Wednesday, September 8, 2010


You are led through your lifetime by the inner learning creature, the playful spiritual being that is your real self. Don't turn away from possible futures before you're certain you don't have anything to learn from them.
You're always free to change your mind and choose a different future, or a different past.
Richard Bach- Illusions

I have always been fascinated by the idea that we not only have the power to create a different future for ourselves, but also a different past. This runs contrary to much of what I’ve been taught over my years studying psychology, where therapists since Freud have suggested that the events of our past cast an almost unalterable shadow over our future decisions. This always seemed pretty fatalistic to me, and, although I do believe it is important to understand where we come from and how it relates to why we do the things we do, I’ve also come to a very different kind of understanding about how our memories of the past actually change, grow, and adapt.

This for me is related to the idea of how the most challenging times in my life have almost always produced a great deal of wisdom and my most enduring life lessons. My learning around this concept has changed a lot, as my actual personal timeline for processing both my successes and failures is constantly in flux. If you would have asked me at 15, I would have told you my shitty childhood had ruined my life, at 30 I would have told you it was the greatest thing that ever happened to me and made me who I am.

Now, I’ve come to realize that both of these things are true, but that also neither of them are. The past, as it happened, is like sand that has been swept away into the ocean, never to be seen again. It is recycled and replaced and altered in a million different ways, and we make these alterations constantly as we struggle to merge our past experiences onto a road that leads to a more peaceful future, all the while juggling our present challenges in real time without the luxury of perspective.

All of this harkens back to Kierkegaard’s advice that life can only be understood backwards, but must be lived forwards. So often in my own life I’ll really think I’ve figured something out, while realizing years later that I had just inched a little further up the road. My 30 year old self was so sure I had completely put the past behind me, and at the time this was an amazingly liberating feeling. Now I’ve come to understand that our perceptions of the past are neither real, nor are they in any way concrete. I have personally come to look back at my own life as a series of false plateaus that sometimes look like the top of the mountain. But they’re not. Nor are they the bottom of it. At each stop there are both lessons behind us and lessons in front of us, and we would always be wise to remember that often what we take as definitive wisdom today, is simply our view from the kaleidoscope at the time.

So for me I have come to read my own narrative as a comedy, while understanding that much of this funny story could also be read as a tragedy depending on how I choose to process the material. That’s the rub. We are not only the authors of our own stories but also the editors, and personally as an editor, choosing the pieces that make me laugh has provided a great deal of comfort as I have gotten older.