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From the past.

“Our past offers us two choices ... live IN it or live FROM it.”

— Brittany Burgunder*

Photo by Unsplash+ in collaboration with Getty Images

I remember when, years ago, I wrote a New Year's message to share with family and friends. In it, I began by saying that we were on the brink of the unknown. Surprisingly for me, one of the recipients of my message took a dislike to that phrase. He asked how it seemed correct to me to express such an idea that, to him, instilled fear, anguish, and uncertainty. If my memory serves me correctly, it was little or nothing that I managed to answer. Such was the surprise that the comment caused in my mind. As I saw it, and still do, facing a blank, unknown and mysterious future represents a pristine, immaculate canvas waiting for me to fill it with my ideas, failures, and victories. Yet to this person, it meant something threatening, discouraging, and negative. The great lesson I learned from that (perhaps too late in my life) was that different people would experience different feelings when looking at the same thing.

It is not about right or wrong, good or bad. It is simply a matter of perspective. And depending on the position the observer assumes, the view will change.

Looking back

As one year ends and a new one begins, something happens within us that causes two quasi-automatic reactions. Both have in common the point of perspective: the present.

The first reaction is to look into the recent past for reasons as varied as personal. Whether it is to evaluate what we have achieved, to find answers that justify our present situation, or to recall moments worth remembering, looking back is almost a sentimental tic, a commonplace that our brain goes to trying to find explanations. This is because yesterday is a written canvas full of lines, ink blots, and marginal annotations. Unlike the future, it does not conceal any mystery. Even so, we often find answers hidden in the mists of forgetfulness.

Looking back is a good thing. At least, sometimes it is. Today, in that past, in my own "way back," I see unpaid debts, insufficiencies, blows that seemed too strong to stand, and the occasional victory. I find myself aware of my incompetency and chronic laziness beyond the fact that I might be one of the laziest, most hard-working people on this earth.

It is good to look back, but only with a sense of search and a desire to learn. Rummaging in the past to unearth excuses and justifications will bring us little good. Today, as this new year settles in, let's try to be fairer with ourselves while also stopping pointing fingers.

There is a quote from Steve Jobs that I only managed to understand not long ago while I was trying to decipher the reason behind certain situations that I was going through:

"Again, you can't connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect them looking backward. So you have to trust that the dots will somehow connect in your future. You have to trust in something — your gut, destiny, life, karma, whatever."

It is incredible how one can read and listen to the exact phrase repeatedly without fully understanding its true meaning. We continually hear that "you shouldn't look back." How much damage can be caused by blindly following this advice? We must look back to connect the dots, identify patterns, or find solutions.

Ask yourself if today is a good day to pause and look back. You'll never know what's deep down if you only look at the surface.

Looking forward

Then, our second reaction is looking into the future, which tends to be more diffuse. Its whiteness and almost complete lack of real content –because it has not yet been written– presents challenges and illusions, although it is fair to say that this void, when contemplated a little more carefully, is not such. And it is not because the past is projected onto it. Our actions of yesterday condition our choices of tomorrow to a certain extent, at least. Once again, perspective becomes essential when planning our next step. It is also interesting to pause and think about how much influence the weight of past experiences has on our planning. What we did or did not do; the decisions we make and the ones we put off; the absence of those who were and are no more, as well as what we knew as home and is now miles away. I have often heard about the importance of not looking back if we want to focus on the present. I have read articles condemning remembering our yesterday. Even though I am someone who embraces the future and prides himself on always looking forward, I cannot deny that my past is a constant source of consultation and inspiration, advice, and wisdom. I can't leave it behind because it still lives next to me. This coexistence does not imply dependency or emotional slavery resulting from past guilt and mistakes. It is simply part of who I am and what I will become. I cannot look towards tomorrow without standing on yesterday's hill. This does not imply perceiving the future as a valley, either. Still, regarding knowledge and experience, the path traveled always seems to offer better vantage points than the uncertainties of today's plains.

From now on

Where am I going, then, with this dissertation about the past and the future?

The end of 2022 and the beginning of 2023 found me visiting my past—places, aromas, and affections engraved deep inside me and with which I needed to reconnect. At the same time, that visit relocated me into my present, my today, but also into my future, forcing me to weigh several decisions and put more than a couple of things into perspective. All this simply because, by getting in touch with that past and allowing myself to embrace it without fear, I could remember feelings and sensations and confirm that there were things I needed, even when I found it difficult to accept. And by "embracing" the past, I don't mean staying in it indefinitely, basking in the intangible presence of things that will never return. We can, even must, let the past get close, look us in the eye, and talk to us while we listen without fear, so that we can continue on our way toward tomorrow.

It's not that yesterday I didn't know who I was. I just have a fresher memory today. I also didn't take off a blindfold because I don't believe I was wearing one, but allowing a cooling breeze to blow through, the mist cleared away, and I could see more clearly, and farther.

So, don’t torture yourself with the past, but remember its teachings. Let it talk to you. Over time, you will learn which words to keep and which to discard. Let it speak to you. Use it, understand it, get to know it, and then yes, head towards the port to which you set sail.

The past is not our enemy, and the future’s uncertainty is not a curse.

Don't fear them. They are part of who you are and who you will become.

* Brittany Burgunder is a certified professional life coach (C.P.C.) specializing in eating disorders. She is a formerly ranked tennis player and equestrian who battled an eating disorder for over a decade. After overcoming her own personal struggles, Brittany became passionate about helping others find their paths toward recovery. She now publicly raises awareness and advocates for those navigating the challenges of eating disorders and mental health.

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