Why My Past is More Important Than I Thought

Escapism takes many forms. Escape the present by focusing on the past. Or escape the past by only focusing on the present.

I have done both and neither served me well.

When I was thirteen years old kids were awful. It was your run-of-the-mill bullying case. Fat jokes. Rumors. Lies. Name-calling. A clan of mean girls even convinced a desperate kid to pull down my pants in front of thirty peers. It was embarrassing and traumatizing to say the least. After school I walked down the block to my mom’s Chevy Tahoe, face in hands, bawling my eyes out. That was just one day of many in eighth grade. Don’t get me wrong, I wasn’t an absolute princess either, but the experience sure left an impression.

Through high school the torture and shame had stuck vehemently to my insides. I claimed I was “over it” to anyone who asked, but I grasped the memories of torment with white knuckles. The torment turned to resentment, then judgement and bitterness. I was surrounded by true, supportive friends but oftentimes the painful memories occupied my thoughts to no end. I was so focused on the past I could not see the present.

Five years later I swung to the opposite end of the pendulum. I was reeling from a sexual assault that left me wounded and later scarred. But now all I wanted was to think of the present. The present guy. The present party. The present drink. The immediate satisfaction of filling the gaping hole in my life that was so rudely uncovered at eighteen. Does this not scream of the glittery existentialism we are so saturated in today?

YOLO.

Carpe Diem.

Live fast, die young.

This probably sounds more appealing to those still alive; the dead don’t have a voice to argue.

What about when we clothe the Carpe Diem mindset in more wisdom – shift the perspective from existentialism to mindfulness. The movement on mindful living is both positive and healthy. But I would argue that true mindfulness does not come simply from being present in each moment. I achieve true mindfulness when I reconcile my history. I pay the past its due respect in shaping my perspective so that I can have a more complete understanding and appreciation for my present.

My process isn’t perfect. It never will be perfect because the perfect process doesn’t exist. But I see my motives and my weaknesses much more clearly as a result of observing my previous tendencies. Now my pendulum still swings between tearful nostalgia and present mindfulness, but much less dramatically. With each trial the pendulum’s diameter becomes smaller and more centered. Less drama, less numbing, less escaping. More joy, more mindfulness, more freedom.

My Word for 2017: Adventure

I don’t do resolutions. I have a hard enough time getting things done on the daily. Picking up prescriptions, grocery shopping and depositing checks take a surprising amount of energy. After a day of errands and completing my to-do list I usually reward myself with a bowl of ice cream or disgustingly sweet milk tea. And resolutions are like REALLY big to-dos.

I paint in broader strokes. I like big ideas, big pictures. The details, I don’t care so much about. I’m pretty much the opposite of a micro-manager. I like strategy and I consider myself pragmatic – but at the end of the day, my life decisions are based largely on feeling and intuition.

A few years ago I heard an alternative to the tradition of New Years resolutions. Instead, I set an intention for the year – a single word to describe how I think the year will go, how I can purposely lean into the word, and how I can grow through the word in the year.

My word for 2017: A D V E N T U R E.

Because I am doing things I’ve never done before.

Because adventures are full of fun and laughter.

Because I am a risk-taker.

Because adventures contain an element of surprise – there is no knowing the future.

Because when I think of adventure, I think of the people I will adventure with.

Because adventures make great stories – and I’ve got a story to tell.

Because adventures can be scary, but I know the fear will pass with the next bend in the path.

Because I was made to stand tall in who I’m created to be, no matter the large trees casting shadows on the ground right now.

Because the adventurous life is hard, but the adventurous life is so good.


 

Photo Credit: Tamara Menzi