In Retrospect

For the past few weeks, I’ve found myself slipping into the past. It’s not that the present isn’t worth my attention, but that the past offers too many distractions.

I call it slipping because it’s an involuntary tendency to look back. I’ve got nothing against retrospection and nostalgia. What I don’t enjoy is fixating on past mistakes, pains, regrets, et cetera.

Looking back can be a delightful intoxication. We can live in nostalgia and ignore present happenings. But the past only offers so much delight before distorted truths reveal themselves.

Regrets emerge. Hindsight hits like a sack of bricks, and the past loses its rosy hue. But if you can’t move forward, all you’ll ever do is look back.

And I’m tired of living in the past. I’m done with letting past mistakes, regrets, and decisions haunt my present. I don’t want to be alive ten years from today, still feeling like I haven’t made space for change and uncertainty.

There’s an unrest that never dissipates if you don’t expect uncertainty. You could call it existential angst. I call it ignoring opportunities to live fully.

Peaceful clarity settles upon me when I think of all the opportunities life still has in store. I don’t have to imagine closing myself off to these possibilities, either.

I also realize that I’ve been “silent” on here the last few weeks, too. Part of that’s been sheer exhaustion and lack of focus. Other parts of concern some work I’ve chosen to take on for personal growth and healing.

Trying to date again after three years of singlehood opened some old doors, ones I thought I’d closed. Old wounds and memories resurfaced, and it’s been a shock. Sometimes, we can fool ourselves into being whole by simply trying.

My determination and obstinance often result in accidental resilience. It’s a positive consequence of the fake-it-til-you-make-it mentality. This willfulness is as much inherited as it is learned.

But the problem with slipping is that you lose traction. It’s hard to be present and live in the moment when you find yourself falling behind into your history. And looking forward is just as difficult, too, when the past clings to you.

But the trappings of history only serve us so much in modernity. Some worship the past, believing its repetitive tendencies are predictors for the future. But that’s just another tricky little trap.

The past reveals truths, yes. After unveiling those truths, it’s vital to take action lest we doom ourselves to repeating past mistakes. But there’s value in learning from the past and applying it to today so that you can build a better tomorrow.

There’s value in learning from the past and applying it to today so that you can build a better tomorrow.

It hit me earlier this week, after so many relationships and romantic entanglements, why things haven’t worked out and why  I am where I am today.

Yes, I have (and had) my part to play in their end. Most of my past relationships ended because I had clarity or maturity or whatever foresight was needed to end things. A lot of my past relationships were good, if not entirely whole.

I can regret and grieve the trappings of my former self, but eventually, I have to move on. There’s a tipping point when accountability slips into guilting or obsessing over regrets and mistakes.

Once you realize where you are and how you got there, you have to move on. Taking that step forward seems like the simplest thing, but it can easily be the most challenging thing to do. If you overthink or put too much into tomorrow, you set yourself up for failure, too.

It’s so funny how we build things up in our minds, sandcastles of imagination. Each grain comprises dreams, desires, and wishes–nothing as solid as silica or carbon. No, this wishy-washy projection and ideation of hoping and wanting is naught but sand and smoke.

Mental Pictures

I ‘ve always been a creative person, so visualizing things comes naturally to me. Whether I’m slipping into my past or dreaming about my future, images appear on a reel of personal cinema. The stills and found footage of my life come together, forming strange montages.

I don’t know much about the development of film photography. I do know there are many chemicals involved which, ironically, are dangerous to one’s vision. If spilled in the eye, agents used in clarifying images can blind you, leaving your vision permanently underdeveloped.

Mental pictures require development of their own. The common adage of life flashing before your eyes evokes the flashbulbs of vintage paparazzi. If our lives are all one cinematic metaphor, we’re as much audience as the director, producer, writer, superstar. How we cast ourselves, presently and in hindsight, depends upon the roles we agree to adopt, the angles we capture moments in, and the effects of post-production.

Truthfully, our lives aren’t sequentially recorded like film. We jumble up moments with preferred filters on reality. Whether we flatter ourselves with denial or falsehood, our mental pictures are often unreliable. 

Time offers so many more moments than a mere snapshot can offer. No matter how much we record, there’s too much to capture.

It’s not as much a matter of curatorial or narrative authority but more so the sensory triggers we connect to certain scenes. Unlike cinema, we aren’t mere spectators. In the movies of our lives, inaction is still a choice.

Potential passiveness leaves us subject to the sounds, smells, and physical sensations around us. An especially stiff-backed chair may heighten your anxiety or unease. Someone’s stale cigarette breath may linger, triggering a craving for old habits or inducing nausea. A certain melody revives yet more moments captured in the mind’s eye.

My mental pictures burn rather keenly in my mind’s eye. I blame this in part on my eidetic memory. The other portion of blame I’ll assign to my observational skill and general emotionality.

