How to be Free of the Past--or Why Analysis Doesn’t Work

So, you want to be free of the past? Really? If so, you can be, provided you really want freedom and are prepared to go to any length to get it.

Listen to these words from the Indian spiritual philosopher J. Krishnamurti:

‘We are the result of the past. Our thought is founded upon yesterday, and many thousand yesterdays. We are the result of time, and our responses, our present attitudes, are the cumulative effect of many thousand moments, incidents and experiences. So the past is, for the majority of us, the present, which is a fact, which cannot be denied. You, your thoughts, your actions, your responses, are the result of the past.’

So, the question becomes---how can we be free of the past?

Most methods of psychology and psychiatry involve varying degrees and types of analysis including traditional psychoanalysis as well as self-analysis, but can analysis of any kind really give us the freedom from the past we seek? Krishnamurti's view, which is also mine, is that analysis cannot relieve us of an unwanted past. Here is Krishnamurti again:

‘Now, what is the past? What do we mean by the past? … We mean, surely, the accumulated experiences, the accumulated responses, memories, traditions, knowledge, the subconscious storehouse of innumerable thoughts, feelings, influences and responses. With that background, it is not possible to understand reality, because reality must be of no time: it is timeless. So, one cannot understand the timeless with a mind which is the outcome of time. The questioner wants to know if it is possible to free the mind, or for the mind, which is the result of time, to cease to be, immediately; or must one go through a long series of examinations and analyses, and so free the mind from its background. You see the difficulty in the question.’

What normally happens is this. The more analysis, structured or unstructured, the more internal division and conflict. The conditioned mind is, in varying degrees, a sick and divided mind. It is the result of time, and thus the past. Do you think that such a mind, which is the result of the past---which is time---can be liberated from time, such that it can ‘look at reality directly’ (Krishnamurti’s words), by and as a result of a process of analysis over time and in time?

Self-analysis fails because of the problem of self-bondage---you need to understand that the analyser (the so-called witnessing, judging or transcendental self) and that which is being analysed (mental manifestations of self in myriads of forms and thousands of ‘I’s’ and ‘me’s’ over a considerable time period) are what Krishnamurti referred to as a ‘joint phenomenon.’ The first mentioned ‘self’---the so-called witnessing self---is just another of those annoying little, pesky ‘selves’ that we all too often allow to run riot through our mind, and need I remind you that no effort of the self can remove the self from the centre of its own introspection and mental machinations.

Here is an example. A thought of anger arises in the mind. The part of the mind which analyses the anger is part of the anger. There is simply no way, by that means, to free ourselves from the background. So, intellectual analysis and all other forms of introspective dissection are not the way to go. No, true psychological transformation can only arise when one is entirely free of the ‘background’ (or ‘mental furniture’). It is a total re-creation of the person we are without dependence on time or any method grounded in or otherwise dependent on time. Look and observe. Be aware---choicelessly. Don’t analyse or interpret. Just look, observe and see things as they are---both the things outside of us as well as the contents of our own mind. The insight you gain will change you forever---that is, if you want such change in your life. This is the ‘much simpler … more direct way’ spoken of by Krishnamurti and many other teachers.

What if someone else---say, a professional psychoanalyst---does the ‘analysing’? Well, once again, there are huge difficulties inherent in such an approach. To quote Krishnamurti:

‘To be free of the background, many of the analysts say that you must examine every response, every complex, every hindrance, every blockage, which implies a process of time, obviously; which means the analyser must understand what he is analysing; and he must not misinterpret what he analyses. Because, if he mistranslates what he analyses, it will lead him to wrong conclusions, and therefore establish another background. Do you follow? Therefore the analyser must be capable of analysing his thoughts, feelings, without the slightest deviation; and he must not miss one step in his analysis, because to take a wrong step, to draw a wrong conclusion, is to reestablish a background along a different line, on a different level. And this problem also arises: Is the analyser different from what he analyses? Are not the analyser and the thing that is analysed a joint phenomenon?’

Although I am sure that various methods of analysis as well as insight-oriented psychotherapy have helped many, many people, there is that real problem described by Krishnamurti. Just the process of analysis, introspection and evaluation creates more ‘background’---that is, more past, and more conditioning. But isn’t the goal to be free from all that?

