Remembrance of Things Past
Although the concept of living in the present and letting go of the past sounds wise, stepping back from what appears to be practical and shifting our focus to what is probable puts things in a slightly different light. Oftentimes, what sounds like “sound” advice is merely wishful thinking. And in order to buy into ideas that seem as if they would bring positive change into our lives, we must repress our critical thinking faculties or, at least, cover them with a veil of naiveté.
Perhaps, the greater wisdom is to be found in not ignoring our memories, but rather in allowing them to transform our present and our future. Just because we look away from something does not mean it ceases to exist. One cannot escape the warmth of the sun merely by refusing to turn one’s face towards it.
Yet, our world is proficient at persuading us that appearances count for more than reality. Thus, we might imagine we can get through life skimming the surface of the water rather than exploring the depths. This is why the idea of living solely in the present is so appealing. But even though it may seem to free us from our past, it also prevents us from understanding our reasons for making the choices that have led us to the point we are at in our lives now.
How can self-knowledge be possible if we cast aside everything about our lives that existed outside the present moment? The past is linked to the present as irrevocably as the future is linked to both the past and the present. And the experiences of the past, though they now only exist in our memory, are threads in the tapestry of our lives. If we were to remove these threads, we would destroy the tapestry.
Thus, to push all of our memories into the deep recesses of our minds is akin to covering parts of a painting with a piece of cloth. Our fears of reliving the past may persuade us to believe that repressing these memories is the safest option. But in doing so, we sacrifice our freedom. For as long as we experience fear of any kind, we cannot be free.
Even if our memories have been altered by our perception, they still remain part of our truth. They are part of us and our individuality. And they are also one of the few things that is strictly ours.
We may not be able to change the past as we can change our thoughts. But through understanding what our memories signify and what shape they have taken, they can have a pivotal impact on our future. In a way, memories are like footprints in the snow. As fresh snow falls over the footprints, they alter their form until at last they become invisible to the naked eye. Yet, it does not change the fact that the footprints were once there.
Nietzsche once said, “Man . . . cannot learn to forget, but hangs on the past; however far or fast he runs, that chain runs with him.” If this is so, perhaps the problem lies in running. That which we run from can enslave us whereas that which we accept and overcome liberates us. How can we learn to forget that which is part of our own unique history?
Our lives are like a book that we are writing. At the time of our death, we will not have the opportunity to abridge or condense any of the text. As soon as it passes, the past is buried. Yet because of its effect on all that happens after it, its burial is never permanent. Our past may have disintegrated into ashes, but those ashes can catch flame at any moment. This is why it is far better to seek to understand it than to pretend it never happened.
The things we pull away from oftentimes have a way of strengthening their hold on us when we resist them. The paradoxical element in this is that most things are never as threatening as we imagine them to be. In the words of Marie Curie, “Nothing in life is to be feared. It is only to be understood.”
Although from a distance our past may evoke apprehension, when we get close to it we see how powerless it is. It is merely a hollow remembrance of life. All that it can give us are clues to our hidden fears, doubts, and disappointments.
It can enable us to create change in the present and the future. But this change comes about through us—not through our past. Socrates called Memory the “mother of all Muses.” Yet, you have no memories once you forget the past. For that which exists now and shall exist in the future cannot be recollected until it, too, becomes part of the past.
Love, Peace, and Joy
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This page and all written material at My Odyssey is written by Sascha Norris. (C) Copyright 2010 by Sascha Norris. All Rights Reserved