We can invoke Henry David Thoreau’s wisdom in dealing with painful memories of the past.
“Let go of the past and go for the future. Go confidently in the direction of your dreams. Live the life you imagined.” And finally, he wrote, “Blessed is the man who wastes no present moments remembering the past.”
Many a time the past is a minefield of personal failures and regrets. Don’t let your thoughts of the past color the remaining time you have on earth now. It is often helpful to recall the past only in terms of not repeating the same error. For example, even though possibly being cited for speeding can be a painful scary experience (who enjoys seeing those lights in your rear view mirror?), remembering such an instance can make you take your foot off the gas pedal, which may save your own life and those of others.
Thoreau had another view of the past which he likened to “a shadow”. He wrote, “Every man casts a shadow; not his body only, but his imperfectly mingled spirit. This is his grief. Let him turn which way he will, it falls opposite to the sun; short at noon, long at eve. Did you never see it?”
When we look at the past, we are indeed seeing our shadows, and not a hopeful future nor a calm present moment. Remembering the past is generally, on average, not a good exercise for one’s mind. You may remember the past and overestimate its glory, which may make your present moment appear dull. You may also remember the past pains and suffering and relive them over and over, which is also an inappropriate solution. You can have all the success in the world but if you can’t end the war in between your ears, even the most glorious of achievements (current and past) can seem desolate and barren. I read today about a football player Junior Seau who killed himself after his glory years as a pro Football player.
A fellow professional athlete echoed the depression that follows with respect to Junior Seau being seen as a hero and then to a virtual anonymous “nobody”. His name was Rick Fox, of the Los Angeles Lakers Basketball Team who chimed it. He also wrote that after a professional career, where all the attention is on an individual, and his successes and time in his profession are all “peak experiences”. Then to go from there to virtual anonymity is very painful for the psyche. It is analogous to being fed gourmet meals on a daily basis by your private chef to then eating canned food and soup like Campbells over a stove top. Many find the adjustment difficult to stomach. The best thing to do is live today, live for now, seizing the moment, rather than looking backwards and/or fantasizing forwards. Some reflection is not a bad thing, but driving down the road just staring at the rear view mirror will cause an accident.
Another athlete I just read about is the famous boxer Oscar De La Hoya and Mike Tyson. Despite being at some point at the top of their game, the coming down was so painful. They always had their “peak experiences”, and the physical body can only stay in prime shape for so long. Oscar De La Hoya, despite his incredible skills and all his boxing accomplishments, admitted he was suicidal as of this writing and fell into alcoholism and cocaine use. Tonya Harding (skater) and tennis champion Jennifer Capriati (tennis) are two more examples, the latter arrested for shoplifting.
One last note that I had was seeing how people who lived lives of great stress appeared to age faster than the average population. We have all seen this tendency in one of the most stressful jobs, The President of the United States. We have seen how President after President aged on average twice as fast as normal, according to many university studies.