( Originally Published 1941 )
A PATIENT came to consult me about an assortment of troubles, and she incidentally supplied me with a text for our consideration, because she talked of nothing but past mistakes and old negative ideas, known or guessed at. She would pick up each one in turn, weigh it well, and wonder if that could have caused her present misery. She oozed negative thoughts, and really seemed to be far more interested in uncovering the origin of her distress than in getting well. I discovered later that she had been studying psychoanalysis, and was trying to apply the principles to herself. Her attitude reminded me of certain acquaintances who never seem able to see the blessings all around them, but who are always bemoaning the passing of the "good old times." You may know some folk like them.
What would you think of a man who went down the street with his face looking straight backward while his feet were walking forward, paying no attention to the good things ahead, but seeing them only after he had passed them by? You would doubtless say that he was cutting a ridiculous figure, and you would be right. But perhaps you are doing the same thing mentally, thinking only of the good things of years ago, or regretting the joys that you missed and the mistakes that you made. If you are doing this sort of thing, stop it at once and turn your face forward; you may be passing right by your present blessing. Besides, you may collide with some-thing, and that would not be very pleasant.
It is well known that the cause of all your distress lies in your mind. It is well known that many of your troubles are due to old fears, old dislikes, and other negative thoughts; and that these casual ideas may rest for many years, snugly hidden in the forgotten chambers of your mental store-house, and secretly giving you continual trouble. But why bring those old things up to the light? Unless they are brought to the surface of the conscious mind and all negative power denied them it is better to leave them alone. Merely to hunt out those ancient negative ideas is not to get rid of them, and that should be your real endeavor. To re-call the old memory without destroying its power is very detrimental, for while you are digging those things out of their hiding places you are actually concentrating upon them, just as this lady was doing, and this concentration only gives them renewed power. Any thought upon which you put your attention will become active, no matter whether it is new or old, so do not make the mistake of recalling negative experiences. The rule should be: Concentrate only upon what you desire, never upon what you wish to lose.
While this lady was talking, bringing from the depths of her mind first one negative idea, then another, and always questioning which one could have started her trouble, I was paying slight attention to her, for I was waiting for her to talk it out. Suddenly I seemed to hear a low voice, a voice centuries old, saying clearly, "Follow me; and leave the dead to bury their own dead." I started from my meditative state, for I realized that this was the lesson. We should let the dead thoughts, all the old memories and the frustrated hopes, remain in their graves, and follow where the Master leads. That is always onward, never backward. I interrupted the woman's flow of words and repeated the verse.
"Whatever do you mean?" she asked. "Surely, that cannot apply to me."
"Surely it applies to you," I responded. "I mean that the causes of your troubles are of no real interest to me, and they should be of none to you. Don't deliberately try to resurrect them, for if you do they will again become active. You are continually bringing them up, and they are starting the same old conditions all over again. Let them remain buried in forgetfulness while you go on to health and success. Never look in any direction but forward; that way lies your freedom. Claim your good, and forget the evil."
She looked at me in astonishment. The idea of letting go of anything was entirely new to her, but she slowly grasped it, and right there she made the start that led to her eventually finding herself. As she gave up thinking of the past, and developed the consciousness of God as the only power in her life, all the negative conditions left her. Anyone can do the same thing. This living in the ever-present now is one of the fundamental ideas of Truth, but to many it seems hard to understand.
No matter how hard you try, you cannot live in the past, which has no real existence; but you can live in the glorious present, where you are supposed to abide. Once in a while, it is true, recollections of life fifty years ago come before me. But I do not spend my time in admiring those days. Instead, it affords me a big laugh to think of those people who worship what they call the "good old times," when we of today are so much better off than were our fathers. Such people and those who spend time in resurrecting the buried causes of their present troubles are in the same boat. They are trying to row backward against the tide of life, instead of using their oars to go swiftly ahead with the stream. How many joys they are losing!
"But," you say, "those old negative thoughts must be disposed of if we are to overcome our troubles. We have been told that we must seek them out and destroy them. What shall we do ?"
"Yes, it is true that you must dispose of them in some way, but how did the Master go about this matter? We are following Him, so we should use His methods. I have searched carefully through the accounts given to us, but I cannot find the least record that He explained to any applicant for healing the cause of his trouble. Instead, He instilled the thought of faith in the healing power, spoke the word, and that was all; it was done. Help was the immediately important thing with Him, and it should be with all of us. If you take your ills to a good physician, and put yourself in his hands, he will not at once take up with you the subject of causes. First, he will do what he can to relieve you. After that is done he may tell you what material causes to avoid in the future; but even with him help comes first.
