, we end up sending it to resentments, grievances, past wrongs, and anger. I refer to this as “investing in a mausoleum” – because sending your energy to past events never pays off.

This reminds me of the story of two Zen monks, Tanzan and Ekido, who were traveling together down a muddy road. A heavy rain had just fallen. Near a village, they came across a lovely girl wearing a silk kimono and sash. She was trying to cross the road but the mud was so deep that it would have ruined her kimono. “Come on, girl”, Tansan said. He picked her up and carried her over the mud to the other side.

Both monks walked in silence until they reached the village five hours later. Finally, Ekido could no longer restrain himself. He said to Tanzan, “You know very well that monks are not allowed to go near females – especailly the young and lovely ones. It is dangerous. Why did you do that? Why did you carry her?”

“I put the girl down hours ago, ” Tanzan said. “Why are you still carrying her?”

Like Ekido, people who cannot let go of past situations and events carry huge burdens in their minds. Not only can such a burden become part of your sense of self, but can result in illness as well. Constant worry or dwelling on wrongs of the past can result in ulcers, digestive disorders and many other physical imbalances. Keeping past emotions and events alive in our minds also prevents us from focusing on the present, where our attention needs to be. Worry, resentment, bitterness and anger at past events do nobody any good; there are no benefits to it and it solves nothing. Again, it is investing in a mausoleum.

In the book, The Power of Now, Eckhart Tolle observed that when two ducks get into a fight, which never lasts very long, they will then separate and float off in the the opposite direction. Each duck will flap its wings vigorously a few times, as if washing their hands of the fight. After doing so, they float on peacefully, as if nothing had ever happened.

Perhaps that what we need to learn how to do – to learn how to flap our wings and then put the past where it belongs – in the past. We’ll be better for for it.


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