Letting Go of the Past (aka Decluttering Your Brain)

letting go of the past

“I set the woman down hours ago,” the older monk replied. “Why are you still carrying her?”

– Stillwater, in Zen Shorts

Often, we begin the journey to minimalism by decluttering our possessions, but a big part of simplifying our lives is decluttering our brains. Letting go of the past frees up space in our minds to enjoy life today.

It can be hard, of course, but I found the Buddhist story of the monk carrying a woman to be helpful. I first read it in a children’s book, Zen Shorts, by John Muth, many years ago, and it’s stuck with me.

I’ve paraphrased the story below, but if you haven’t read the book, you should. It’s a great book for kids and adults.

Two monks came across a woman waiting to step out of her sedan chair. There were, however, deep puddles around, and she didn’t want to spoil her silk robes.

She scolded her attendants, who couldn’t help her across the puddle because their arms were full of packages they held for her.

The older monk picked the woman up, put her on his back, carried her across the puddle and put her down. Instead of thanking him, she shoved him out of her way.

The young monk brooded about this for several hours, finally complained about the woman’s rudeness to the older monk, who replied, “I set the woman down hours ago. Why are you still carrying her?”

“Forgiveness is letting go of the past, and is therefore the means for correcting our misperceptions.”

– Gerald Jampolsky

Not all thinking about your personal history is bad. Letting go of the past is necessary only when you’re holding on so tightly to memories (whether good or bad) that you’re limiting the present and future.

Because there are so many personalities and ways to get caught up in the past, it’s impossible to suggest one sure-fire method to deal with all problems for all people.

There are, however, some tips for letting go of the past that will help in many situations.

1. Remind yourself about the monk story when you begin to fixate on the past.

2. Whenever you begin to think about the issue that’s a problem for you, tell yourself “I’m letting this go.”

3. Meditate and/or pray.

4. Write a long letter about the situation, and then burn it.

5. Learn how to forgive yourself and others.

6. Begin a gratitude practice.

Do you ever feel held back by the past? Do you have any suggestions for letting go of the past?

4 thoughts on “Letting Go of the Past (aka Decluttering Your Brain)

  1. Hello Christy,
    Wonderful post! Thanks for sharing the Buddhist story.

    As you say, forgivenss is a big part of letting go of the past.
    I’d like to share my post Forgiveness Heals Hearts.http://www.ahhthesimplelife.com/forgiveness-heals-hearts/

    Here’s a very basic yet effective loving-kindness meditation:
    · May [you] feel safe.
    · May [you] feel happy.
    · May [you] feel healthy.
    · May [you] live with ease

    You may want to repeat the phrases several times, each time widening the circle of people included.
    For example, you could start with yourself, then family, then friends, community, everyone.

    Wishing you well,

    • Thanks, Carol. When I took meditation classes many years ago, we did mostly Vipassana (breath focus) but tried loving-kindness a few times as well. It is a wonderful way to meditate as well as to forgive.

  2. I’ve recently learned to write a letter to the thing that has been holding me back. I thank it for being there when I needed it then tell it I’m fine now so it doesn’t need to try to help me in the future. Somehow writing that out helps my brain accept it as true.

I'd love for you to share your ideas and experiences.