Sunday, December 11, 2011

The Good Old Days

Were they? Good, I mean. Our minister this morning spoke of nostalgia at holiday time. A longing for a simpler, happier time. But when were those days? Were they the Ozzie and Harriet days of the 40s and 50s? Well, not if you were African American in those days, especially in the segregated South. Not if you were a single mother whose career opportunities were pretty much limited to being a teacher, a nurse, or a secretary. Not if you lived in a part of the world still reeling from the devastation of war, the lingering effects of nuclear fallout, the hunger of famine, the terror of politically motivated genocide.

Right now, while some folks are yearning for a return to what they recall as a happier time, others are celebrating these days as the good days. Luck changes, tides ebb and flow, fortunes are made and lost. In my Shambhala meditation training, our current contemplation topic is “Everything is impermanent.” That is true of nothing more than it is of the past.

We think the past is set in stone, but how many times has history been rewritten? Not just world or national history, even our own history. I wrote before of spending the evening listening to my mother entertain my friends with tales of a childhood I couldn’t even begin to recognize as mine. And I myself have viewed my past differently with the passage of time.

A Course in Miracles teaches, “The only wholly true thought we can hold about the past is that it is not here.” And yet we spend so much time there, in the past – remembering, reliving, regretting, rewriting, reminiscing. Whether it is a pleasant place to visit or a place of sorrow, we still go there, living in a dream that is gone.

Meanwhile, we’re missing the only life we really have, this life, right now. We have all read about or known people who have had a brush with death, or who are nearing the end of their lives. What we hear from these people over and over is to treasure this moment, the gift of this breath, the miracle of this instant. And this one.

Does that mean we should never enjoy our memories? Of course not. The memory of a stunning sunset, the tender touch of a loved one no longer here, a child’s first steps – all these bring a smile to our face and warmth to our hearts. But when a stroll down memory lane becomes a permanent residence, we are no longer present for our lives and for those who love us and need us now.

So how do we break the grip the past has on us? Gently. By noticing when we are lost in the past, whether in pleasant reverie or painful remorse. By reminding ourselves that our past is a story we tell ourselves, a story we can change or simply drop. By bringing our attention back to the present. Again and again. By practicing until it becomes a habit. By practicing, as Pema Chodron says, “like our hair was on fire.”

Good old days or bad old days are not today days. So if you do visit your stories of the past, remember to come home soon.


  1. I don't like living in the past or thinking too much about it because of some of the stuff that I did that was not too smart! I prefer to live in the now, because now I know what I didn't know then. I should be much smarter now, too! ;)

  2. I have to admit that I was and partly still am a reminiscer... It's so safe to dream in the past, specially when you feel that the present is not satisfactory. The key is to remember to stay in the present in order to improve it, so gradually the past won't seem so alluring. It took me a while to start grasping that. I am working on it, though. Thanks for the reminder! :)

  3. I wish I could get my daughter to read this. She lives in the past. One she has re-invented and used against all in her family. Soon she will have no one because of it. Really sad.

  4. After my near brush with death I had to go back into my past to see what led me to where I was. I had to go back and forgive, not only others but myself. Forgiving myself was the hardest part, once I did that though I could begin to forgive those who had wronged me in my life. Today is a brand new day, I have the freedom to live in the here and the now and only visit the past as reminders of where I don't want to be again. Sometimes we have to revisit our past to let go, once it's gone then it's done with and we're free from the chains which held us back. Then true happiness can enter into our lives.

    Have a great week Galen!

  5. Whenever I begin to feel down to a degree that inhibits my routine I look back, precisely because my distant past was so much worse than anything I'm experiencing now.

    Every time I look back I gain a greater understanding of mistakes I made, and of misguided actions taken toward me by others. I bring those insights back to my present in order to act to improve my future.

    I've noticed that as I get older my psychological perception of the boundaries between my past, present and future life are becoming more fluid. External actions remain separate, but internally I can do a kind of time-travel, zipping back and forth. I rather like it.

  6. Good morning this post today. You know what they say.....the past is gone....the future is yet to come....and the present is is called the present because it is "a gift".



  7. Inspiring--Me, too! My past is often a reminder to be grateful for the present! Thanks for commenting.

    Beliza--You describe the allure of the past so well, like the sirens' song. Thanks for your comment.

    Roberta--I had an encounter with a family memeber a few years ago that was so reflective of the past that it caught me off guard. I wanted to say, "But now we're HERE!" Family members often offer us our most valuable lessons about letting go of the past. Thanks for your comment.

    darlin--Yes, we hopefully learn lessons from our past that help us move into a better future. The key is to not let the past merge into the future in a way that blocks the present. Like you, I have had to forgive and release many things from the past. Thanks for your comment.