I’m wary of validating my mental snapshots. Too much attention or light exposure on undeveloped films permanently distorts the true picture. I can choose to attach significance to moments that mean nothing to another individual.

This resounds beyond memory, often altering my present perceptions. It’s helpful in some regards. Prior snapshots show others’ growth and the general reality of their character.

This being said, how we see others in the past often distorts how people are present. The problem with stills is their very essence. They only capture moments, some of which may only appear once in a lifetime.

People can read too much into a moment, assuming it applies to a person’s entirety.

These images still have something to offer, but they can distort reality. People can read too much into a moment, assuming it applies to a person’s entirety. We all make this mistake, taking things at face value and basing things on first impressions.

I’m no exception to this, either, but I find myself consistently frustrated by others’ stilted impressions of me. I’m not sure if there’s any way to remedy this except to see people in various settings. Over time, people piece together a whole picture of your character, but it takes longer than we expect.

These virtual collages still only represent our perspective and perception of a person. We can blind ourselves with projections, daydreams, hopes, and other fantasies. Of course, there’s the honesty of the other person to consider, too.

Assuming there’s no denial or omission of truth, we often never see the entirety of a person right away. Time offers so many more moments than a mere snapshot can offer. No matter how much we record, there’s too much to capture.

Scrapbooks and Glitter Glue

Because of life’s unceasing nature, we often hold onto the past out of nostalgia. Many people use photo albums and scrapbooks as history made material. We hold onto the past for many reasons, sometimes to mark our progress and growth.

A friend once told me, “Never change, Amanda.”

I replied with a hearty laugh, “That’s all life is, though. If I’m not changing, then I’m not living.”

Piecing together our present means understanding those composite parts of our past. Each snapshot, ticket stub, pressed flower, song or poem all make up moments and memories. But we’re more than these memories; there’s the messy stuff in between that makes up who we are.

Focus on the truths of yourself. Remember that today’s feelings fade and don’t ultimately define you. If the pieces of your plan fall apart, you can always put them back together. Get creative with the glue. Make it pretty. Make something new.

This is the pretty, sparkly mess that holds your life together. If you’re a six-year-old, this might be all you need to piece together the parts of your life. As an adult, this probably isn’t the case.

In Japanese and Buddhist tradition, the philosophy of kintsugi is all about piecing things together after they’ve fallen apart. Take a cracked piece of pottery and fill said cracks with molten gold. When it cools, you’ll have something like this:

But we’re more than these memories; there’s the messy stuff in between that makes up who we are.

Kintsugi doesn’t exclusively apply to pottery. The philosophy derives from a myriad of words. Mono no aware, or “the pathos of things,” reflects on the impermanence of existence.

It encompasses the knowledge and acceptance and longing for the brevity of life’s many aspects. Whether it be broken pottery or the first birth of your first child, these are but fleeting moments in time. Kintsugi embodies this by saving and changing what cannot be as it was once.

Mono no aware is similar to the Buddhist teaching of wabi-sabiWabi-sabi includes the three marks of existence, impermanence, suffering, and absence of self-nature.

These all connect to a detachment from worldly concerns, which is necessary for achieving enlightenment. This pieced-together word comes with further layers which tie it more closely to kintsugiWabi connotes understated elegance, often including the unique aspects of “flaws” of handmade work. Sabi reflects the natural wearing and tearing of time on things, such as gold-mended pottery or an elderly human’s wrinkles.

The understanding and reverence of life’s impermanence is not strictly Eastern. Kintsugi, mono no aware, and wabisabi are all connected to Western elements found in classical literature. Take the Latin phrase memento mori, which means, “Remember that you must die.”

Better still, the phrase lacrimae rerum taken from Virgil’s Aeneid. It translates to “tears of things,” but even this varies with context. See the different interpretations below:

  • “The world is a world of tears, and the burdens of mortality touch the heart.” Robert Fagles
  • “They weep here / For how the world goes, and our life that passes/ Touches their hearts.” Robert Fitzgerald
  • “These men know the pathos of life, and mortal things touch their hearts.” Kenneth Clark
  • “There are tears at the heart of things.” Seamus Heaney

However we choose to mark time’s passing, I think it’s clear that staying in the past is detrimental. It’s unwise to assume things about our todays and tomorrows using only history to inform us, too. Paying attention to these details is only one of many moving parts.

In retrospect, I can say that the stills and odds and ends of my life comprise a rich montage of good and bad. I’ve got my share of pain, loss, and regret. But I’ve also got so much peace, joy, and fulfillment.

Anchoring myself to today is still something I’m working on. Slipping into the past isn’t always bad, and I often learn a lot about where I am today when a memory surfaces. I think it’s most important to learn how to live in the moment so you can truly thrive.


Thanks so much for reading my blog! It means the world that you’ve taken a few precious moments out of your busy day to consider my perspective. For more thought-provoking content, check out my other posts or sign up for email reminders.

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