Having just returned from an enjoyable and enlightening trip to the Balkan Peninsula, I am conscious of the importance of choosing to let go. Visiting the countries of the former Yugoslavia, the hope and aspirations for a better future were as tangible as the physical evidence of past conflicts, recent and ancient. The wounds from the recent homeland war in Croatia, Slovenia, Montenegro and Albania were still fresh, both in the physical landscape and the hearts of the people. Geopolitical boundaries are permeable and shift while ethnic divisions remain deeper than any marks on a map.
As visitors, we are reminded of the ethnic pain suffered over the globe in far-off lands and close to home. Whatever our own ethnic background, we feel each other’s pain and are reminded of our own familial stories. What do we do with our own historical and ethnic pain? What to we pass on to the next generation? With the blessing of becoming concious, we realize that we have choices. We can teach our children not to forget and at the same time to forgive, as we forge a new pathway forward. Our challenge is to find ways of releasing the past instead of living in it in the present moment.
The Balkans are a complex interweaving of histories, ethnicities and cultures. Visitors marvel at medieval walled cities, now vibrant with internet cafes and people sipping coffee and chatting on cell phones. Museums are filled with ancient weaponry and swords— instruments of death, irrespective of their beautiful mother-of-pearl and inlay designs, for those deemed different. Just as buildings of ancient stone, partially destroyed by earthquake or human greed and fear of the ‘other’ can be left to accent the landscape, they are also used to rebuild new lives and start anew. Can we each learn to take past memories, remnants scattered over the terrain of our individual inner landscapes, and build something new, creative and hope-filled? By letting the past go, we can become conscious in the present moment and build a new and different future of mutuality, respect and celebration of diversity. It is challenging, possible and worth our striving.