“Don’t look Back” the song says…this edict is so popular in songwriting that more than 50 artists on Itunes alone have recordings with that very title. What is so bad about looking back? Isn’t is possible that looking back can be helpful? Perhaps we can examine why so many, from Boston to Bruce Springsteen, advise so strongly against it.
The word reflect has it’s roots in the Latin reflectere, meaning to bend back. When we look into a mirror and gaze at ourselves, we call it “our reflection”. But according to Mirriam Webster’s, the specific definition is, “something that shows the effect, existence, or character of something else”. Certainly understanding the effect of our past experiences should be a valuable reference for us to make decisions and take actions now and in the future. So what’s the problem?
Memory, that’s what. It is rarely detached and often unclear. Any television courtroom drama demonstrates how unreliable memory can be; two witnesses can recall the same event ( with great conviction) in disparate ways. ( Fifty two years later, was there or was there not someone on the grassy knoll?) Memories are not sterile either; they are flavored, sometimes even tainted, by emotion and projection.
If it was possible, however, to reflect on our past experiences with the intention of understanding their effect on us–to learn the lessons embedded within them, perhaps even to become open to the possibility of healing residual wounds created by them, it is more likely that when we move forward in our life we could make decisions from a place of wisdom, not unconsciousness. Looking back could actually help us move forward; not repeat the same mistakes, which wastes precious time. Looking back and “connecting the dots” can help us understand what brought us to this moment, allow us to then be present in it, and then proceed with intelligence from there.
Self awareness is necessary to do this. Where are you on the memory continuum? If “0” is completely opaque and ten is perfectly clear, where would you memory fall? Are you someone who remembers minute details or forgets everything that happens the minute it is over? Do you have trouble facing your past and don’t really want to remember? Or on the opposite side of the spectrum do you live in the past in order to not face the future? If you were to observe yourself as you recall prior events, what tendencies are revealed? Some of us remember most things with “rose-colored glasses”, others remember only the worst from every scenario. If you are closer to either extreme, perhaps by bringing your attention to it could begin the process of moving back toward the center, (and therefore you toward yours).
Are you able to separate issues? This can be challenging. Sometimes events or situations that are actually unrelated, once in the mind blur into one another and create a lasting perception that is inaccurate, often in the negative sense. This shows in thoughts or comments that begin with ” She never…” or “He always…” or “Every time they…”. In modern day management speak, this is referred to as having an “already listening” about a person or scenario. If your boss has a “fire-drill” operating style, you will dread each time he approaches your desk. When this occurs repeatedly it is hard to shake off the pre-existing emotional paradigm and often leads to prejudgements and misconceptions.
Remember that these inquiries are to create clarity, not self criticism. Judgement of ourselves is not helpful, often deflective. The purpose of this swadyaya, or self study, is to help us evolve and mature, spiritually speaking. Another year has just begun; if you were to take a quiet, curious, nonjudgemental look back along the last twelve months, what would you see? What lessons begin to become clear? Can you ask yourself, with kindness and compassion, questions about what worked, what didn’t, where you did your best, where you could have contributed more? Where are there people, places or things that took too much from you, ideas or beliefs its time for you to stop subscribing to, things you should no longer invest your energy or intention in?
When we do this work, our rear-view mirror becomes more clear and our experience becomes an invaluable learning tool. When we remember past mistakes, it discourages us from repeating them, when we relish past success we find courage to try new endeavors. Instead of being catapulted forward through the force of habitual reactions and unresolved emotions, our actions are informed by the wisdom that only comes from awareness, understanding, and a place of raised consciousness.
Then, as we turn our gaze forward with this new found clarity, we can see opportunity and are open to possibility, while using caution and discretion when necessary. We allow lessons learned to prevent us from repeating history and as a result expend our energy wisely. We make decisions more intelligently and are not distracted from our purpose so easily, because we are able keep our dharma at our center more and more effortlessly.
The outcome of all this hard work? The self we bring to the word is more aware, intelligent and always aiming toward the best and highest good of ourselves, which is ultimately toward the good of the All.