Pomnyun Sunim about getting caught up in recollections of the past
During a conversation with Professor Susan Hayward of Harvard University, Pomnyun Sunim explained that suffering is caused by not living in the present and getting too caught up in memories of the past.
If you remain focused on the here and now, your anguish will vanish because being aware does not lead to distress.
Experiencing pain is similar to watching a movie. For example, while we are viewing a film, nothing is actually happening in reality.
Even though the images on the screen are just moving, we can still feel sorrow when a character dies and outrage when someone does something wrong.
When the movie ends and the screen goes dark, the emotions disappear, yet we are still left wondering why we felt so strongly.
This is because when our senses are stimulated by the screen, our brain misinterprets it as if it was occurring in the present moment. The same is true for reading a book.
Even though it is just a story on paper, our minds often perceive it as if it was happening at that very moment. This is why we can laugh and cry while reading a novel, which may appear strange to an onlooker.
Our minds have a tendency to interpret our thoughts as if they are actually taking place. When we think back to the past, it feels like we are viewing a film, and we can experience a range of emotions such as anger, sadness, and joy.
However, when we become too focused on the past, it can lead to distress. Similarly, when we ponder the future and ask ourselves questions like “What will happen to me when I get old?”, our brains perceive the situation as if it were real, causing us to feel fear and anxiety.
Staying in the present moment without ruminating on the past or worrying about the future is an important part of practice. If we continually think about the past, it can lead to suffering.
It’s okay to remember the past, but if it stirs up emotions, it can be a sign that the brain is tricking itself into believing it’s happening again. This is known as “trauma” and it indicates that the wounds of the past have not yet healed. Even if you try to forget and move on, when you think about it, the emotions come back because those wounds haven’t been erased.
It’s essential to not linger on what has already happened. If reflecting on the past stirs up any feelings, try to think of it as if you’re watching a movie or having a dream and move on quickly.
If that doesn’t help, switch your attention to something else. This will help you to change the scene and the emotion will eventually dissipate.