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“What matters in life is not what happens to you but what you remember and how you remember it.” ― Gabriel Garcia Marquez
I am sitting in front of the home I grew up in my hometown. Memories flood my mind like a rolodex that won’t stop turning. The memories are very real. The current reality makes me question whether or not the past could have ever been true. The house I grew up on 17th Street is dilapidated. It needs painting and a major overhaul. Our neighbors, Mr. Hill and the Selbys are long since dead and gone. Their homes are an absolute disaster. Selby’s house used to be the nicest on the block. Mr. Hill was forever doing upgrades to his house. He was always painting the gutters, the trim or something else. Now his home is in such disarray and decay it is hard to believe anyone actually lives in the house. Both his and the Selbys’ houses should be demolished. As I assess the current existence of decay of my home, the memories just keep flooding in.
Things I remember:
….I remember throwing a rubber ball against the wooden steps playing a make-believe baseball game with my favorite team in mind, the Chicago Cubs. I threw the ball so many times against the steps that the wood broke and began to collapse.
…..I remember the bare spots in our front yard that formed first, second, and third base from playing baseball with my brother and friends in the neighborhood.
….I remember the upstairs window my older brothers would hang me out by my ankles, threatening to let me drop, just for the hell of it.
….I remember the early days when we had to walk across town to go to church because we didn’t have a car.
….I remember the boredom that came with Sunday church. Three hours in the morning and another 2 hours at night. It ruined watching the start of NFL games in the Fall and MLB on Sunday afternoons in the Summer.
It’s amazing how things that happened over 50 years ago can be so real in the here and now! Sometimes the bad memories wake me up to be relived anew. They roll around in my mind like a dryer that never turns off. Experiential therapies have been helpful. Hypnosis, EMDR, Regressive therapy, Somatic experience, guided meditation and music have all eased the compulsion of thought. Yet, the experiences that I have absorbed from home to church and everywhere in between are part of my blood and bone. Misbeliefs, abuse, theological brainwashing, patriarchal domination no longer rule or control my behavior. However, they are forever etched in my psychological DNA and color my everyday experience. I have learned to sit in a room experiencing life in the present while being aware of the cycle of past experiences that constantly spin and roll in the background of my mind.
Here are some things I have learned from nostalgia:
- Nostalgia helps me to embrace feelings. Going home to the place I grew up in reminded me to come home to myself. Yearning for yesterday once more produces feelings of loneliness, emptiness, and wondering what might have been if things then were different. Living in feelings of the past can trigger a desire to focus on the future and never really be present in the here and now. However, I have learned to shift the experience of nostalgic feelings and come home to my present mind where loneliness can disappear. Sitting with past nostalgia is an invitation to enter the suffering of present struggles in the friendly safe confines of your own heart. Home is your island of self within which you can practice being gentle and kind. You do not need to fix or change anything—just be.
- Memories are best managed through mindful meditation. You may feel discomfort from the vacuum that exists within. There is a tendency to fill the vacuum with activity and attempts to connect to others through electronic devices. Yet, being busy to connect will not make you less lonely. You can be surrounded by people and immersed in activity yet experience intense loneliness. Meditation slows your life so that you can notice what you feel inside.
- Sitting is a revolution that connects nostalgia to the present moment. When you are not in good relationship with your romantic partner, family, friends, and the world around you, practice sitting. Bring relaxation to your body by noticing the in-breath and the out-breath. Observe your feelings without trying to change them. Notice your thoughts and let them be as they are. Recognize your true self as the sky and your feelings and thoughts like the clouds. They will come and go but your true self remains the sky. It will bring calmness and connection to yourself.
- Memories point to the reality that the way out is in. Memories have taught me that when my mind races about past abusive experiences or current suffering, the best way to work through unwanted thought is to go inward. Your body is your home. Your body is your feet, your lungs, etc. Slow down your busyness to notice your lungs through the in-breath and out-breath. Notice what your body is feeling or experiencing. You won’t be able to connect with others if you cannot connect with yourself. So embrace your feelings with tenderness. You will find yourself when you feel lost not by going outside yourself but by going within.
Memories managed effectively produce inspiration for you and others who are connected to you. Going home to yourself will allow you to work through nostalgia and accept life as it is. It will help you to be present moment by moment. In this way nostalgic memories will not dominate you. You will engage freedom from past experiences.
As you provide your own warmth and safety you will be an inspiration to those who are connected to you. Your experience of inner calm and connection will inspire others to go within. You will help others to find sanctuary and warmth in their own “home”. The illusion of nostalgia is resolved when you practice sitting with your feelings past and present. Coming home to yourself merges past feelings with present realities of experience and fosters a refuge of safety and warm connection.