Grieving the Past

I am grieving my past.

It’s not that I want it back, but I am cutting ties with it. Moving on from anything requires a period of mourning, a time when you give thanks for what has been before going forward.

I recently read a journal entry of mine from ten years ago. I started clearing out my possessions about then. My journal entry was about discarding my university notes and disconnecting from any dream of being an academic. In my journal I noted that I didn’t feel grief; I felt free, clear. It was a clearing that had come to into its time.

Before this past Christmas, I shredded photo albums’ worth of memories from my childhood. Again, there was very little grief: it needed to be done.

But now, something has hit. I feel as though I am parting ways with my past.

I look around and wonder why I am keeping the possessions (other than the functional ones, that is). There is a sense of obligation to my past. Why? I don’t know. It feels much like the obligation to maintain a relationship with a relative who is toxic to you. Yes, you share a similar bloodline, but is that a good enough reason to sacrifice your well being, your mental health, perhaps even your physical health? From this, is my obligation to my past adversely impacting my present health?

In addition to this 10-year old journal, I also dug out the photocopies of reference materials I cited or read for my Master’s thesis. I remember the importance of these papers. Are they important to me now because they were important to me then? I haven’t looked at them for nearly 15 years, yet somehow time seems to bend differently. I can reach across years and touch that time. I can feel it was important then. However, in the intervening 15 years their significance to now has waned.

In recognizing all this, why am I keeping something that was important to me then, but isn’t important to me now? How is this link to my past serving me? Is it serving me?

Deepak Chopra writes about Arthur and Merlin in The Way of the Wizard (1995: 50):

“Try to forget me if you can.”

“What?” Arthur said in surprise. “I could never forget you – and I don’t want to.” He felt anxious, supposing that Merlin was rejecting him in some way. “Do you want to forget me?” he asked.

“Oh, absolutely,” Merlin replied calmly. “You see, I want us to be friends, and if I remember you, what do I have? Not the real you, but a dead image. But as long as I can forget you every day, then I will wake up to see you anew the day after. I will see the real you, stripped of outworn images.”

I feel Merlin here is describing the ‘beginner’s mind’. It is the ability to live in the Now that everyone from the Buddha to Eckhart Tolle describes as the way to end suffering.

I feel we have a tendency to worship our past, instead of learning from it. It’s like we know, just know, that there’s something important here, if we could only suss out what it is. And because we don’t know, can’t remember, we put the past in a place of worship. Humans have a tendency to worship things out of reach or that they can’t really understand: sacred places, gods, prophets, leaders.

Then again, maybe what I’m grieving is my disillusionment. I can see now what I’ve learned. I understand. I am no longer mystified by my being or my past.

I can move on.


Further reading:

The Power of Now – Eckhart Tolle

Change your Thoughts, Change your Life – Wayne Dyer

Wherever you Go, There you Are – Jon Kabat- Zinn

Does this Clutter Make my Butt Look Fat? – Peter Walsh

The Minimalists

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