This lesson obviously follows on the previous one ("Let me forget my brother's past today"). The main point in the body of this lesson is that if I look on the past, I cannot see the world as it is now. And the world as it is now is the real world, in which I see nothing but "holiness and hope" (T-21.In.2:4).
The logic is inescapable: I can look on the past or I can look on the present, but not both. If I want to live in the past, I will consequently be blind to the present. It will be there, right in front of me, but I won't see it. And the present that I'm missing isn't just some minor variation on the past, some rearranging of the same old deck chairs; it is a world of "beauty that will enchant you, and will never cease to cause you wonderment at its perfection" (T-17.II.2:6). It is a world "the past has left untouched and free of sin" (2:2). It is a world that contains "the end of guilt" (2:3). It is "the loveliness [God] planned to be the end of all [our] dreams and all [our] pain" (2:5).
Why would we not want to look on such a world? That's a good question to ask ourselves. Is holding onto the past really worth it when it blinds us to a world of "holiness and hope"?
I want to reflect for a bit on the idea for the day. I think everyone can at least intellectually accept the first sentence: "The past is over." But I don't think anyone fully accepts the second: "It can touch me not." And yet, the second sentence is entailed in the first. What is over does not exist. And what does not exist has no causative power. How can something nonexistent touch you?
Why is the past not really over in our minds? I believe we have to think of this on two different levels. First, we retain a record of all the evil done to us by others, because each bit of evil is a kind of IOU. It says, "This injustice was done to me, and therefore I am owed some compensation." Or, "This thing was taken from me. I deserve it back." We see all those past sins against us, in other words, as a series of tickets to a better future. If reality will honor all those IOUs, just think of the life that would be ours!
Of course, keeping track of all those IOUs keeps us stuck in the past. Each one holds a bit of our mind captive in some past time and place. As a result, we have bits of our awareness scattered along the timeline of our past history, stuck onto innumerable little injustices, hoping that the universe will notice and pay us back.
This, of course, can't help but keep us rooted in the past, but it has a more insidious effect than we may realize. If we hang onto the sins of our brothers and see them as IOUs, there is a law of logic and fairness in our minds that will then require us to do the same thing to ourselves. We will be compelled to hold onto our own sins, seeing each one as an IOU in which we are now the "I" that owes. Now bits of our mind will be scattered along a different version of the timeline of the past, a story of our own screw-ups, with each little mistake representing our debt to the person we hurt and to the universe at large.
Perhaps we now can sense some of the liberation contained in today's idea. If that double timeline, containing the sins done to us and the sins done by us, is over, then it doesn't exist. And if it doesn't exist, it can touch us not. Whether we realize it or not, we are free of it. A nonexistent past cannot keep us in chains.
That is such a profoundly liberating idea that the Text says that simply dwelling on that truth can catapult us into a holy instant. That, then, is our goal today—to slough off the chains of the past, which do not exist, and enter into the freedom of the eternal present.
To contribute to that goal, please read the following lines as an exercise (the emphases are taken from the Urtext). Take your time with them. Don't just read them; enter the space of which they speak. Use them to actually enter the present, to have a holy instant.
There is no fear in the present when this instant stands clear and separated from the past,
without the past's shadow reaching out into the future.
This instant is a clean, untarnished birth,
in which the Son of God emerges from the past into the present.
And the present extends forever.
It is so beautiful
and so clean
and free of guilt
that nothing but happiness is there.
No darkness is remembered,
and immortality and joy are now. (adapted from T-15.I.8)
Take this very instant, now,
and think of it as all there is of time.
Nothing can reach you here out of the past,
and it is here that you are completely absolved,
and wholly without condemnation [not under condemnation].
Say with confidence:
The past is over.
It can touch me not.
From this holy instant wherein holiness was born again
you will go forth in time without fear, and with no sense of change with time. (T-15.I.9:7)