The good news is that you can be totally free of the past---at any moment. It’s entirely up to you. No one else can do ‘it’ for you. Yes, there can indeed be that ‘total revolution’ (or psychological mutation or transformation) of which Krishnamurti constantly spoke. I am not talking here about change as a result of intellectual analysis or any form of traditional psychology including psychoanalysis. My view on the latter is encapsulated in that well-known phrase ‘analysis paralysis.’ Whether you want to hear it or not, the truth is that we can instantaneously liberate ourselves from the past and from past conditioning (including beliefs and misbeliefs of all kinds)---all thought is nothing but memory---if we refuse to analyse or dissect the content of our consciousness (the ‘background’ or ‘mental furniture’) and we see things as they really are, without judgment or evaluation.

You can start doing that right now---if you're prepared to do what it takes. But first you must see the falseness in the analytical process. Analysis involves thought, and, obviously, the analysis of thought in great detail. Thought is a thing of time, and the result of time. Self-evidently, thought itself cannot free itself of the process of time, the latter including the unwanted past. Krishnamurti said, 'you can be free of [the past], not tomorrow, but in the present, in the now.' He went on to say, 'That can be done only when you realize that which is false; and the false is obviously the analytical process.'

So, this is what you can choose to do---if you really want to be free, forever, and instantaneously, from the bondage of the past. Watch, almost with disinterest, whatever happens, as if it were happening to someone else. Let there be no comment, judgment or attempt to change anything. Note the presence of any unhealthy, painful thoughts or emotions, but give them no power or attention. Don’t suppress or deny them, and do not ‘resist’ them, for whatever you resist, persists. The law of non-resistance—how very important, and true, that metaphysical law is! The American Protestant minister and author Dr Norman Vincent Peale writes:

‘The power of non-resistance removes certain blocks and limitations in the human mind or soul. … Stop resisting your problems so furiously in your mind. Stop struggling to solve them yourself. If you do that, a great sense of peace followed by a great sense of power will come to you.’

As Krishnamurti puts it, ‘your mind, when you discard the analytical process with all its implications and see it as false, is freed from yesterday, and therefore is capable of looking directly, without going through the process of time [that is, analysis], and thereby discarding the background immediately.’ That is the way ‘a mind that is the result of time, of many thousand yesterdays, [can] be instantaneously free of this complex background.’

Mindfulness, involving the presence of choiceless awareness of, and bare attention to, the action of the present moment, from one moment to the next, is the way to go forward. Note that word---forward. At any ‘point’ in time, you are in direct and immediate contact with what is, and in that directness and immediacy there is your ‘salvation,’ if you can but mindfully experience it, but you must be prepared to stop doing certain things which will otherwise keep you forever in bondage to the past. In what follows, Krishnamurtii describes, much better than I could ever hope to do, the essential features of a mind that is ‘mindful’ (or, Krishnamurti's word, 'tranquil'):

‘Now, to put it very simply, when you want to understand something, what is the state of your mind? When you want to understand your child, when you want to understand somebody, something that someone is saying, what is the state of your mind? You are not analysing, criticizing, judging what the other is saying; you are listening, are you not? Your mind is in a state where the thought process is not active, but is very alert. Yes? And that alertness is not of time, is it? You are merely being alert, passively receptive, and yet fully aware; and it is only in this state that there is understanding. Surely, when the mind is agitated, questioning, worrying, dissecting, analysing, there is no understanding. And when there is the intensity to understand, the mind is obviously tranquil.’

There you have it. The insight that can and will change you---indeed, transform and re-create you---is to be found not in or as a result of analysis, introspection or self-knowledge but only in and as a result of the creation and maintenance of a ‘tranquil’ mind, that is, a mind that is not analysing, criticising, evaluating or judging what is parading before you, at any point in time, as the content of your mind and life experience.

One of my favourite books on spirituality is The Unfettered Mind: Writings of the Zen Master to the Sword Master, by the Japanese Zen monk, calligrapher, painter and poet Takuan Soho. Here is some wisdom from that book:

‘The mind that thinks about removing what is within it will by the very act be occupied. If one will not think about it, the mind will remove these thoughts by itself and of itself become No-Mind.’

Effort defeats itself in all mental workings, and analysis requires effort---great effort---on the part of at least one person. Don't try---instead, let. Let the past stay in the past. Refuse to analyse it, and walk forever from this day forward in the eternal now with a tranquil mind, that is, a mind that is not analysing, criticising, evaluating or judging what is parading before you. That is the way to go!

Note. The substance of this article first appeared as a post on the author’s own blog on 4 October 2012.

Acknowledgement is made, and gratitude is expressed, to the Krishnamurti Foundation of America, Ojai, California, USA. Krishnamurti Excerpts: Benares 2nd Public Talk, 23 January 1949.