    Mikey--The kind of time travel you describe reflects the eternity of the present moment, which holds all time. As I responded to darlin, hopefully we all learn lessons from our past to improve our present and future. The key is not to live in the past (or the future), but to bring all that awareness into this moment so that we can be here for the show! And like you, a quick trip down memory lane reminds me to be very grateful for the present. Thanks for your comment.

    Jo--I love that play on words with "present." We can also make it a verb with the emphasis on the second syllable, as in life presenting us with the present (gift) of the present (now). Thanks for your comment.

  8. When My sister told me I don't want to talk anymore about the past 3 years, let's start from now, I was not sure whether it was a good or bad idea. I have to say it's the best she shared with me. I am thankful she did it, the past 3 years have been the most difficult, I have changed a lot and what counts is what we are doing from now.
    We all agree as a family to forget the hard time we just lived, how peaceful it is to know from now on the present is our time to rejoice and love.

    Lovely thoughts on this Galen Pearl with a very inspiring last sentence. Have a good day!

  9. What I love most about singing this time of year, is one must be in the moment - taking that breath now and expelling through the system into sounds...
    the sounds are like a mantra because over my history I have sung those words and noises throughout my is still breathing life into those sounds - that

    Then there are new sounds and ideas also compressed into that breath and action.

    My children still wanted a tree...we cut one and put it up...and I got 3 hours of breathing in the smell and enjoying it's beauty au natural while putting up their treasures of past activities...

    Maybe the past is there to compel the breath and noise to come today....the waft of tree is touching me now as I type.

    Its all in the interpretation and meaning

  10. Wow, that was food for thought. I do often think about the era I was raised in and loved it because at that time it seems so simple and unrushed. We have control over how we spend our time; so if we need to slow down perhaps we should cut our schedule back a bit and enjoy the moments.
    Blessings to you for an enlightening post. Yes, I do believe in enoying the moment and the journey.

  11. When you live in the past you become a ghost under your own bed and a haunt in your own childhood closet. All we ever have is this moment colliding with the next. The good old days are now.

  12. Life is good whether it is past, present, or future. However, I always say, "the best is yet to come". I guess that's not really living in the moment either but better forward than backward.

  13. Really well written Galen! I think that most people visit the past because perhaps those times just felt a tad simpler, at least for me.

  14. I don't think much about the past except to be glad I don't have to live it again. For a time I had a risky lifestyle. I'm always grateful I somehow managed to escape any serious consequences. During the time when my kids were young I was gone on business far too much to be an equal partner in child-rearing with my wife.

    The past is a lot of lessons learned on how not to live and not to be the best I can be. I trust I have left all that behind me. It was certainly not the good old days.

  15. Galen,

    Another great post and living in the moment right now is the BEST place to be. I like to tell people that live in the past or the future. "Look down at your feet, where are they." They tell me here in front of me - well that is where we only need to be, where our feet are - NOW in the moment...

    Thanks for this beautiful reminder my friend,

  16. Marie--That is a tough one to balance, isn't it? If issues in need of discussion are cut off, they don't get resolved. On the other hand, if we can truly let go and move on, then you can start over, as it were. Sounds like this approach has worked for your family. Thanks for your comment.

    Patricia--It is all in the meaning indeed. I walked into an office today which had some natural greenery in the entry way. Oh, it smelled so good! Thanks for commenting.

    LeAnn--Yes, we can make time if we want to in the present instead of longing for times no longer here. It is interesting to think, though, about how our memory of a particular time might be very different that someone else's. Thanks for your comment.

    Linda--They are for me, that's for sure! Thanks for commenting.

    Nicole--How poetic! That reminds me of the Chinese belief in hungry ghosts. Thanks for adding this powerful image.

    Healthier and Wealthier--That's an interesting observation about a fammiliar phrase! Thanks for commenting.

    Average Girl--Maybe so. For me, however, life got better, if not simpler, as I got older. I don't look back with much longing, but mostly with gratitude. Thanks for your comment.

    Bob--Sounds like you and I had guardian angels working overtime in our youth! I'm with you and other commenters--these are the good days. Thanks for commenting.

    Nancy--Love that! Now I'm going to look at my feet when I need a reminder. Thanks for commenting.

  17. Yes Galen, the past can indeed be a wonderful place but nothing changes there. But today and every day thereafter are the spark of something more, of creation, of opportunity and potential, of all that can be. Love yesterday with sentimental appreciation but love today more as it will be the yesterday of the future you won't get back. Today IS the day!

  18. Hi Galen,

    Everything is indeed impermanent and change is the only constant in this world. This is apparent all around us. The world is changing so rapidly that it takes a fair amount of effort to keep up.

