Healing the past

impermanence 3I think life is too weird if we don’t accept momentary impermanence and go day by day with the flow. We keep getting surprised, shocked: “I can’t believe that happened; it is so weird!” And life feels full of losses.

(Carrying straight on from this article on subtle impermanence.)

Mid-life crises

Why do we have midlife crises? Why not an early or late life crisis? Why at 42?! Perhaps because it begins to finally sink in that we are not the same person we were 20 years ago, we can’t do the same things, we are running out of years, we have a paunch, our dating pool has shrunk. This can induce panic, discontentment, obsession with youth (our own or others), driving a motorbike, and eventually acceptance – but why did it take us so long for the penny to drop? We are confused trying to reconcile an old self-image with what we see now, having been ignoring that we have been changing not only week by week but moment to moment, and changing completely at that.

midlife-crisisMidlife crises seem to occur when all the changes we’ve been through suddenly seem to hit us all at once and we can no longer hold so easily to our image of ourselves as youthful, virile, cool, etc.! So we go a bit crazy. But studies also show that if we find purpose in life, meaning, wisdom, apparently we are far less affected by mid-life crises.

Reducing the sufferings of ageing

We look in the mirror and we feel disappointed, “Oh no, the bags under my eyes are growing!” But if we weren’t holding onto what we looked like before, who cares?! If we were able to accept our momentary change, and let go of grasping at our previous body, it will be a lot quicker to accept and adapt to our body’s changes. And it’s the same for others, eg, ageing parents and partners, we can just let them be who they are now as opposed to freaking out at all the changes from what they were. As a hairdresser once told me, “We are all going in the same direction at the same speed.” And it’s ok! I had 2 good role models in my grandfather and Eileen, who never gave a monkeys about getting older (to the ages of 100 and 92 respectively) because they just loved every day as it arose. Dakini dancing

Permanent grasping

We need to drive home to ourselves that not even an atom remains of us, others, or the world from one moment to the next. As long as we feel there is some trace of yesterday’s person, for example, we are still grasping at permanence — holding onto the idea that the same basic substance has just changed or been modified a little bit. Grasping at that same basic substance is called “permanent grasping”.

Healing the past

That painful relationship we had in the past — the person we had it with doesn’t exist anymore. The person we were doesn’t exist anymore, not even an atom, not even a trace. The issues don’t exist anymore — they existed in the past, not now. So why are we recreating it all?

Heraclitus famously said, “You can’t step in the same river twice.” Apparently he also said, “You can’t step in the same river once.” He’s right! Think about it!

When we start to think deeply about subtle impermanence we experience a sense of liberation, freedom, being able to put down all of that emotional baggage and just experience deep peace and happiness. What a relief! baggage

I don’t have to go back in time to try and heal the past. How can we heal something that doesn’t exist? What happened in the past doesn’t exist.

We don’t need to heal the past, we just need to realize that it’s gone.


And through understanding subtle impermanence deeply, if we had a conflict with someone yesterday we can look at them today with new eyes, knowing the person we had the conflict with doesn’t exist. When we begin to understand subtle impermanence we can put down the grudges and move into an area of forgiveness. Forgiveness is all about letting go of the past and moving on. We can ask ourselves how many people there are in our life that we’d like to do this with — let go of the past and just move on. Subtle impermanence gives us the freedom to do this.

Dealing with regrets

This wisdom also helps us let go of regrets and nostalgia. For example, maybe we think I’ve wasted so much time on this good for nothing relationship, project, etc., and we hold onto it, thinking, “I have to salvage something!” So we can’t let go. I have a good friend who put a lot of money into a business that just didn’t work out; people weren’t ready for it or something. But it was hard to walk away from it because of all the investment of time, hope, and money, so there was the temptation there to throw good money after bad, as they say.time is empty 2

Yet the best way to let go of the past without regrets is to embrace the present. Since beginningless time we have done lots of things with everyone, and these are all like dreams now passed. Let it all go — distant dreams are already forgotten, and the latest dreams are no more substantial, we just haven’t forgotten them yet. We don’t need to wait to forget them before we let them go; we can simply realize that there is nothing there to hold onto, that it’s like trying to hold onto last night’s dream. We don’t have to wait for time to heal, ie, until enough things happen that our memories are crowded out so we can forget and move on, however many long agonizing months or years that may take. We can heal a lot faster if we use our wisdom and determination.

