Prisoners of our Past
Out of his own nature and in conformity with the universal plan, a stream of influences flows over him out of the past and forces his acts and thoughts to take a certain direction. He may believe that he is following this direction quite independently and freely. In this incapacity to see how limited is his present freedom lies his subtlest illusion.
It is our innate inertia which keeps us set in habitual outlooks and thus keeps us victims of our own past experience. We copy again every day what we did before, what we thought and felt before. We live in both the conscious and the subconscious memories, desires, fears which time has accumulated for us, and that the ego has created to bind us to itself…
… In letting ourselves become victims of the past by letting it swallow up the present, we lose the tremendous meaning and tremendous opportunity which the present contains. Whereas the Overself speaks to us from tomorrow’s intuitive understanding, the ego speaks to us through memory. Its past enslaves us, preventing a new and higher way of viewing life from being born. But it is possible to arouse ourselves and to begin viewing life as it unfolds in the Eternal Present, the Now, with wholly fresh eyes. Every morning is like a new reincarnation into this world. It is a fresh chance to be ourselves, not merely echoes of our own past ideological fixations…
We overwork the past if we drag it constantly into the present. And this is true not only if it appears in the shape of negative broodings and lamentations but also of intellectual beliefs and views.
We are prisoners of our ego because we are prisoners of our past.
If we analyse the ego, we find it to be a collection of past memories retained from experience and future hopes or fears which anticipate experience. If we try to seize it, to separate it out by itself, we do not find it to exist in the present moment, only in what has gone and what is to come. In fact, it never really exists in the NOW but only seems to. This means that it is a phantom without substance, a false idea.
Those who recur often to thoughts of their past get trapped by it and kept prisoner of the ego. Remorse for sins committed and self-pity for being the victim of other people’s sinning–both are soon overdone and create more obstacles to be overcome on the quest.
Memory creates for us the patterns, traditions, values, and habits by which we live. It is the dominant authority. But it is also the tyrant which keeps us captive and denies us freedom–a deprival which effectually prevents the finding of truth and effectually builds a barrier to reality. Anyone can remember the ego-coloured past in this way, but only the sage can forget it and dissolve all these patterns.
Remembrance of the past, and especially attachment to it, supports the ego, maintains and preserves it. The quester must hold his memories loosely for, after all, this present life is only one of a string which in itself is only a dream.
Do not give a single glance backward to the error-filled past, for the education given by it and the suffering from its consequences have led to the strength and wisdom of the Present.
Every man is a victim of his own past until he awakens to this recognition–that at his best level he is divine in a timeless way, that there he may rise above this past and free himself from it.
Philosophy does not encourage a morbid dwelling over past sins, lost opportunities, or errors committed. That merely wastes time and saps power. The analysis finished, the lesson learned, the amendment made, what is left over must be left behind. Why burden memory and darken conscience with the irreparable if no good can be done by it?
The personal history which has gone before–let it really go and be free of the past, which can become a mental prison for unwary persons; learn to abide in the timeless, coming out of it as duties call but holding on to it as the background.
Whatever helps to lead him out of the ego’s tyranny, be it an idea or a situation, an induced mood or a particular service, is worth trying. But it will be easier, and the result more successful, to the extent that he releases himself from his past history.
… When a master mystic like Jesus tells men to refrain from being anxious about the morrow and to let today’s evil be sufficient for today, he speaks out of his own consciousness of living in this Eternal Now… He told them to live timelessly, to let the dead past bury itself…
There comes a time when he has to turn his back on the past, for the old man is becoming a stranger and a new man is coming to birth. Memories would obstruct this process.
Do not let the past hold you down. Do not let dust-laden memories keep you down. Make today a fresh day, a new beginning.
If we succeed in detaching ourselves from the claims of past memories and the anticipations of future results, we succeed in detaching ourselves from the ego…
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