this is your sanctuary

13 September 2004

The girl and I were having a talk a couple of nights ago about nostalgia, about the past-our pasts, and the ways people percieve them in relation to their presents and their futures. I mean, I'm definitely the type to-in my head-linger in the past, to relive sweet moments and to feel those nearly forgotten agonies again, if for no other reason than to steel myself and remember them for what they were; events that helped shape who I am today. I'm always for a little nostalgia, I look back at the past with what I like to think is a more knowledgable eye, leveraging what happened to me against what I did, and I try to seek a lesson from it all, even if it was completely mindless or without meaning at all.

In the end, I realize that even if there is no lesson, no message in the time capsule of my mind to be unearthed, I can rest in the knowledge that every decision I've made, every person I've known, every word I've spoken, is part of what is now the summation of who I am today-everything I've done had led me to where I am at this exact moment. Trials, tragedies, triumphs, and victories-they all make up who I am today. That being said, I refuse to (and refuse to abide by those who) look at the past as something that happened to them; as though they had no active role in it. The girl and I were discussing this after hearing someone describe the events in recent memory as something that was horrible and ugly compared to their current life.

Now don't get me wrong-comparisons are wonderful! I do it all the time-it's exceptionally healthy to look back on the events of the past and say "you know, I've come a long way, and the future is only looking brighter," I would never fault someone for that. What I do fault people for is absolving themselves of all responsibility of those past events. When you look back at what you've been through and what you've done, remember that-as with everything in life-some of it was out of your control and external forces had their way with you, but for a large part you lived your own life, and to behave like it's something that happened to you, something that you can just put on a shelf and say "so sad, so sad" about is to dismiss the lesson you should be learning from examining the past in the first place; and do to yourself-and your happy present and shining future a disservice. I don't look at the events of the past as things that just "happened," I lived those moments, I made those decisions, I picked up the phone and I made those calls, I hung out with those people, I chose what I chose; and if I know better than to do it now, then I've truly learned something. Those people didn't just appear, those decisions didn't just get made, those moments didn't just happen, those choices didn't make themselves-it was my life, and I most certainly participated. To behave as though I didn't, or as if I had no role in the good and the bad, would be to miss the point, and to dull the luster on everything I've achieved since then.

The Girl and I pretty much agreed on this point-we both realized that while bad things happened to us both in our pasts, both of our own devices and of forces beyond our control, those were our lives and we lived them, and looking back on them with an eye for objectivity and a desire to learn from your mistakes and not repeat them is the healthiest thing you could possibly do. To put it succintly, everyone looks at the mistakes they've made or the pitfalls they've become victim to and cries "why me?" then promptly begins to blame the problem for existing, the people surrounding the event for leading them into the problem, everyone but themselves. In some cases that's the right thing to do because it very well may not be the victim's fault-but to adopt an attitude of victimization is to miss the point of having lived that life and bother looking back on it in terms of how far you've come. If you truly wish to appreciate the future, glittering brightly in your reach, rather than examining the past as though it happened to someone else, examine is as something that happened to you-an interactive story that you had influence in, that you participated in, that you shaped and molded the way only you could-the same way you intend to shape and mold that beautiful future.

One of my favorite zen stories goes something like this:
A monk is walking across an empty road, contemplating the nature around him. Suddenly, he sharply stubs his toe on a rock embedded in his path. Instead of crying "Stupid rock!" or "What is this doing here?" or "Who put this here?" or even "What a fool I am, I should look where I'm going!" He cried "Where does this pain come from?" At that very moment, he attained enlightenment.

I suggest you do no less.