The easiest way to dispose of those old negative thoughts which have been ruling you is to consign them to the oblivion that is their true home. Begin now to think of the good. Fill your mind so full of thoughts of love, life, and good that there will be no room in it for anything else. Do not repress these ideas; merely exclude them by making yourself as positive as possible, for the negative cannot stay in the presence of the positive. Then those old thoughts which caused your trouble will take flight, never to bother you again, unless you bring them up yourself. They have no life except such as you give to them. They can do nothing without your permission. Yes, let the dead past bury its dead. Concentrate on the good, and you will see no evil. That is the meta-physical law of overcoming adverse conditions.
Let the dead past sleep; it can do you no good now. You made a mistake? Well, forget it and go on your way, doing the right thing now. Self-condemnation is looking backward. It is apt to lead to self-pity, which is a waste of time, and leads no-where that you wish to go. Follow the Master's lead. He had little to say of either the past or the future, but He spoke strongly of the present. That is where we should fix our thoughts. Keep them strictly in the present, with faith in what the future will bring when it shall become the now. To do the best with today, and have faith in the results that will show tomorrow, makes for better and better conditions. Never waste time, then, in looking backward; your work lies ahead of you, never behind you.
Let us learn a lesson from the great apostle, Paul. Hear what he says: "But one thing I do, forgetting the things which are behind, and stretching forward to the things which are before, I press on toward the goal unto the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus."
Paul had sinned deeply during the early part of his life. As a strict Pharisee he had denied the Master, and had fought strenuously against the new faith, even to the point of countenancing the killing of his fellow men in order to put an end to it. Then he started for Damascus for the purpose of persecuting any followers of Jesus that he might find there. On the way he had a marvelous experience, which he has related in detail, and which changed his whole life. The Master chose him, sinner though he had been, to carry the light to the Gentiles. From persecutor to persecuted, he changed without an instant's hesitation. He obeyed the call of Spirit implicitly and cheerfully, although that course led eventually to his own death.
I have sat in a revival meeting and seen converts called to the mourners bench to wail over their past sins. Did Paul do anything like that? He most decidedly did not. He spent no time in mourning over his dark past. He dropped all the old ideas completely out of his consciousness, and put all his powers to work for the goal that he saw so clearly before him, the giving to the world of the good news of freedom through faith in Christ. Then he gave us the sentence I have quoted, which should be our slogan in the work of overcoming. Read it again and again, until you see the point. The past does not count, only the present is of value. What a wonderful example Paul set for us! We should do as he did: forget all the things of the past, and look only toward that perfection which we are commanded to attain. Let the dead thoughts go, and follow Him who promised that we can overcome as He overcame.
We should also carry out this idea in our dealings with others. I have no doubt that there were those among Paul's hearers who smiled incredulously and said, "What, he preach Christ! Why, I knew him when even after Barnabas had vouched for his sincerity. This is one of the most unkind remarks that can ever be made. Paul paid no attention. His life proves that the past can have no bearing on the present unless we hold on to it by continually looking back to it. Any person, no matter what he has done in the past, should be allowed to rise as high as possible. Forget the past mistakes of others as well as your own. Such forgetting leads to universal freedom.
How stupid it is for a student of Truth to be continually looking to the past! That habit only retards his advance. Keep your vision set on the goal to be reached, and forget the things that are behind you. Pay no attention to the old negative thoughts. Let them go while you think of health, happiness, love, and abundance, here and now. Establish your faith in the power of Christ to bring your good to pass, and the evil will vanish. When you know that God is the only power in your life, those old negative thoughts will have no more influence over you. Without your having to recall them, you will be free, which is a simpler method.
As you go through life, march onward with your eyes looking forward, focused on the idea of perfection in all things. Let your aim be nothing less than this, and hold to the path. If you feel that you are slipping, think of Paul and the wonderful life that he led. Think of this word of example that he has given us, and go on. Freedom is what we want, that freedom which Jesus Christ promised us. Causes of trouble do not count. Leave the dead, negative past at rest. Follow Him, and you will reach the goal.
"No man, having put his hand to the plow, and looking back, is fit for the kingdom of God."