If the past was good, we want it to come back, or to continue. But it is still past, ie, over, so we need to enjoy today too, not be nostalgic or melancholic.

In this next article, how to back up our wisdom with determination so that Buddha’s advice has a stronger impact on our mind.

Author: Luna Kadampa

Based on 40 years' experience, I write about applying meditation and modern Buddhism to improve and transform our everyday lives and societies. I try to make it accessible to everyone anywhere who wants more inner peace and profound tools to help our world, not just Buddhists. Do make comments any time and I'll write you back!

21 thoughts on “Healing the past”

  1. Healing the past is so important when it comes to moving on from a mid-life crisis. I struggled a lot during my mid-life crisis and needed all the help that I can get. I have been struggling with personal issues for 10 years and have found reaching out online to seek the advice of others has helped me through the good and bad time. I had a ton of issues with my midlife crisis and have started to follow the advice of Dr. Robi Ludwig. I saw her on a tv show once and I really appreciated her take on current psychological issues. She has written two books but my favorite book is Your Best Age is Now I have read it and loved it! I highly recommend it to anyone out there struggling with dealing with midlife. I got hit hard during my 40’s and this book really helped me to become a better version of myself.

  2. I love your message, and agree on almost everything you say. I want to understand the science behind what you’re saying about atoms. Where did you learn that our atoms recycle completely and so quickly? If you’re going to casually speak hard truths about the behavior of atoms, will you please site a reference for this information?

    You seem to believe that nothing on this earth contains the same atoms as they did before you read this sentence, but what makes you believe that? I’ve seen this disproved by molecular an quantum science many times, so I want to know what you mean.

    Thank you!

    1. I think that even atoms change moment by moment. Nothing can stay the same for even a moment. That is Buddha’s teaching, I am not sure if science has proved or disproved it so I have no sources for that.

  3. Thanks Luna i will be waiting for all the next articles to come…always is so nice to take some wisdom advice for our multiple activity daily life, i really enjoy your notes, specially in this profound subject, subtle impermanence , it is so,so relaxing …thanks again 🙂

  4. Great article Luna! I have spontaneously had very similar thoughts about subtle impermanence and began meditating on it and what freedom I have felt.

      1. I think my keyboard was, Luna! Just wanted to say thanks for this superb series – keep ’em comin’! x

  5. Luna, your articles always seem to come out just when I need it most, thank you! I am at that age where I am experiencing pangs of the mid-life crises. Fortunately, the emotions are not so intense as I have my meditation practice to keep me sane. I constantly have to remind myself that my thoughts about getting old are not real, they do not exist in the way that I perceive them to exist. There is no past or future, and what I perceive as the past is simply occurring in this moment, the present Once I settle into that space, peace/contentment washes away my anxiety. Of course, it’s a never ending practice, battling these thoughts on a daily basis but it emphasizes how important it is to have the spiritual wisdom and practice to get you through life. Namaste! 🙂

    1. It is a case, isn’t it, of remembering every day what is helpful and forgetting the rest — building up good habits, letting the pangs remind us to go within and let them dissolve them away into wisdom. So lucky we can learn how to do this.

  6. I was just reading in How To Understand The Mind how Buddhas experience each moment as a new moment. I thought about a piece of music played live and imagined someone hitting a duff note, how the way we behave with our every day experiences is like, “Pfff, well, the whole piece is ruined by that now”. Instead of experiencing each new note. Thank you for this, I’m having a fantastic few days thinking about subtle impermanence. Could you give me some reading suggestions on this please? Again, thank you so much, I’m really enjoying this, and this, and this, and… 😀

    1. Ocean of Nectar on the three times is great to read. Geshe-la mainly taught subtle impermanence in his Mahamudra teachings of 2000 though. I still have another 7 articles to come on the subject! 😉 (or thereabouts)

        1. I’ve been viewing the very subtle mind as consciousness basis of all! As a permanent thing. What a numpty! 😀 I can’t wait for the next 7 articles (although I’m going to try and not be all graspy about subtle impermanence, lol). Still don’t quite understand it in my heart, but it feeeeeels goooode, and yummy in my mind. It’s like Ive been looking at a magician’s illusion and then he says, “That’s a funky little trick of mine, here’s how it’s done”. And I’m astounded and puzzled and excited and joyful and puzzled. Just when you think you “get emptiness” the Guru comes along and slaps the inherent existence out of your view of emptiness. 😀

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