Fundamentally, mindfulness is about living in the present, accepting the moment and not being controlled by the past or restrained by perceptions of the future.
But what about history?
History is of great importance because it helps us understand the circumstances that have shaped the landscape we live in today, not to mention that history is very interesting.
Believe it or not I love history. I did in school and I still do today. I watch history programs and I read history books. I study Eastern history and philosophy, and also the history of my homeland, the UK.
When I visit another country I love to go to museums and admire the architecture, to find out about the indigenous peoples and learn of the customs and culture that have shaped society through the years.
All this from a guy who is always banging on about embracing the present? I hear you say. I thought mindfulness was about living in the now!
What relevance then, does the past have in the present, and should we concern ourselves with history?
How Mindfulness & History Coexist
Mindfulness and history can co-exist, and being mindful doesn't mean forgetting the past altogether or ignoring that it once existed. And that's the key phrase here – “once existed”.
History is to be enjoyed and understood, and can be a prominent feature of a person's life. History can be used to make better judgements in the present, and help us shape a more positive, caring society.
But what it shouldn't do is make us scared of living for fear of making similar mistakes. The past (history) has a sneaky way of convincing us that we have laid down a precedent that is unchangeable. It is all too easy to become a victim of the past, and to view historical happenings as a narration of the future.
What mindfulness teaches us is that we can't control the past because it doesn't exist. The only moment we have is now, and that moment will be gone in a flash, just like that.
Life is transient. It is subject to constant change. And for this reason history can greatly empower our commitment to mindfulness; because had at any one time a slightly different path been taken, had a decision swung a slightly different way, the entire course of history would have been different.
This simple piece of knowledge is where history and mindfulness complement each other; because we know that we have the power in this moment, right now, to make a positive change – to create our own history.
When History Stops Us Living
Bad things have happened. The past can look very grim if you open the right/wrong book. Horrible wars have been waged, genocide, holocaust, terrorism, the books document it all. And therefore it's quite easy to fall into a negative cycle of thinking that humans are innately selfish and manipulative, and that we are merely animals acting through survival instinct.
If we use history as a blueprint for modern living, it becomes easy to label, judge and make perceptions of others.
In fact, much of the negativity we live with in the world today is the result of people holding onto history rather than living in the present moment. So many people are subject to negative stereotyping based on bigoted ideology of ancestral history, religion and culture and customs; things they aren't responsible for and have no control over because history ceases to exist.
Think for a moment how misguided this is, to judge someone based on a past they have no control over in the present, and probably weren't alive to witness.
This is the reason forgiveness is so important in creating a compassionate, harmonious world. If we aren't willing to forgive then we all become victims of history, stuck in a time warp unable to move past a place that no longer exists. This is when history is negative; when we used the past as a narrative for the present, and when we have already accepted that we shall continue to use that narrative in the future.
Be The Change
It's easy to feel alone when the majority of those around you don't seem as affected by the underlying evils in the world; the poverty, the overindulgence, the inequality, the war. Similarly,it can be very isolating when you want to live a life of compassion and forgiveness and others seem content with anger and resentment.
This disappointment at the world's failings can trap us in a “that's just the way it is” mode of thought. But the fact is this: What we do in the very next moment creates the next bit of history. So if the majority can contribute something positive to the world, even just a smile or a small act of compassion, history starts to look very different. It's that simple.
History can change dramatically with one small detail. Imagine for a second if two religious leaders from opposite faiths suddenly came together after warring for decades and said, “You know what, I belive this, and you believe that, but in truth we both don't really know one hudred percent who is right. So let's just admit we could both be wrong”. Imagine how different the world would be.
We have the power to change the course of history at our fingertips, no matter what has happened in the past. That's an incredible power to have, and one we must use.
If we dwell on the bad things that have happened, we are simply keeping them alive, when in truth they have no reality, anymore. It's history.
To truly live, we must keep moving forward in the knowledge that change is always possible. Enjoy history for what it is. Put history in context. Of course we should learn from the mistakes of the past, but let's leave those mistakes where they are and not let them hinder our future, or judge our person.
Let us not oppress our minds by believing we cannot escape negativity, and that we are victims of previous roads we have walked. It only takes one correct turn to reach the right destination, and when you get there all the wrong turns will be overshadowed by the joy of your arrival.