There is a saying – I am sure you have heard it – that if you are depressed, you are attached to the past; and if you are anxious, you are attached to the future. The cure for both is staying in the present moment. Which meditation is practice of.
And yet, some of us ricochet between past and future, rehashing the wrongs done to us or done by us yesterday or years ago; playing out possible conversations in our head, like that Wanda Sykes routine. “Well, if she says that to me, I’ll just tell her….” until we realize that the shower has grown cold around us we’ve been lost in our thoughts for so long.
Sometimes it takes a cold bath to wake us up and make us realize how lost in our memories or our fantasies we really are. And then we scramble to get out of that present moment and back to someplace warmer and dryer, into clothes and mascara so we can dash off to wherever we are late to.
Some of the things we hold onto can serve us well. My memories of being a child, a teenager, a young manager, give me compassion and empathy for others in that situation. I find it easy to remember what they are going through in a way that others seem to have forgotten, and remind them of that. Some of the anxiety I have about the future enables me to project risks and mitigate them.
But sometimes the reason we hold onto these habits eludes us.
Over the vacation, I woke up suddenly from a dream. It had been a fine dream at first, I was in a good place, doing work I enjoyed, with people I enjoyed being with. I had found my place and felt confident and respected. And then I began to hear this little voice. I hardly heard it at first, it was just a whisper. As it grew louder, the speaker began to grow in front of me, until like a stunted bush, she inhabited a seat at the table with the good people I was working with, hissing and babbling all the venom that she had spewed at me in real life. Each word struck like a whip-flick that hit a tender spot deep inside me, until she was all I could hear and see. Recoiled, frozen, my new friends staring at me in amazement. “I can handle this,” I told myself. “I’ve been here before and I couldn’t handle it then but I can handle it now…. but how?” And then I awoke.
I thought I had left this nemesis in the rear view mirror, but clearly I have more work to do.
There is a story of a monk who meditated and meditated but his meditations were always interrupted by a huge (ick) spider. He consulted his mentor, who advised him to meditate with a paint brush in his hand and, when the spider appeared, to paint an X on the spider. The monk did that and, when he had finished meditating, found he painted an X – yes, you guessed it – on himself.
So my personal spider is not about this person from my past; it’s about me, my doubts, my anxiety. The fears I have that I hold onto, although they don’t serve me well any more.
The question is, to work on letting go of it, without trying to understand it? Or to work on understanding it – or is that just holding onto it?
This is what they mean when they say that those who forget history are doomed to repeat it.