Finding a Place for the Past


“The past is beautiful because one never realizes an emotion at the time. It expands later, and thus we don’t have complete emotions about the present, only about the past…. That is why we dwell on the past, I think.” Virginia Woolf

One of the things I admire and love so much about animals, and dogs in particular, is their ability to live truly and fully in the present. They have memories, I’m sure, but they don’t agonize over them the way we human beings tend to do. Our minds and emotions are so complex, it’s difficult to center ourselves and live in the place that is now – which, really, is the only place we truly exist.

There was a time that I gave the past more time of mind than a healthy person should. I would relive moments that I wished hadn’t happened. I would over-analyze decisions I’d made, wonder where I would be if I’d made them differently. I would lose sleep over people who had gone from my life, and be completely fixated on the feeling that time was constantly fleeing from me.

I was not living my life. I was sleepless, frozen – debilitated by memories. I was unable to move on because I was unable to recognize (let alone appreciate) the joy and opportunity of the present, of each day being a new canvas on which I could continue painting the story of my life. I was fixated on the past because I somehow thought that my story had ended with certain memories, that nothing could ever be new again – that I could never be new again.

But what I didn’t realize is… I become new every day.

That is why people are so overtaken by sunsets and sunrises, I believe. We never tire from their beauty, and in that way, they signify hope. They signify that we can always find beauty in the ending of one day and the beginning of another. No matter where we are in our lives, no matter what has happened in our pasts, there is always beauty. If we would only dust the past from our eyes so we can see.

My life is not a series of moments being cast into the wind. My life is the present moment where I am breathing. Each moment and each day is a stroke of paint I add to the canvas that is my life. It is my choice: I can either abandon the brush and dwell over the strokes on my canvas that I wish weren’t there, or I can pick up my brush and paint over those strokes, make them beautiful, make them new.

Memories are beautiful. They are jewels we carry with us as we travel through the years. They are gifts, precious souvenirs. They are not meant to be burdensome. Yes, some memories are painful. There’s no denying that, and sometimes there’s no escaping that either. But it’s what we do with that pain that will shape the rest of our lives. Pain is but another color of paint for our canvas. In pain we can find power to renew ourselves, we can find meaning and lessons and inspiration. We can even find our true purpose.

And so I have learned to embrace the past. It is my story, but not my complete story. The past does not live in a shadowy, mystical place beyond the stars; it is not an irretrievable realm. It is not something my heart should ache for because… the past lives in me. I own it. It does not own me. And I will always be growing more and more beautiful because of it.