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.

24 Comments

  1. Thank you for sharing, yes it’s very true you can not drive a car by looking at a rearview mirrior. So for being progressive in life one needs to forget the past.

  2. Thank you so much for helping ua not to dwell on our miastakes. Appreciate!

  3. Thank you, Jaya.
    I miss reading your posts, whatever the topic …weather over the Aravallis, wandering sadhus, Eds ….
    Kindest joys,
    Bhima

  4. Interesting — I heard Sadhguru today say, in response to a question, that if we “forget” the past, we run the risk of also forgetting the lessons learned. What we really want, as you say, is to transform our attitude about it — such that what was once the worst we could imagine becomes the best story in our memoir.

    1. I often times have heard the phrase “let go of the past” rather than forget it. In order to tell the story, we have to remember it. In order to not be it anymore, we have to let go of it, and as you say, transform our attitude about it. Blessings.

  5. Jaya

    What a story and what a message!! So applicable to all of us. If we stay rooted in the past, we miss the eternal NOW, where we can make choices that will positively affect our future and past. Thank you for sharing this practical and inspiring message.

  6. It seems to me that letting go of our past imperfections and faults is much easier that letting go of the sad memories of a beloved person who has passed away. I wonder if that it even possible. I have been struggling with that for the past two years, and the pain is as deep as it was when it happened.

    1. i”ve been struggling with coming to terms with loss of my wife 3 years ago. Today I happened to pick up an old notebook of hers that included a section horrifying to me now about our troubles. But wait; same notebook held notes about her love and joy and prayers for our relationship. So yes, we don’t forget but we see what is real, love, the only thing that matters. And it still lives.

    2. Frida, thank you for your vulnerability. I too have lost dear ones. A radio interview about losing relatives came to me one day and gave me a gentle mantra: “You must let them go and get on with the celebration that is your life.”

      We are all atoms of gas in a bottle and we jostle and bump into each other…. Sometimes we join to form molecules for a time, then we may drift apart and bump into other atoms. Nothing, no one, is permanent but there are so many marvelous atoms to meet!

      Loss generates sadness which is normal and appropriate. But emotions pass through like a wave. When they linger, it’s because there is something we believe to be true that is not true. Some self judgment. “I need you” may be one such statement. But do we really need others, once we are adults? We need others because we are a social animal. But we can take care of ourselves in all aspects, and we are always responsible for our own happiness, even when we are with others.

      In the film Harold and Maude, when young Harold is distraught because elderly Maude is dying, he says, “But I love you!” And she answers, “That’s wonderful. Now go out and love some more.”

  7. Thank you very much for this. I have been very down on myself and unable to let go of past mistakes lately- and they are mostly just awkward social inadequacies that affected my relationships. So compared to robbing banks, it’s nothing.

  8. Jaya,
    My name is also Ed.
    I believe I met you years ago — I think it was summer of 1970. I went to Ananda to visit my sister Phyllis, who is now known as Devi. I stayed for a couple of months and was put to work erecting buildings under the direction of a guy with long blond hair named Jaya. Was that you?
    Enjoyed this article: very relevant to my own life.
    Another Ed

    1. Dear Ed,
      Yes, I suppose that fellow with the blond hair was me. Much of the hair is gone and its not so blond anymore. Time flies. I believe Devi, I and a couple of others even visited you once in the LA area around that same time, 1970. I very much hope life has treated you well over the years. Your sister, of course, remains a dear friend and she speaks of you from time to time.

      Much joy and good wishes,
      Jaya

  9. Jaya – nice story, interesting points of view. Our past is definitely part of us. However, we are fortunate to be able to identify with the parts we like best. For instance their is a spiritual loving side to every child that stays with us but gets covered up by our daily transgressions. All we need to do is reject or forgive the bad parts we see in our selves in order to recover the good parts; our true spiritual innocence.

  10. Lovely story, great lesson. It may not be possible to forget our past but success should not be hindered by the weight of the memory. It is important to learn a lesson from past mistakes in order to build a better future. Very well explained.

  11. Many thanks Jaya ji for the beautiful write up. When the future path is clear, no question of brooding over the past.
    One can think of Divine light of God and proceed ahead.

    Jaya ji, Does Karma play its part in identifying a Guru or reaching a Guru?

  12. Great story.it reminds me of a line i had read somewhere : ” even the greatest saint has a past, and the greatest sinner has a future” and a quote by Swami Vivekananda, ” each one of us is equally great”.

  13. Ed was able to change course in spite of his past Karma. Thank you for the inspiring story.

  14. Great article. Although it can be difficult to let go of thoughts of past mistakes, I have learned that over time, they can simply be looked at as funny little stories. I particularly like Ed’s response to being asked what he’d been up to: “Oh, nothing much. I tried robbing banks for a few years but that didn’t work out too well. ”

  15. Interesting , informative and useful for spiritual growth and personality development.

  16. I’m also in this situation for a more serious fact and I must say that it is difficult to forget the past but I always want to look to the future with positivity :)

  17. This is a truly wonderful story so much depth for me and helping me tremendously to let go of shame associated with my youth, I shall see it in a different light now, youthful folly.
    Thank you for this great message.
    Blessings to all

  18. Life is a continuous flow like a river. You cannot step in the same water twice. See what is visible now and estimate from your heart , not by mind. Accept without conditions. You will always be happy. Develop an attitude to look into positive aspects of an individual as none is without drawbacks an deficiencies.

  19. Thank you Jaya ji, nice blog.

    I loved how Ed has been able to narrate with calm demeanor.. , “Oh, nothing much. I tried robbing banks for a few years but that didn’t work out too well. ”

    Later he is able to see it as if it happened to some different person… So nice way of transcending..

    Thank you, taking up this in today’s zoom talk as well.

    Joy
    ilango

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