My older son just headed back to college after being home for a week for spring break. Arriving home from the airport early this morning, I was struck by a sliver of the same sadness I felt at dropping him off at school in the fall. Sitting there in our living room, pictures of our family vacations cycling through the digital picture frame on the table next to me, listening to Rex Orange County songs first introduced to me by my son, I had a few insights. I share them here for my own future reference but also in the odd chance that they prove helpful to someone else.
The melancholy I experienced this morning was a kind of nostalgia. What I saw was that this pull back into the past was oddly related to a subtle anxiety I feel for my sons’ futures. Looking more deeply, I realized it was broader than just that. These emotional pulls were blocking me from fully embracing what was happening at any given moment, and that this was a pattern, a constant bridging I do into both the past and the future. Memories tug at good old days in the past and worry seeks to protect the good old days of today from some undefined threat to my loved ones in the future.
“This one a long time have I watched. All his life has he looked away…to the future, to the horizon. Never his mind on where he was. Hmm? What he was doing.”
— Yoda, speaking of and to Luke Skywalker
There is nothing wrong with remembering the past, but the question that occurred to me this morning was whether it was possible to recall memories so that rather than sucking me away from the present, they actually embroider the present so that I experience it even more fully. Was there a way of holding memories so that they add to the freshness of right now? Was it possible to fold meaning derived from the past into the present moment? My insight today was that yes, this was very possible and that it meant two things. First, it meant learning to relax into the vital edge of whatever is occurring right now. And second, it meant no longer treating memories as trophies stuffed untouchably away in some display case of the mind. To fold past into the present, memories must become fodder for creative living.
The question comes down to whether our emotions pull us back into the past, hurl us forward into the future, or build a welcome nest for us right here in the present. In the coming week, I plan to pay more attention to how I am folding the past and the future into the present. When it comes to my mind’s projections of attachment or aversion to particular outcomes into the future, my focus will be on first evaluating the actual likelihood of occurrence and, when warranted, translating that pull into immediate action as a way to recenter the future into the present. For tugs from the past, my goal will be to create a more vibrant present by treating my memories as just one more of the many ingredients to remain open to in the flavoring of my experience of right now.