[The Past]

Dear Donagh,

 …. I've been through a lot, it would take me ages to tell you the full story….
            …. So now you have an idea where I'm at.  But there's a lot more I could tell you….
            …. A neighbour of mine told me that meditation would help me, and she put me onto you….  Can you help me…?  Annie

Dear Annie,

You notice that I omitted the entire story here: all those dots represent pages of detail.  Meditation means coming to the end of your story.  We all have to come to the end of our story – in the end.  Meditation will help you only if it brings you to close the book on all the complications you mentioned in your email.  There are practical matters that can be put right, yes, but the mental and emotional entanglements that are choking your life will have to go. 

How: that's the question.  Common sense tells us that no problem goes away until it is solved.  That is true of most problems, but not all.  The wisdom of the ages, which is better than common sense, tells us there are problems that should just be seen and then brushed aside – because they only fatten on attention.  I'll try and pass on to you what I learned from others. 

It is one thing to go over a story for the thousandth time; it is another to put all that detail aside and become aware of your feelings at this moment – not your feelings long ago when all that was happening.  Don’t tell yourself the story once again.  You have already done that for years and it has not helped you.  Now is the time to try something else.  Can you be aware of your feelings without going over the story again?  If you can do it, even for five seconds, you are opening the door that lets you escape from the past into the present. 

The story is the past.  Your feelings are the present.  They are feelings about the past, yes, but they are in the present.  It is only in the present that anything can be helped.  When you fail to separate the story from the feelings, you keep dragging yourself into the past.  Nothing will ever heal that way. 

When you stop repeating the story you are not denying its truth, you are not pretending that those events never took place.  You are just deciding not to repeat it at this moment.  Then a new awareness has room to enter.   You are calm enough to recognise and acknowledge the anger that is still in you.  Don’t try to suppress it: it has every right to be there.  But let it be there.  The constant retelling of the story may well be a way of defending and justifying that anger – but it doesn't need defending or justifying.  You are quite right to be angry.  So be angry, and be aware of it.  The strange thing is that acknowledged anger doesn't last long; it certainly doesn't last forever.  After a while (I mean days or weeks – or just hours) it usually transmutes slowly into sadness.  Don’t interpret it: just watch it with great interest.  And don’t be afraid of it.  If you don’t manipulate it, it will keep on changing slowly; it will become a kind of tenderness.  There is an awareness that there is suffering everywhere, and that you are not separated from it.  If you stay with this, giving it a time of attention every day, you will notice that the story begins to fade.  It is not that you don’t remember it; it is simply that your urge to repeat it is less and less.  It is in this way, I believe, that you can come to the end of your story, and that your suffering can be a blessing in the end.

Take care, Annie.  Take care of your anger and your sadness, and in the end you will be filled with tenderness for the fragile gift of life. 

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