There is something about this time of year that encourages a shedding of past experiences. We are told to leave the past behind us and to look forward towards a new and (hopefully) better future. I’m not disputing the validity of this approach, but I would temper it with a little moderation.
For sure, too many backward glances causes us to stumble. How many times have we watched children especially collide with lampposts because they were looking behind them whilst walking (or even running!) forwards? Indeed, for fear of falling, some of us have learnt that we can keep safe by standing still whilst we cast our backward glances. In this case, we are safe but we are also static. And so, in a bid to encourage growth and movement, we cast our eyes ahead of us, resisting the pull of what lies behind.
I went on a walk with my daughter this week. A walk in the countryside can take a long time with my little one, because she is on a constant lookout for ‘treasures’. She sadly acknowledges that she can’t take whole branches and trees home with us, nor can we stand in one spot for long (it’s cold at the moment!) but she will collect catkins, pebbles, leaves and sticks along the way, “because I want to remember this time, Mummy”.
Suppose we leave the past in the past, but bring along the treasures we have found along the way? We leave the coldness and the mud, the occasional litter we come across, but we can collect reminders of our joyful experiences. We collect these things, mementoes from our past, and bring them into our present, our Now. These things may be physical objects, such as my daughter’s treasures, or they may be practises, behaviours or experiences. These are our treasures, and they act as a bridge from our then to our now.
These ‘treasure bridges’ are important especially for those who have led transient lives, Where we have experienced abrupt changes throughout our lives, there is often an accompanying sense of ‘I can never go back’. The losses felt by someone leaving multiple homes, countries or cultures are great. And for some, the building of bridges between the past and the present is a clunky and unfamiliar process. And yet, the collecting of treasures is a way of staying connected to our own story. If we can use them to time-travel, to join up the disconnected narratives of our lives, we can continue to experience the pleasure they gave us when we first discovered them. We can use these treasures to build consistency in our transient worlds.
So how can we build them? First, let’s go on a walk. Can you meander through your past memories for a while? Go as far back as you wish – a week, a month, a year, a lifetime… Walk through your landscapes – the places, the people, the experiences, the food! What treasures can you collect? What can you carry forwards to your today, your tomorrow?
I want to share three of my treasure bridges with you. Firstly, I have audiobooks. I had a childhood that was largely TV free and in which long car journeys featured strongly. Audiobooks were a pleasure of my childhood – they gave me access to different cultural worlds and acted as company on quiet days. They staved off boredom and enriched my imagination. I still listen to them now and have sought (and bought!) some favourites from my youth to relive as an adult.
Secondly, I have incense. I don’t remember enjoying incense especially in my childhood – it was often overpowering but it is a strong reminder of my childhood. I now burn incense sticks several times a week as I work at my desk; it’s familiar smells and smoke spirals are a comforting presence to me.
Thirdly, from my more recent past, I have photo collages in my home of my friends – both relatively new and older too. They remind me that these treasures from the past are fixed in my present too, and to continue to invest in them.
What beautiful or joyful or powerful experiences from your past can be included in your present? What are your treasure bridges? If you are finding it hard to tap into joyful experiences from the past, start from the present. Consider downloading (for free!) the ‘Using our Senses to Nurture Our Selves’ worksheet on the Resources page (just scroll down, it’s near the bottom). It guides you through six days of short reflections that use your five senses to notice the things that bring you joy. Let me know how you get on!