Walking Backwards into the Future

Mistakes haunt us. Regrets torment us. Grief – for any loss – rips at us.

We pick at these wounds hoping for miraculous healing. We study them, trying to figure out what went wrong. We relive them in our minds over and over looking for what we could have done differently.

We waste years staring at our past, walking backwards into the future.

Let me boil down the essence of 10,000 self-help books on the market right now: turn around, put your back to the past and look at the path ahead.

No lie: it’s the hardest thing to do, harder than even carrying our burdens of shame, regret or grief. I’m not sure why, although I suspect fear of vulnerability is a major cause. All I know is that true living is about turning around and facing what’s ahead of you.

It might be easier to think of changing lanes or making a turn in the road, but really, that is pointless if you are driving backwards.

Turn around.

The road behind you doesn’t disappear if you do, and the place where you are now (and everything that got you to this point) doesn’t magically change. In fact, there are no changes outside of you at all. Externally, nothing is altered in any way.

Your view— your perspective— is radically different, though. Instead of seeing opportunities as they fade into the distance while you pass them by, you see them coming up ahead of you. In the words of the Shambhala Buddhist tradition, you are not facing the setting sun anymore, but the Great Eastern Sun where every day is new and unique and full of potential.

This isn’t much of an esoteric analogy, it’s very practical. If you doubt the wisdom of turning around— if you are afraid of losing sight of where you’ve been— then try walking backwards down a sidewalk. Just for one block. Or not… because you’ll probably fall down, or get run over when you trip off the curb. Meanwhile you’re so busy trying to keep walking you don’t really have any idea what is around you, much less ahead of you. Is that how you want to live your life?

When you face forward, you face into the unknown, which feels much more dangerous than looking at your past. But the fear of the unknown is a deception, because the greater danger lies in not looking at where you are going, at letting your past dictate your path without any conscious input from you as you stroll along. Like tripping backwards down the sidewalk, focusing all your energy on what has already happened destroys your ability to prepare for where you are going.

Me, I woke up one day to realize that I had walked backwards into a future I never planned on, and did not recognize. I did not even exist in my life because I was so busy staring at my past that I not only tripped off the curb, but was rolling around in the gutter while still trying to crawl backwards.

I’m not saying that reflecting on the past is pointless, because after all it is how we got where we are now. But like a road map, it’s only useful for gaining a big-picture idea of the route we are on. Focusing only on one or two points we passed through on the way to now blinds us to everything.

If we don’t turn around, if we don’t willingly come to peace with our past and move face-forward to what comes next, then we are walking backwards into our own oblivion. I did that for years, desperate to numb my emotions and escape the pain of living in a life that was foreign to me. I spent all that time looking at my past and yet still had no clue how the hell I ended up where I was.

Turning around took me nearly two years of therapy and what I call “Dangerous Living” to accomplish. I still tend to sit down and look backwards, because it is a comfort zone for me. I’m not one to preach about how easy and wonderful it is to do. Nope. Sometimes it was hell.

Yet the horizon in front of me now is brilliant, beautiful and promising. Trust me on that. Turn around.

Kimboo York 2011

KimBoo York

More Articles Written by KimBoo

KimBoo York lives in a small Southern town and is an author and full time graduate student. At 40 years old, she "rebooted" her life after facing up to many serious issues brought on by the deaths of both her parents when she was in her mid-20s. A very naïve and sheltered young woman at the time, those deaths combined with the loss of her family's house and the deaths of her dogs (as she says, "like a bad Country Western song…") derailed KimBoo's life for nearly fifteen years. KimBoo is nearly 42 at this point, in 2011, and still trying to figure out all the details of being divorced, single, in graduate school, and broke. She makes no pretense to be one of those awesome, perfect people who makes lemonade out of tragedy. She's not beautiful or rich and certainly is not very lucky, but she is working hard at living her life authentically, both for herself and in memory of those she has lost. Like most people at Open to Hope, KimBoo is simply a grief survivor trying to keep going. Her book about her experiences as a young adult orphan was self-published last year: Grieving Futures: Surviving the Deaths of My Parents, My Home, and My Future. Contact info: Grieving Futures book: http://www.smashwords.com/books/view/41075 Twitter: http://twitter.com/#!/kimboo_york FaceBook: http://www.facebook.com/#!/kimboosan


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  • Jo-Ann says:

    I want to thank you for your posting, it hit the nail right on the head with me, I was a caretaker for my mom who passed in September. I was/am always reliving and questioning what I could’ve done differently. The guilt and regret where overwhelming. You have made me realize that there is no point to it. Nothing can be gained by looking back.

  • Claire Davies says:

    I lost my Mum back in January to Leukaemia. I looked after her at my house 24/7 with nohelp. I wouldn`t change what i did but i wish i had had someone to talk to. She was a massive part of my whole life and the empty feeling that she has left is so hard to describe. I ring her mobile every day to hear her answer messagehoping that she will one day answer.
    My son is getting married in September and my daughter is having a baby in October and i should be elated instead i have this bitter feeling that Mum my wonderful Mum won`t see any of it.
    My friends keep saying she wouldn`t want you to be miserable but how can i be happy with this heavy heart.

  • janet mckenna says:

    my mum too died this year but was elderly and had been quite poorly for 4 and a half months but we thought she was getting better ,so was a shock when she died so suddenly just over 2 weeks ago, the pain I felt was allost physical, and am like you so lost without her, she was a huge part of my life and i saw her everyday, unlike your mum, my mum was in hospital , so it must be so hard for you as she was with you all the time, in time though, you will be able to enjoy things again , we all feel differntly , but you are never too young or old to loose your mum, I know the pain and I hope its a tiny shred of comfort to know you are not alone, I am sure your mum would want you to enjoy life again and keep her memory alive in you and your life and am sure one day you will, I really feel for you and what you are going through, your mum would want you to be happy for your daughter and your son, be strong and your mum is with you in your heart and her memory is there too with you, am sorry if it all sounds stupid, but I feel my mum is with me in spirit , but I miss her just like you do your mum, best wishes janet

  • Anita Rae says:

    Thank you so much for this! My young, never ill, energetic, bright mother was diagnosed with lung cancer. She lived more than twice as long as the doctors said she would , but we still never had seemed to say the “things that should have been said @ the end. She clung so strongly to the belief that she would be cured & it seemed there was never a quiet moment to talk & then very suddenly Hospice was called in & she was gone. It was two years ago & I felt I was doing well with my grieving & now I miss her so much it is wrenching. (We are selling her house & I think that may be why it has re-surfaced so strongly). I am so sad for the things that were not said. Like Jo Ann’s post your message seems to have been written right for me. Thank you.

  • Anita Rae says:

    It is a comfort to me to read what Jo-Ann, Claire and Janet have written as it is so very much like my own experiences. Besides losing my mom we are still dealing with all the events that her death set in motion . My dad was not able to live alone and it has been a busy time since she has been gone.I talked every day to my mom on the phone for years also Claire & my heart goes out to you. And Janet, your loss is so new………hugs to you all.