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 sadness I felt dropping him off at school last fall. There in our living room, listening to some of his music, I had a few insights. I share them partially for my own future reference but also in the hope that they may help someone else.
That melancholy was a kind of nostalgia. What I saw when I pulled back to look was that the past was oddly tied to subtle anxiety for the future—my sons’ futures, to be particular. Then, looking again, I realized it was something still deeper.
These emotional ties were blocking me from fully embracing what was going on right now. What’s more, I realized I’d been playing out this same pattern for a long time—this constant bridging, bumping back and forth, between past and future. Memories tug from days gone by while worry tries to protect the good old days of today from an undefined threat to our 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. The question that came to me this morning was whether we might recall memories in ways that, rather than sucking us back into the past, actually embroidered the present that we may experience it even more fully. Was there a way of holding memories so that they added to the freshness of what is before us right now?
My insight today was that yes, it was very possible to fold meaning derived from the past into the present moment. This requires learning to relax into the vital edge of whatever is occurring right now. It also means 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 liking or disliking some particular future outcome, I will first evaluate the actual likelihood of its happening. Then, when warranted, I will transform the calls for attention into immediate plans to act. In this way, I recenter the future into the present.
- For tugs from the past, my goal will be to create a more vibrant present by treating those memories as just one ingredient flavoring my experience of right now.