I sometimes find, and I am sure you know the feeling, that I simply have too many thoughts and memories crammed into my mind… At these times… I use the Pensieve. One simply siphons the excess thoughts from one’s mind, pours them into the basin, and examines them at one’s leisure. – Albus Dumbledore, From Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire
They say that hindsight is 20/20. And they’re right. In the present moment, it’s hard to observe your life for what’s really going on. Patterns and trends tend only to emerge when you are looking back, not when you are looking around you. In order to really examine your life, you need to look backwards at some point.
This doesn’t mean, however, that you are “living in the past.” It doesn’t mean that you are not present in the present anymore. It simply means you are looking at past circumstances to extract what you can out of them.
If you are familiar with the story of Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire (from the book or the movie) you will remember that, in the story, Dumbledore uses his “Pensieve” to examine his memories. By extracting the memories from his mind (through magic of course 😉 ) and adding them to the Pensieve he can literally watch the scenes of his life as if he were watching a movie. This gives him room and time to examine them in a way that he couldn’t while he was actually living them.
You can examine your memories in much the same way that Dumbledore examines his and take the lessons learned with you as you move forward. No magic necessary. 😉
Bad Uses of the Past
Living in the moment is something that most people desire more of. It seems like we miss too much when we are focused on either the past or the future.
Some people get stuck when they look back at their life. They wish that they were living at another point in time, when they were happy or successful or having fun. They don’t see themselves being able to replicate that past circumstance in the present so they spend time remembering what was, only to neglect what actually is.
Thinking constantly of past accomplishments or favorable circumstances robs you of the growth and joy you could be experiencing right now. Leave what has happened in the past. It exists only in your memories now.
Good Uses of the Past
A good use of the past is when you are looking back at your life for the purpose of extracting some knowledge that you can act upon today. That makes the action you are taking very powerful, because it’s based on information you have gathered from your own life.
You have a complete record keeping system contained within your memory. And the great part is that you can access it at any time. Pull up the events of your life like a website and you can analyze what it is that makes you tick. You always have access to information about yourself – use it!
How To Go Backwards So You Can Move Forward
Solve today’s problems with yesterday’s information. You can gather information about how you got to where you are, and how to get out of where you are by reflecting on the past. Here’s what you can find:
Where the Problem Began – When you look at the origins of a problem, you are looking at what was going on in your life when the problem began and how you reacted to them. This can tell you something about what qualities you have developed in your life that you probably still have and that you probably weren’t conscious of. This can give you many clues to why you act the way that you do.
Patterns – When you have identified certain qualities you developed because of specific circumstances in your life, you can begin to see where and how these qualities surfaced and pick out patterns and trends in your life. The more often something has happened to you the deeper the pattern and the more important it is to examine.
What Changes You Need to Make – Now that you know what contributed to the problem in the first place, you can decide what you need to do to change it. Do you hold a belief that is holding you back? Do you need to develop more courage, patience or self-trust? Is there a quality that you need to temper a bit? If you know how it all began and why it continues you can see what you need to change.
Your Feelings About the Past – When you bring up a scene from your life, notice what feelings you have about it in the present. Do you feel more “negative” feelings about it or more “positive” feelings? If you have positive feelings, there may still be something you can learn from it, but it’s the presence of negative emotions that tells you there is something you can learn.
I’ve often used this method in my own life when things become too uncomfortable. I may have a specific problem or it may just be a feeling of dissatisfaction about the way that something is going. If I can find out when it started and see how it continued in my life, I can pin point things that I did that contributed to it. Going back to the beginning is a great place to start.
I see this process almost like watching a movie, except all the footage is from your own life. Just like putting on a DVD you can select the specific scenes you want to watch, when you want to watch them. When you reflect, the hours of your life play back for you. And since you are removed from them through the passing of time, they play much clearer than they ever did. You can watch yourself and your life from afar and from a much more objective standpoint then when you were actually living it.
If you want to know how to move forward, go backwards first. You will find the keys you need to unlock the gates of your life.
Thoughts? Ideas? Share in the comments!