Recently, I received a sales pitch from a service that offered to help me search my family tree. It suggested we could search back hundreds of years to learn about my origins – to open the door to as many yesterdays as my family history had recorded.
I must confess, initially it intrigued me. Being of proud Scottish descent, I suddenly had visions of an early me, face half-painted blue and shouting allegiance to Robert the Bruce while brandishing a pointy stick in the air (a la Braveheart!) … and just for a moment, it was fun. However, the truth is that what I have already learned about my very early ancestors – and the harshness and brutality of life, death, and treachery in the wild highlands of Scotland – is more than enough to satisfy my curiosity.
But even so, it did start me thinking about my ‘past’ … in general. Not of my ancestors, but that of myself – my own yesterdays. I began revisiting some of the many different paths I have traveled over the years. I especially looked at decisions I had made (or had not made) and the outcomes that followed, and wondered had I chosen differently, where I might be today.
It’s an interesting exercise, as long as one doesn’t allow regret, bitterness or resentment to color the edges. Of greater value is to return to those moments through a more academic perspective and, applying what we know now to what we didn’t know then, imagine where those various paths might have led.
Naturally, some decisions won’t have been critical enough to have made much of a difference to how our life is unfolding … but certainly, some will. Those are the ones that can teach us the most and – especially with the advantage of retrospection – can reveal aspects of our current decision-making that may benefit from some deeper analysis. In the words of Spanish philosopher George Santayana, “… those who do not learn from the past are doomed to repeat it …”
Nobody can control their past. It’s done, and permanently written into our Book of Life. But it still contributes to who we are today and who we become tomorrow – and the proverbial table that we set for ourselves.
The value of yesterday is that we learn from it. The value of today is that we experience it to the fullest extent, selecting or rejecting opportunities according to our conscience. The value of tomorrow is that we will all be twenty-four hours wiser and, therefore, slightly more evolved than we just were … and this gives us access to all the potential we dare entertain.
If we are to live life going forward, there is no time to waste on regrets or resentments; no benefit to holding onto miseries we encountered long ago – except for what they have taught us about ourselves and our world as it was then. We can use that knowledge to make a better today for ourselves, and this can compel an even better tomorrow … as long as we allow it. And yes, allowing it takes forgiveness – of ourselves, but also of others – of those who we may consider responsible for our miseries, our misfortunes, or our failures. But even if they were, what good does it do us to remain emotionally paralyzed within that time? We can only control our future, not our past – so the sooner we make friends with the story of our history, the sooner we can embrace an unfettered future.
When you examine those darker moments in your Book of Life, do you find traces of unresolved conflict lurking there? What steps can you take to release that baggage and send it back to the past where it occurred? How good would it feel to approach the upcoming holidays with a more peaceful heart? Don’t you think you deserve at least that much?
… and as you consider this, remember to stay focused on the Good Things in Life!