As we get older and reach later life, a habitual tendency can be to live in a fantasy world of the past, in which we are incessantly recalling bygone events. We are either enjoying reliving certain past occurrences or becoming depressed about them.
However, the past is not here; the person we were, our friends and enemies, as well as the actual events themselves, are long gone. When we try to relive a former experience, we are not actually reliving the same event. Each time we recall it, it is a slightly different experience. Why?
Each remembered experience differs because the environment of our mind is always different. Our experience is affected by the thought that we had immediately before, as well as by the thought that is going to arise next. Thus, our recollection of the past is necessarily distorted. We cannot undergo the same experience again, whether we consider it to have been wonderful or horrible. For these reasons we say that the truth is found only in a moment of present experience.
Simply reliving the past in a neurotic or obsessive way is not going to help us with anything.
On the other hand, if we direct our experience properly, reflecting on past events with mindfulness and awareness, then we may gain some insight into our actions. Also, if such reflections help to free us from our habitual patterns, then there is some benefit to those memories. (The above is based on Dzogchen Ponlop, Mind Beyond Death.)
Two ways to meaningfully reflect on past events is:
(1) To deal with any unresolved issues.
(2) To review our lives in a positive light.
Here are some points to reflect on during our later years (but they apply for any stage of our lives):
- It’s a time to let go of feelings of regret and failure – and not to continue rehearsing and clinging on to them.
- It’s a time to let go of hurts and resentments – and to find the healing within ourselves that enables us to let them go.
- It’s the time to seek an abiding peace within ourselves – and with others.
- It’s a time to forgive others – and to seek reconciliation with others.
Reviewing Life Positively
- It’s a time to accept ourselves – and our life’s journey, including the choices we have made, what we have done, and not done.
- It’s a time to reflect on our deepest noble intentions and desires – and the virtue in our lives.
- It’s a time for recalling our generosity – and remembering the many different ways in which we have contributed to the lives of others.
- It’s a time of coming to a deeper understanding of ourselves – and seeing our life as a whole, as well as a meaningful, unique tapestry.
To develop such a frame of mind will not only lead to a more joyful life now, but then also a more peaceful death whenever that time comes for each of us.
Alexander Peck (June 26, 2020)