The other day I was chatting to a friend who has been spending some time sorting through trunks of old photographs and videos. She was musing over her overwhelming sense of nostalgia and wondering how others fared when caught in the mesh of memories.
Looking through old photographs is bound to evoke a flood of bittersweet emotions. After all, we only capture happy and celebratory events so fondness and affection are sure to bubble up to the surface, and often down the cheeks.
Smiling; the odd chuckle; mixed in with a degree of sadness and longing.
We look at the places and smiling faces in the pictures, transporting us back to that time, recalling the sense of elation and perhaps achievement, hearing the laughter, seeing the cuteness, feeling the togetherness, the joy….
We want that back.
We look at the people, and perhaps ourselves. How young and vibrant we seemed to be.
We want our youth back.
We look at some of our friends and family members who are no longer with us and feel that deep pang in our heart.
We want them back.
We pore over some of the places we visited and explored. We feel the thrill of new discoveries, of adventure.
We want that back.
Feelings, when they arise, are not to be resisted or denied. That would only serve to attach you to them, keep you stuck there half smiling, half crying. The only thing you can do is accept them because they have already entered, via your thoughts, into your head. So, while you don’t exactly want to put out your best dinner set for the not-so-great thoughts, thereby encouraging a longer stay, you may want to have a chat with them to discover what prompted their visit.
You see, again it’s all about thinking.
We smile at how young we looked and then proceed to think of how old and decrepit we are now.
And voila, sadness arrives!
We marvel at the cascade of adventures we packed into travelling; and then think that our present life, our existence, resembles Groundhog Day.
Oh, look around, there’s Aunty Despair sitting at the table.
You get the idea, I’m sure.
So besides stating the obvious that all those longed-for times will never return, how can we curtail the number of unwanted visitations to our mental ‘dinner table’?
In our chat, we can question our thoughts. Are we really decrepit? Is life now really Groundhog Day?
There’s evidence a-plenty to justify why that question receives a big resounding No.
But we can dig more deeply. What is the real feeling that you experienced in those memorable events? Perhaps pictures of your children when they were young, for example, sows thoughts of how needed you felt, which invariably brought a strong element of meaningfulness into your life. If meaningfulness is the essence of what you really long for, there are many paths to pursue, at any stage of life, where that is the reward.
And just an aside – while children may no longer need parents to feed, clothe and shelter them, they will continue to seek parental advice because they can trust that it comes from a place of love.
While we can’t change the past, we can reframe our thoughts about those past memories in relation to now.
Turning a thought around to how fortunate we are to have seen and done so much, thereby gaining an expansive mindscape that only experience can give you. All the insights, the wisdom, the fun, the joys of parenting, the deep love we shared with treasured people ….
When you’ve finished reframing all those thoughts, you may want to sit back and recline as one does after a lengthy and delicious meal, sitting between Contented and Appreciation.
As humans we generally don’t relish change, unavoidable as it is, and old photographs inevitably shock us by the contrast they reveal between then and now, thus underlining the massive changes that have occurred, the losses and the gains. It’s easy to evaluate our experiences with the advantage of hindsight, and difficult not to slip in one of those “if only”s.
If only I had realised at the time how wonderful my life was…..
What’s the take-away from this?
– To appreciate and experience every minute of what we have now. And the only way we can do that is by being fully present (also known as mindfulness). Not wallowing in the past or furtively tip toeing around prospective futures, but being here, now.
As Eckhart Tolle says,
“Invite intense presence continuously. Don’t wait to be forced into it.”
And to that I add:
Don’t wait for future photographs to appreciate
and be thankful for what you have now.