This weekend we joined a small but loving group in bidding a final farewell to one of our closest friends. He had passed away 6 years ago, and his parents had been thinking about where to spread his ashes for a few years since. They then did a bit of a tour to friends and places that were sacred to their son so we could all lay him to rest exactly where he’d want to be, near the people he cared for the most. It was hard, but peaceful and we were delighted to all be together in his memory and then making new memories as we shared an evening together.
The whole event, predictably, made me think back to our time together. We were friends long before my children were born and we formed a group of 4 couples who had a whole lot of fun together. We traveled. We celebrated. We played. We drank and ate with abandon. We stayed up late and had absurd conversations. We talked quietly about things that mattered. And we laughed, a lot.
It is bittersweet to look back now, having lost a core member of that group. The whole thing got me to thinking about how I often used to look back at some “happier” time, a time where things were less difficult in some way, or perhaps where I, in retrospect, think I had something going that was RIGHT. In my conversations with people, it seems a lot of us feel this way, that there were certain eras in our past where things were just better.
Lots of folks in the personal development world will tell you that looking back is a huge stumbling block, that the present and the future are the proper place to set your sights. I get why they’re saying it, because there can be an awful lot of murk and muck back there to get our feet stuck in. There can be a lot of regret and self-blame and other-blame and family complications and deep sticky tarry complexity. But what about when we think back on “happier” times?
Here’s what I think. Sometimes those times just seem happier because our minds are selective and not so great at saving the whole roll of film (yes, I am old, it used to come in rolls, because there was film… oh never mind). So that’s one thing, but I also think there is a valuable way to look back at the past, at your happier times, even if your memories of that tie are incomplete. This kind of backward gaze allows you to figure out what you’re missing now. Huh?
When we look back at our happier times, we so often focus on the circumstances that surrounded us: a job, a relationship, people, maybe even a different town or city. We mourn our inability to recreate those circumstances and feel defeated, maybe even feel stuck or trapped in our current situation. But looking back at the circumstances is keeping our view restricted in such a shallow way. It’s like looking at one snapshot of a family gathering and thinking you understand the whole event.
So what’s he best way to look back at happier times? The view that will really help you in your current situation is to look back at how you felt. If you are thinking those days were so much better, it’s time to figure out how you felt then. What kinds of things did you think about? How did you feel that you don’t feel now?
Let me demonstrate. I can look back on those days with my gang of 8 and remember some of how I felt, what made it so special. I felt accepted. I felt included and cared for. I felt a little wild sometimes. I felt free. I felt safe. I felt at home.
So if I’m looking back with longing, the question is, what is the feeling that am I longing for? What feelings am I missing? What am I craving? Which of those feelings could I use a little more of today? Truth is I’m a really lucky woman, and I’ve done a lot of work over the last several years to get a whole bunch of those feelings back. I feel accepted (by myself most importantly). I feel included by friends and family. I feel cared for (again, more so by myself than in the past). I feel safe. I feel at home.
So, if I’m missing those days of yore, it mostly has to do with wildness and freedom, and hey, I’m working on it. I’ve been challenging myself, my current older/wiser/parenting self to feel out what freedom looks like now. I don’t need to recreate my freedom and wildness from then; it won’t fit me now. It won’t feel good. I need to just use the feeling as the target and figure out what I need to think to feel that way. My 30 Days of Freedom Challenge that I’ve been doing for the last twenty-something days has shown me perfectly that I can feel so much freer today WITHOUT turning the clock back, WITHOUT changing my circumstances considerably, even WITH my current responsibilities, because freedom is what it has always been, an inside job. It is all about what I’m thinking. When I think differently, I find those feelings. I feel better. I feel more free.
When you look back on an earlier time, what do you see? Do you imagine yourself happier, stronger, more creative, less encumbered? What feeling do you crave from your past, from your youth, from other times? Leave the circumstances as they are. Find the feeling and think your way right into it. I can show you how.