No matter how hard we want to, there's one thing we can never do, and that's change the past. We can weep, beat our fists against the wall, eat bags of cookies to assuage our guilt, but it won't make the slightest bit of difference and won't make us feel any better. The past is gone, over, no more, finito.
So why do we continue to live in the past, either by longing for it to repeat itself, fearing it will happen again, or regretting what happened and wanting to do it all over anew? Continuing to wish that either the past would happen again or that it had been different means that we're really not here in the present. We're living in the land of what-was or what-might-have-been or if-only. And if the past was either too painful or too boring, then we switch to the future, that place of infinite potential we want to believe could be real or that place of fear of what might happen but hasn't happened yet; we live in what-could-be or what-we-hope-never-will-be.
Of course we can learn from the past. Often the most painful experience turns out to be our best teacher; we can even be grateful for what happened, as it taught us so much.
And memories can be like comfortable old shoes we are reluctant to part with. We can certainly put them on now and then, but we don't have to hang out in them on a permanent basis. Instead, we can look at what happened with present-moment eyes. This means looking without hope, longing, regret or fear. Fully accepting that the past is irreversible and the future doesn't exist means we can actually be in the present moment. What a relief! Finally, we can just be here and now. Wow! What a revelation!
One of the greatest wonders of taking quiet time out, as in meditation, is that we quickly see that nothing is fixed, solid, or permanent.
The experience of meditation is one of being completely and utterly present, which may sound simple but is actually quite rare: Normally, we're distracted by issues hanging over from the past or anxious about issues coming up in the future. We bounce back and forth like a monkey jumping from branch to branch. Anywhere seems better than being right here. The egoic mind always needs a drama or distraction to feed on. The more awake we become the less of a job the ego has until it becomes redundant. So, to preserve itself, it thrives on confusion and chaos, constantly distracting us from being really present.
When we are present then demanding thoughts do not disturb us; even anger, resentment, hurt, or other negative emotions have no power.
When present, we awake to the potential in every moment. In meditation we see what comes and goes -- our thoughts and feelings, longings and anxieties -- and what stays, which is who we truly are within ourselves. No matter if the past was wonderful or woeful, we are freed of left over hang-ups or unfulfilled desires, of future concerns or longings, and rest in awareness.
Today is a very special day. It has never happened before and it will never happen again.
And we have no idea what will come next. What a great day just to be here. To show up now. The perfect day to let the past rest where it is and let the future take care of itself. As is every day. To experience just this moment, to pay attention to the colors, sounds, smells, and sensations, to be compassionate to your feelings, and other people's feelings. And to make this day one of beauty and tenderness, a choice we are given in every moment.