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.
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