for release Friday September 30, 2005
by Melodie Davis
Ghosts of The Past, The Future, And The Now
One of the stress tips that goes out from our website said recently:
“Draw on your bank of memories. No one suggests you live in the past. But if the present is so overwhelmingly negative and fraught with problems, you need to neutralize the bad vibes. An effective way is to do this is to draw on some of your fondest memories—events, journeys, people, and places that conjure up warm, positive feelings. They'll remind you how good life can be...will be once you get past these rough times. Memories are stored treasures you can pull out to lift your spirits at any moment. Let them be a balm to your current concerns. Why make yourself crazy?” (G. "Jerry" Gaynor McTigue, author of Why Make Yourself Crazy?: 300 Strategies for a Stress-Free Life)
One reader responded, “Looking back seems to be my problem. I can’t stop. It hurts. I’m always remembering the best time of my life or everything in my life I could have changed!”
As the author of the tip cautions, of course it is not good to live in the past. It can be very painful for many people. You tend to dwell on bitter events or memories, or at the least, sentimental or bittersweet times. The reader was recognizing this tendency in herself, which is a good first step to making a change.
Forcing yourself to recall good times, however, can be very helpful. One mother of four teenagers felt that her family was coming apart at the seams. The kids were constantly bickering—or not talking at all. The kids shared two bedrooms so the mother felt like that was part of the problem. Why did she want to have a large family if this was the result? Would she have no peace until they were all out on their own?
A friend helped her to look at her family more objectively: yes, this was a time of growing separation, each one needing to find his or her own identity or space, after being close friends while younger. Her friend helped her think of good trips they took as a family, outings, vacations, favorite concerts attended.
On the other hand, Shawna finds herself constantly dwelling in the future: how happy she will be in the next stage of her life, when she gets out of high school, when she goes to college, when she gets out of college, when she gets married, when she has kids. It is not good either to always live in the future. She “can’t wait” for the next anticipated event.
This is natural too: as we plan for future activities, it gives interest and spice to our current existence, especially if everyday routines always seem the same. We can’t wait for the kids to grow up and not take so much time, and then poof, they are gone off into their own adult worlds.
Those who live very much in the present can also come up short. People who excessively live in the present just go for the current thrill or adventure—and don’t worry about consequences, or about the big picture. If I do the $75 bungee jump or helicopter ride on vacation, I won’t have enough money to pay my rent next month. If I put it on my credit card, my balance (and finance charge) will go up even more. While it is very good to practice being truly present to those we are with (focusing on their conversation, needs and subtle clues about their present state of mind), if all we worry about is the present, life can get very selfish: “If it makes me happy and feels good, I’m going to do it.” Not.
Like Goldilocks seeking the perfect porridge, chair or bed, what we need is a happy medium or balance as we look at past, present and future. When we find our thoughts always racing to the future, we should force ourselves to find something great to enjoy about today. When we find ourselves bogged down in the past, thinking life was better then, or allowing bitter memories to overwhelm, we can think instead about the future, the things we are looking forward to. You get the idea.
Some words from the “preacher” of Ecclesiastes in the Bible seem good here. He certainly became melancholy (even depressed?) looking at the past, his possessions, and reflecting on how meaningless it all seemed. Note I have picked carefully, because some of his writings are indeed depressing. On the whole, though, I think he has good advice:
“We were meant to enjoy our work, and that’s the best thing we can do. We can never know the future (3:22) … When times are good, you should be cheerful; when times are bad, think what it means. God makes them both to keep us from knowing what will happen next (7:14) … Be cheerful and enjoy life while you are young! Do what you want and find pleasure in what you see (11:9) … Rid yourself of all worry and pain, because the wonderful moments of youth quickly disappear (11:10) … Everything you were taught can be put into a few words: Respect and obey God! This is what life is all about (12:13). (All verses Holy Bible, Contemporary English Version.)
So if you’re bothered by feelings of being stuck in the past, present or future, prayer and meditation can help to achieve better balance. Also, conversation with a friend or close family member helps you get balance when perspectives feel out of whack.
For a free booklet, Squeezing Prayer into a Busy Life, write to me at firstname.lastname@example.org or Another Way, Box 22, Harrisonburg Va., 22802. (Please include your paper's name in your response.)
You can also visit Another Way on the Web at www.thirdway.com.
Melodie Davis is the author of seven books and has written her column since 1987. She taught feature writing and has won awards from the National Federation of Press Women, Virginia Press Women and the American Advertising Association. She and her husband have three daughters.
NOTES TO EDITORS: text = 967 words; end material = 105 words
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