(Originally published March 15th, 2010)
The following is a story I wrote while I was in a Buddhist Monastery in Katmandu. I was feeling very nostalgic.
Don’t Dwell on the Past
The past is exactly that; the past. You can’t bring it back nor can you change it. Still, we all have regrets about things that happened in the past. I would estimate that there isn’t a person on the planet over five-years-old who doesn’t regret something from their past.
We all know that regret is a waste of time, and that dwelling on our past is self-destructive. By the same token, there are certain events from our past that we should not forget. Remembering an event–good, bad or indifferent– is how we learn and grow. However, there is a big difference between dwelling and remembering. Dwelling on an event from the past is the surest way to a closed mind and emotional stagnation.
There are countless examples of different things we might regret from the past; relationships that went sour, our sixth-grade bully, cheating on a second-grade spelling test, getting fired. Maybe you got a great job promotion or won the high school football championship. All of these are simply events from the past.
Of course there are certain sad events that only time can heal, just as time is needed to reflect upon and savor the happy events. With that said–whether it be the loss of a loved one or the euphoria of a new love–the truth remains that whether you are coming up or coming down you do live here on earth with a lot of other people. This makes it wise to remember that though there is no set schedule for how long you should take to heal, or how long you should bask in the glory of a happy memory, when this time of reflection and/or healing stops being productive, taking hold of your life, it is time to move on.
A prime example of having to let go of the past happened to me when I lost my best friend to cancer. We had been friends since middle school. He died in our sophomore summer of college. My friend’s name was Sang Won. Sang was conceived in Korea but born and raised every bit an American. Sang and I had shared it all. We’d chased girls together, had fun together, fought together, and got in trouble together. We were like brothers.
From the time Sang found out he had cancer until the time he died was only six months. It was not a nice six months. He was treated with chemotherapy, had his leg removed and several other surgeries. We had fun during those six months when we could. I had no problem hanging out with a one-legged Korean.
When Sang Won died it really caught me off guard. I had known that death was a distinct possibility…but hell, this was my best friend! I wasn’t prepared to learn how to handle not having him around. At first I didn’t do a very good job of it either. Then I realized how pissed-off Sang would be if he knew I was dwelling on his death rather than celebrating his life. I knew how I would have felt. I would have been really upset if I was the one who had died and San the one who sat around feeling sorry for himself. I would have expected him to go out and have twice as much fun–some for him and some for me. I realized that dealing with the death of my best friend wasn’t going to be easy, but I learned how, a day at a time. I went out and began to have fun again, though for a very long time Sang was never far from my thoughts.
I still remember Sang Won; not as much any more, but I think that’s OK too. I know that all of our experience together– from the practical jokes to burying him–have made me a stronger and better person. So this one’s for you, Sang, thanks for not letting me dwell in the past, and I am still having fun for both of us.
Thanks, Sang…Keep Smiling.
It is important to remember events, both good and bad. The compilation of experiences is who we are. Not dwelling on our experiences from the past, but learning from them–appreciating them for what they were and growing from them–create the people we become.