Staying Present While Honoring the Past: A Lesson in the Power of Forgiveness

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As I move through life I try to stay as present as I possibly can, but there are times when it’s easy to get caught up in the memories of the past or the ideas of the future.  It’s been a long, sometimes difficult lesson to live in the present moment.  Most of us are too busy to be present, always worrying about the next deadline, the next goal, the next anything.  And, for most of us, we use our past to try and protect ourselves.  In the past we’ve been hurt so we build up walls around our hearts that come barreling up as we start to feel certain emotions, as people display behavior that triggers past pain.

If you knew me 15 years ago, you know that the person I am today is completely different from the person I was then.  Back then, I was so caught up in society’s idea of success.  My anxiety level was so high that I would break out in hives and rashes all over my body.  I would get migraines on a regular basis.  I worried about what next step in society’s playbook was the right one.  I worried about reaching the goals of my 5 year plan.  I worried about reaching the goals of my 10 year plan.  I worried about my 401K retirement account.  Yes, at the tender age of 18 I worried about how much money I would be able to retire with!  I even worried about dying.  Now, it’s one thing to be prepared, to have goals, to make plans, to stock money away for a rainy day.  It’s an entirely different thing to allow that preparedness to run and control your life, to allow the future to steal your present.  That was where I was…worrying about my future kept me from enjoying my present moment.  

After I graduated from college, I moved to the bay area where I landed the job of my dreams working at an awesome biotech company doing great research with amazingly brilliant people.  I made several choices that changed the way I lived my day to day life.  I ended a very unhealthy and codependent relationship.  I stopped making long-term goals for myself in order to stop worrying about the future.  I contributed to my 401K but I stopped worrying about it.  I started actively becoming present in my life.  When my mind raced with worry about the future, I stopped what I was doing and went outside and just observed what was actually happening in the now.  I put rubber bands on my wrist to, literally, snap myself into the present moment.  When I couldn’t let go of the past, I did cord-cuttings and visualizations to help me release.  I snapped that rubber band over and over and over.  With time and tons and tons of practice, the anxiety slowly eased away.  My body relaxed and stopped overreacting to my overactive mind.  I finally became present.  

There is a saying that goes, “The only time is NOW.”  The past is over.  The future may not come.  Still, we can honor the past without letting it control our lives.  

This week, I received a special and unexpected gift from someone in my distant past.  A person I haven’t spoken to in nearly a decade came right back into my present world.  I was hesitant to reconnect with this person because I didn’t want to go back to the past to remember things I have neatly tucked away, but something deep in my heart pushed me to respond.  

As we casually chatted online, telling each other how life has gone for us in the past years, asking about our families, and remembering moments of our togetherness, I was struck with strange feelings of nostalgia.  I felt like I was in an alternate reality.  I used to think about what I would do if I ever ran into this person in “real life” and my visions of that moment usually involved me turning and running as fast as I could in the opposite direction.  Yet, here I was embracing this reconnection and enjoying my excursion into my past.  And then he apologized.  He apologized for the pain he caused me, for the way he treated me.  It was in that moment that I realized how much I needed to hear those words.  I had no idea how much I needed to hear those words.  When our relationship ended nearly 10 years ago, it was bad.  It was mean.  It was hurtful.  It was drawn out and ugly.  I was left an empty shell of myself in the depths of darkness and it took me a long time to finally cut the cord on my first love and release the pain and anger I had held on to during the length of our young 6 year relationship.  I thought I had forgiven him.

“Our lives are not our own. We are bound to others, past and present, and by each crime and every kindness, we birth our future.”
― David MitchellCloud Atlas

“I should have treated you better,” he wrote.  “You were a good friend,” he wrote.  With those words came a release I wasn’t expecting.  A healing.  A whole new level of forgiveness.  Not only was I forgiving him, I was forgiving myself.  I realized in those moments how much of an impact he’s had on my life and still does.  From the music I listen to, to the way I carry myself in intimate relationships.  I realized how deeply we are connected even if we are no longer in each other’s daily lives.  This brief reconnection helped me realize that forgiveness is not something that you do once and is then done.  Forgiveness happens at every level of our evolution, over and over and over again.  As we spiral up from our past and into our present, learning hard and valuable lessons during the ride, the strength of our forgiveness deepens.  

“Forgiving does not erase the bitter past.  A healed memory is not a deleted memory.  Instead, forgiving what we cannot forget creates a new way to remember.  We change the memory of our past into a hope for our future.” – Lewis B. Smedes

This brief reconnection helped me see that, though I may have thought I have forgiven myself and others for our past indiscretions, there is still so much I’m holding on to that is preventing me from being fully and exceptionally present.  Still, this deeper level of forgiveness provided me the beautiful gift of heart opening.  The release I felt has allowed me to see my present self so much more clearly and has opened the door to letting go of many outdated thoughtforms that I hadn’t even realized were controlling my present.  This gift of forgiveness has opened a door to another level of soul evolution.

The past is not a place we should live our daily lives, but the past is how we got to where we are today.  The past shapes and molds our present even when we think we’ve long ago let go.  We honor the past by forgiving ourselves and others NOW so that our future present moments will be more open-hearted, less fearful, more loving.  So, today I urge you to look deeply into your heart and find forgiveness for others and forgiveness for yourself so that you may let go just a little bit more and find the beauty in now.

“The practice of forgiveness is our most important contribution to the healing of the world.” – Marianne Williamson
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Open your heart to the beauty of NOW.

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