October 6. “I can’t sit back and fold my hands and think about the past, for there are thousands of yesterdays but only one today and…maybe a tomorrow.” (Red Skelton)
The past has a way of sneaking into our brains and taking up residences, doesn’t it? I am not talking about reminiscing fondly over the best of times. Nor am I talking about the memories of departed loved ones. Those are healthy and therapeutic memories that can comfort us or bring back a joyful feeling from days gone by. I am talking about those other feelings, the ones that aren’t so healthy.
I have spent far too much time in my life on regrets and wishful thinking. I have wanted, many times, to travel back through time to change this or that, to make decisions again. Knowing that’s impossible, my mind will then switch to even less healthy thoughts. I begin to wonder why I did things a certain way. Again, not so I can learn from them, but so I can relive them and beat myself up for past mistakes. I wonder how my life might be different (better?), if only…
I have come to learn in more recent years that it’s unhealthy to dwell in the past. There are lessons to be learned about mistakes, and I note those. I do everything I can to avoid making the same mistakes today than I did yesterday or the day before. But I spend far less of my time beating myself up for what I did yesterday.
When my mom died two years ago, I went through a phase in my grief where I questioned whether I was a good son. I questioned whether I had fulfilled her dreams and desires for me. I wondered whether I had done enough to be there for her in her declining years. In my state of grief my answer to all those questions was always no. In that state of mind, all I could see were my failings. As I progressed through the grief I had to make a conscious decision to stop. I knew that for me to be healthy I had to have a much healthier look at my past and to accept thins as they were. Could I have done better in the past? Of course I could, everyone can always look back and say that they could have done something better. But I had to allow myself to understand and believe that all along I was making the best choices I could, and that I had been doing my best for that time. Once I was able to reconcile that in my mind, my grief became more manageable.
I am not a robot. I am not in a perfect state where all I do is dispassionately chronicle and analyze my past performance in order to tune the machine. Anyone who tells you that they have no regrets is a liar – either to you or themselves, but more likely to both. Everyone has regrets at some level. There are always things we wish would have been different. But, the healthy side of my mind deals with those regrets quickly so that I can get on with the important business of living in the present.
Today my reflection is on today. Other than learning from mistakes, there is nothing to be gained from ruminating on the past. I have but one chance to make today matter, and to go to bed with a clear head at the end.