Respect the past in the full measure of its desserts, but do not make the mistake of confusing it with the present, or seek in it the ideals of the future.
— Jose Ingenieros


As I unpacked my suitcase at a hotel, I discovered that I had left two of my favorite articles of clothing hanging in a closet at another hotel 2,000 miles away. As I picked up the phone to call the hotel to see if the items had turned up in Lost and Found, I noticed that I was hesitating. I realized I didn’t want to call because I didn’t really want to retrieve the items. One was a sweatshirt given to me years ago, and another was a casual shirt I have customarily worn on plane flights. Both felt very old, laden with memories and history I no longer wanted to carry with me. I put down the phone and smiled. I was done with the shirts. They did not belong to me now, and I would not call them back to me.

Every time we haul an old, painful memory into the now, we are phoning a distant hotel and asking for our tattered garments to be forwarded to our new abode. Messengers will do so if we ask. Then we wonder why our present looks like our past. But we are under no obligation to replay old scenes; all of life is optional, including reliving ancient pain. Every day we are free to choose anew. If today looks gruesomely like yesterday, and your life is a long replay of Groundhog Day, do not blame karma, the environment, or other people. Instead, look at the choices you are making today.

The Bible tells how, as Sodom was being destroyed, God told Lot and his family not to look back. Lot’s wife disobeyed, and she was turned into a pillar of salt. The story is a metaphor. When we clutch at the old after it no longer serves us, we become petrified. Salt is a preservative. We cannot preserve the past; we must release it to make way for a fresh new future.

This meditation is an excerpt from Alan Cohen’s meditation book, A Deep Breath of Life.

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