We all know that before the war everything was better*. The grass was greener, kids were smarter and politicians were less corrupt. My life was also better before the war; the definition of the war I am speaking about may be fuzzy, but it was always a war of sorts, even if it was just me on both sides. For the longest time I was as guilty as anyone for believing in this life before the war and for clinging onto living in the past until my last breath.
That’s now, also, behind another war – but one I do not miss, for once; somehow I have learnt to forgive myself for not being what I used to be and accept change. That was a long and painful lesson to take and not one I can talk about today – not one I will be able to talk about for a very long time – but there are some parts of it that were more important than others. And one of them was letting go of the past.
Why I used to love living in the past
There is one thing I still love about the past and that is: the past is safe.
Good or bad, it cannot hurt anyone anymore. It is like an old wolf that has lost its teeth; it can be scary to look at but it cannot bite. Living in the past carries none of the consequences of the past. Of course, there are people around who have been hurt before, I’d even say all of us were to lesser or greater extent – but no one chooses to live in the painful past, and dealing with trauma is a completely different story entirely.
You see, the past cannot change. We often wish it would but it cannot. It is set in stone. Therefore if we do dream we could go back in time and relive our past, we are convinced our past would be just as we remembered it.
Especially because all the details get fuzzy over time and plenty of our memories are simply fake. But, I guess, that’s also a completely different discussion altogether.
What will not help?
Whenever I read advice on getting out of nostalgia, the number one recommendation is often: if you do not leave the past, you cannot embrace the future.
Haha, yeah, I know.
This is a very good and valid point – don’t get me wrong. There is no change in the past. There is no improvement. There is no progress. All of these are often good enough reasons to live in the now, to achieve, to look for happiness – but I fail to understand why anyone could get swayed by them if they do get stuck in the past.
People living in the past do not want progress. People living in the past WANT THE PAST.
We want to feel how we used to feel. We want the life we used to have. Sure, we need to stop wanting that to move forward, but we DO NOT want to move forward. That is the whole problem. It’s as if I told a smoker to just quit smoking. Yeah, that’s as simple as that, to not be a smoker anymore one should focus on not smoking, but that is not a solution; that is the end goal.
Not to live in the past one needs to stop living in the past. What a discovery. Surprisingly enough, none of these advices has ever helped me a bit.
What may help?
I say may, as not everything that helps me can help everyone. Yet if you do feel like you are living in the past and cannot move forward for the love of all things chocolate, you may as well give it a shot.
You see, for me the very essence of the problem lies in the misunderstanding of what the past actually is.
Yes, the past cannot change. The Past happened and is set in stone. But reliving the past exactly would never be possible anyway, even if all the same circumstances were met – because we simply are not the same.
There are hundreds and hundreds of past mes and it is them, not me, who lived MY past. They had their own opinions and feelings and decisions and other stuff that formed what I am now but not what all of them were then. If I were to bring my past back, if I were to reverse the clock, I could only bring back the events that made me so happy, not the me that used to be.
There is a quote from Hieraclitus that is by far the most misquoted thing in the history of philosophy and I am probably not going to do it any favour either. About stepping into the same river twice.
(Don’t even start me on people who use it as a symbol for making the same mistake twice – I am still not sure how the world has reached this conclusion.)
Living in the past becomes way less exciting once one embraces this phrase: No man ever steps in the same river twice, for it’s not the same river and he’s not the same man.
Today is always gone tomorrow
If you need a proper example to believe it – as I did, because although rationally I knew my past could never be recreated precisely as it was, I was in a state of very deep denial – here is one that must have happened to everyone everywhere.
Imagine a good time that you spent with your friends. For some it would be a night out, for others a quiet afternoon, whatever works. Pick a really good one – one that you have tried to recreate in the past. Did the repeat work? Was it as good as the legendary night everyone still jokes about?
I doubt that.
I have been to so many of these – parties to resemble parties that were, copycat days out, trips following the footsteps of the previous one… There was one thing common about them all. If the main interest, hype let it be called, of the whole affair was to relive the previous one, it would fail almost straight away.
Nothing can ever happen twice.
In consequence, the sorry fact is
that we arrive here improvised
and leave without the chance to practice.
I love this one so much it even made it into my Twitter Monday Motivations. It keeps me on track, you know? Makes me remember that whatever I lived in the past, it would never ever be the same.
Why did that help me?
Yes, I know, I know, all of that is all good and fun, but how would that help anyone to move forward with their lives? I can only tell you how it helped me:
It made me realize that the past is not safe once it becomes the future.
It made me realize that something I used to find warm and comfortable and HAPPY, may never be that again if I do bring it into my life today.
It didn’t destroy the memories of what I used to have – if anything, it made me warier of reliving these, as I would be cautious that if they do backfire, the original may suffer as well. I may no longer like them and want to remember them. And what, if not our memories, makes us who we are?
I used to crave the past because I knew how it turned out to be – because I knew it used to make me happy and I thought it would make me happy here and now. I didn’t want progress. I wanted to be happy and, you know, if it’s not broken, don’t fix it. I thought living in the past was the answer to how upset I was about the present.
But the past itself could not solve that problem, because it simply wouldn’t be the same. I had to change and face whatever was scaring me. Not running away was the only way to run away from everything that was wrong.
The past had to be left alone for pictures and such.
* This is actually a Polish idiom I was not aware does not exist in English… Silly bumpkin called me 🙂
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