    Just the other day I was approached at the new bus interchange near my home by a bewildered woman. She used to take a bus straight to her destination next to the old bus interchange. But because of the rebuilding the bus went to the new bus interchange and she got lost. Having said that, the new bus interchange and mall had been around for a good 6 months so it's a wonder she did not know about it.

    The point here is that change keeps on happening whether we like it or not. The world simply won't stop for you or me. So we have to keep abreast of the changes to avoid losing our bearings.

    Yes it is human to revisit the past as we envisioned it, but as you rightly point out, let's not stay there too long before we return to the world today. It might just have changed beyond our ability to recognize it.

    Thank you for sharing this lovely article! :)

    Irving the Vizier

  19. Hi Galen, I truly enjoyed this post. I believe all of us look back in our past and remember the "good old days." I sure have on occasion.

  20. I definitely don't live in the past, I'm a Be Here Now kinda gal, but I do visit and write about it occasionally. I feel it helps me better understand where I am and who I am Now. It's a nice place to visit, I wouldn't want to live there. :) Thank you for an interesting and thoughtful post.

  21. John--Love your description of today as our future yesterday. Might as well make good memories! Thanks for commenting.

    Irving--Your bus stop story reminds me of visits to the city where I grew up. Things have changed so much there that I have gotten lost several times. Your observation that the present time changes when left unattended is a great point. Thanks for your comment.

    Cynthia--Some of us do. Others, like me, are not so drawn to linger in the past in part because the past was not a happy place like the present is. So, for me anyway, these are the good "new" days. But I do have good memories, too, and they are pleasant to visit on occasion, as you say. Thanks for commenting.

    Teresa--I'm with you! That's exactly what I think, too. Thanks for your comment.

  22. Thank you so much your such an inspiration to me. x

  23. Journey--You're welcome, and thank you.

  24. Galen, you said it. The good old days never existed. There has always been struggle, though it's interesting: even in our brokest states, most of us have entertainment delivered right to our home each day (even if it is through a set of rabbit ears), we have machines to make our food hot in SECONDS. We live richer than most of the kings and queens of the OLD days!

  25. Galen: Ministers look backwards. It's their business. To me, the past is but a ship's wake, doing absolutely nothing to propel the ship forward.

  26. Bryan--It is interesting, isn't it, that if we think the old days were good, we assume they were good for everybody?! And true, some of those good old days were pretty rough on those living them! Thanks for commenting.

    JJ--Not sure I understand your point about ministers looking backwards. Maybe you could explain? I like your image of the ship's wake, especially when you think of the waves spreading out as the ship moves further away. The wake does not move the ship forward, but the creation of the wake by the ship's actions has far reaching effects. Thanks for commenting.

  27. "Good old days or bad old days are not today days. So if you do visit your stories of the past, remember to come home soon."

    I have many lessons learned in those 'good old days' My going back is for refreshing my knowledge. To dwell there,it is indeed not good. To use it to build upon... for me it is very good.

  28. Hello Galen,

    I enjoyed reading your post very much. Indeed, it is important to place our attention on the present, instead of being stuck in the past. The past is already gone. We choose to keep the good memories but let's not forget about living our moments fully in the present.

    The past can also contain some painful memories. Coincidentally, I also shared this quote from my facebook account this morning: "You know life is worth the struggle when you look back on what you lost, and realize what you have now is way better than before." - anonymous

    Once again, thank you for sharing your article!

    With love,

  29. I think that people often refer to their past as the "good old days" not because times were actually better or simpler, but because they themselves were still in a childhood state of innocence when the world seemed full of hope and miracles.

  30. restoring--I agree. Learning from our past and living in the past are two different things. It was only by looking at my past and recognizing my patterns that I was then able to change them. Good point. Thanks for your comment.

    Evelyn--Wonderful quote. And so true about the painful memories. We can get just as stuck in our painful past as we can in our pleasant past. Looking back, however, to see how we've changed, or to appreciate what we have now, can bring more joy and gratitude into the present. Thanks for your comment.

    Kara--That's an insightful observation. Perhaps that's why Peter Pan is such an engaging character, never growing up. And perhaps our challenge as adults is to recapture that innocence of hope and miracles in our present moments. Thanks for your comment.

  31. The past is only useful to look back on and realise how well we have survived and prevailed so far. How incredible are we?

    Life is never easy. What we pick up on the roundabout we lose on the swings.

    The only way on is forward.

    The only place to BE is now.

    Thanks Galen for another thoughtful post :-)

  32. Jean--We are pretty darned incredible!! Thanks for commenting.


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