|Ed was a neighbor and eventually a friend who looked upon life with a humorous detachment. He died a few years ago.
Ed also, as a young man, had robbed banks. Like most who take up that profession, he was captured and sent to prison, but a decade in jail didn’t harden him as it does many. He served his time, studied, got along with others in difficult circumstances, and came out looking to start life anew, and I can imagine it was with a smile on his face.
After his release, Ed bounced from one job to another, keeping quiet about his past. Invariably, his prison time would eventually come to light and when it did, his employers’ and co-workers’ attitudes toward him would subtly change. Nothing might be said but they showed less trust, and his relationships with them cooled.
In the eyes of the world, and maybe even in his own, Ed couldn’t escape being an ex-con and treated as such. He felt stigmatized but he was wise enough to do something about it and take a new approach. When asked, “So, Ed, what have you been doing up till now?” he began to casually reply with a smile and seemingly carefree tone, “Oh, nothing much. I tried robbing banks for a few years but that didn’t work out too well. ” He’d then pause. His forthright and unusual answer usually gained his listeners’ attention and combined with his relaxed manner, put them at ease enough to ask, “Really? Tell me about it.” Wouldn’t you, too, be interested in hearing his story?
Ed had come to see his past as youthful folly from which he had learned painful lessons. As time passed, he saw it as nothing other than an interesting story, as if it had happened to someone else. In a real sense, that was true. The old Ed was long gone and as a consequence others, too, no longer saw him in that light, as a man not to be trusted.
Ed’s story is an example of someone not allowing the past to define who and what he is now. He refused to accept others’ definitions of who he was. Swami Sri Yukteswar summed this up clearly in Autobiography of a Yogi:
Forget the past. The past lives of all men are dark with many shames…Swami Sri Yukteswar“Forget the past. The past lives of all men are dark with many shames. Human conduct is ever unreliable until anchored in the Divine. Everything in future will improve if you are making a spiritual effort now.”
Our personality is but “clothing” we wear for a short time, remnants we carry from one lifetime to the next, but they are not who we truly are. First and foremost, we are children of God; let that be our self-identity. Others may choose to see us otherwise but we need not accept their view; the choice is always ours. When we relax our hold on the past, the past begins to let go of us. Remembrances of past lives are then seen as but a panorama of light and shade on the screen of duality.
We are all works in progress.We are all works in progress. Be honest with both yourself and others but don’t advertise your faults either, lest others’ perceptions strengthen your own identification with past mistakes. Don’t cling to them. As Ed aged, he rarely mentioned his past, as there was no need. He had accepted it for what it was, an ancient history for which he held karmic responsibility, but he refused to allow it to define who he was now. Ed, the Bank Robber had become simply an amusing character from a long time ago.