Question: Sometimes I am overcome by a sad thought that appears in my mind or the image of someone who hurt me. I can run a whole mental movie about something that caused me grief, so that in reliving the event I actually re-experience the sense of loss. Why do such sad images run through my mind, especially given the fact of how much I wish they would just go away?
Answer: We all know how it feels to try and "fix" such visitations, where we dream up a new solution, tell ourselves what we should have said, hope that something we can think of will make it go away. Of course none of these answers work for one very good reason. Here is the key to unlocking this continuing conflict: There is not a thought that can stay in our mind, not a feeling that can remain in our heart, that is not willingly remembered. These unwanted images return again and again as they do because something within us keeps recalling them and drawing them to the forefront of our mind.
Perhaps your reaction to this lesson is something like: "Impossible! How can that be true since all I want is to free myself of its painful presence?" The answer is self-evident, even though our present senses dictate otherwise.
Since the truth is we do not have to share a single moment with the memory of anything that we don't want to, this means there is something in our present nature that wants to recall painful past experiences. Such new self-knowledge lends us the light we need to make higher choices for ourselves, based in conscious awareness. Now we can choose to remember what it is that we want to! In other words, rather than allowing ourselves to be drawn into battle with unwanted thoughts or feelings that appear by themselves within our heart and mind, we can do something completely new. We can choose not to focus on what these troubled states want us to; we know that's the road to ruin. Instead we will choose to remember what it is that we want above all else -- the Light of Truth that not only reveals what has been hurting us, but that frees us from these unconscious conditions at the same time.
The Wise Ones have always taught the great gift of remembering the Living Light and the practice of placing ourselves in its presence before we embrace anything else. Of course the elevated nature of this kind of remembrance in the face of our trials requires our deliberate and conscious willing of it; but, to paraphrase St. Augustine, "My remembrance of thee is really an effect of thee remembering me." Which means that everything about Reality is already set up to help us succeed with our new aim.
So, in that same moment when you realize that something painful from your past has again pressed its way into you, holding you hostage to a hated image or painful regret, here is what to do: right there, right in that Now, instead of capitulating into that familiar state of feeling yourself to be a captive of what this pain tells you that you must remember (along with all of its suggested solutions for ending the suffering), you choose to remember the Light. Here is a quick look at what this new inner action entails.
Instead of being drawn into a struggle with that unwanted sense of conflict, complete with its cast of supporting characters drawn from your past, intentionally withdraw your attention from that stage show. And at the same time as you close the curtain on it, bring all of your reclaimed attention into the Now. Come awake to the sense of your own physical body. Observe what thoughts and feelings are pressing themselves into your awareness and, while working in the Now like this, welcome into you a conscious remembrance of the Light, of God's Life, of the whole truth as best you understand it.
For instance you might work to remember that the Living Light that has no burden, as opposed to identifying with an old bitterness that is itself the burden that it always blames on others. The key, regardless of one's individual approach, is to make interior effort based upon bringing your new self-knowledge into a willing watchfulness.
To help get you started, here are a few other suggestions. When a sad thought appears in your mind, accompanied by the regret born of recalling some injustice done to you in the past, instead of remembering the resentments this little image stirs in you, turn the tables on it. Bring its little troubled life into your remembrance of that greater presence within you that dwells well beyond its punishing power.
Work like this whenever you can and, like a pebble tossed into a deep pond, the ripple effects of that past pain will simply disappear into the healing nature of the Now. Instead of a life of endless resistance, you will learn the timeless secret of how to replace any form of darkness with the Light you have chosen over it.
Choose to remember the Light. Let it fight for you. Not only will this Living Intelligence lift you above the fray of all that should be forgotten, but it also will guide you back home to a timeless place in yourself where the past no longer dwells.
Excerpted from Let Go and Live in the Now, Pages 171-174