People like to say that you should never look back. They like to recite catchy little lines like don’t look back, you’re not going that way, or keep your eyes on the road ahead, not behind you – but the truth is rarely so simple as to fit in a convenient little one-liner, and these are no exception.
It’s true that there’s a point when the past is best left in the past, but only after its monsters have been laid to rest and its lessons learned. As long as those monsters are still alive, as long as they still let out the occasional roar and they bare their teeth when you get too close, there’s still work to be done – and if you choose not to do that work, to push it aside, bury it away, or deny its importance, those monsters will continue to scream louder and louder until they get your attention.
You have to look back. Even if it hurts. Even if it’s scary. Even if it embarrasses or saddens you. You have to look back because the things you’ve seen, felt, loved, lost, and learned have made you who you are. And knowing who you are is the first step towards taking control of who you will become.
Like any good story, there is more than one lesson hidden in the pages of your life that have already been turned. Sometimes you have to re-read something to gain a new perspective, to catch the subtleties tucked between the lines, and pick up insights that you missed the first time.
Sometimes the most important step you will take is the one where you stand still and assess where you’ve already been. When you leave unresolved issues, un-relinquished guilt, and unforgiven foes to roam the halls of your past, there’s no lock strong enough to keep them from occasionally breaking out and trampling all over your carefully laid plans for the future. But if you acknowledge those ghosts, if you listen to what they’re trying to tell you, show them love, and forgive them their sins, they won’t feel the need to haunt you further.
Often times, people say that you should never look back because it’s not always easy to look at the past without getting stuck in the past. But this doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t occasionally take a minute to remember where you’ve been. It just means that you should be sure you’re doing it for the right reasons.
If your intent is to cling, or mourn things long gone, to beat yourself up for past mistakes, or to nurture a sense of resentment towards yourself or someone else, the only thing you’ll end up doing is spoiling today’s canvas with an unnecessary mess of yesterday’s tears.
The purpose of looking back isn’t to blame, escape, or excuse, but to learn, grow, and heal. The trick is to look back without going back, to experience things not as you already have but in a new and better way – to look with the clarity of hindsight, to assess with the wisdom of added years, and to practice the kind of compassion that comes from having already survived.
Each time that you approach the past with integrity, compassion, and honesty, you’ll dig up a new little gem of insight to take back with you. And as you gather these many gems, you’ll grow increasingly rich in wisdom – the kind of wisdom that you can share with others who may be facing things similar to what you once did.
This is how you give purpose even to your pain. This is how looking back can help you improve the way ahead. This is how you begin to see that beauty sometimes hides in the places least expected. This is how you take control of who you will be – by accepting who you once were, by embracing the lessons of the past, and by applying that wisdom to the present. This is how the seed, buried in darkness, begins to sprout. The phoenix, reduced to ashes, begins to reform. This is how you, once in a state of responding, transition to a state of becoming.
So go ahead and look back. Take whatever time is necessary to make peace with where you’ve been, or else you’ll never quite understand where you’re going. Invest in your future by honoring the past, by listening to the lessons that are still echoing down its corridors. Don’t let this world push you ahead when you feel like lingering awhile longer. Do what’s right for you. Always do what’s right for you.
©2016 Cristen Rodgers
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