Why the Past Isn’t Personal

I’ve spent much of my meditation practice learning to let go of the past, a past at times so horrific that it seems to hover over the present.

Often when I’m mulling over the past, I find myself rationalizing and minimizing the effect of others’ actions: “That wasn’t really that bad.” “It was my fault.” “I’m better for it.” Because to admit that yes, it was that bad, to admit that what is “I” has been in some way diminished, seems unbearable. It’s like seeing a fragment of the past, someone else’s doing, stuck in my soul, my psyche, my body, my life, like a mega-splinter that cannot be undone. It’s wrong. It’s all wrong.

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Anger comes to mind. I have a fear of anger. I see it as a destructive force. But I don’t allow myself to be angry and just tell myself to forgive – simply because forgiveness is “the right thing.” But meditation is not about the right thing.After surveying the damage, a question arises, what can be done?

Instead, I’ve had to allow myself to become angry. To stop stopping myself. To stop the interjections: “just don’t hate,” “it’s impersonal,” “don’t become like …” No, I had to feel the anger, the hate, the desire to do something, the unbearable nature of injustice, rattling through my soul, an unwelcome visitor who does not intend to leave. And once I allowed all of that into my heart, then I could learn to set it aside the same way I set aside planning and analyzing during meditation. And then I saw all the wrongness as impersonal, the actors strutting and fretting their hour upon the stage, to borrow from Shakespeare. And to me, that’s forgiveness.

Forgiveness is not absolute. It’s not an event. Mark once said during metta practice, I can forgive someone and know that later I will hate them again. Things come and go and that’s OK. I may see a mega-splinter of the past as unbearable again, I may find myself rationalizing again, I may hate again. But with each wave of forgiveness, the splinter becomes lesser and lesser.

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