Anne-Marie Emanuelli, Creative Director and Founder of Mindful Frontiers
Amongst meditation experts, the understanding of ‘why we think about the past so much’ is that the past is an experience of our life to which we attach meaning because we lived the details of the event personally.
Our ego also clings strongly to the past because it is where a sense of our identity lies.
The reason past thoughts are problematic is that we mix them up with actual reality, thereby creating a faulty story of suffering.
The present moment is the only time period in which we actually live – the direct or actual reality that unfolds in the here and now.
In the Buddhist teaching of the Five Skandhas (Five Conditions) we interact with our environment to “create what we ordinarily perceive as conventional human reality as opposed to actual reality.” (from ‘The Five Conditions’, an article by Sensei Sean Murphy).
Through meditation and mindfulness, the Five Conditions help us understand our perceptions, past conditioning, and personal history that causes suffering.
It is presented as a chain that begins with Sensation/Perception (first encounter with a thought), followed by Feeling (like or dislike), proceeds with Reaction (emotions related to the thought) and then with Interpretation (where the thought enters consciousness) and if left unchecked will end up in the Story (the place where meaning is created around the thought; usually faulty and irrational) that causes suffering.
When a person meditates using open awareness, a type of meditation practice during which all thoughts and awareness are allowed and acknowledged, they are accepting whatever comes to mind at that moment.
During an open awareness practice, thoughts come and go with equanimity (non-judgement or attachment).
With practice, this kind of mindful meditation allows us to be focused on the present moment, and not get distracted by past thoughts.
We don’t ruminate about them, or let them take over our consciousness with stories of pain and suffering.
That would be called “gasping”, “clinging”, and “aversion” which is explained in the second of the four Noble Truths of Buddhism.
By accepting thoughts with equanimity and allowing them to dissipate, we understand that there is a way out of suffering (The Third Noble Truth).
Through meditation, mindfulness, non-attachment, and self-compassion (The Fourth Noble Truth), we can reach enlightenment, which is basically just a calm state of present-moment awareness that all is well, here and now.
The more a person practices mindful meditation skills, the better and more proficient the person will become in not allowing their mind to ruminate about the past.
As explained in ‘Altered Traits’ by Daniel Goleman and Richard Davidson, when a group of highly experienced meditators were studied, “Other signs of the yogis’ expertise include stopping and starting meditative states in seconds, and effortlessness in meditation (particularly among the most seasoned).”
This suggests that a proficient meditator may be able to come in and out of present-moment awareness and relaxation, thereby not getting caught up in ruminating the past.
This post is part of a longer article published October 9, 2020 in Human Window on “How to Stop Thinking About the Past”. View entire article at Human Window