Posted on 2/12/2018 by Mark Hutchinson
"Gratitude makes sense of our past, brings peace for today, and creates a vision for tomorrow."
- Melody Beattie
"Look back, and smile on perils past."
- Walter Scott
It seems to me that, for many people, the mistakes, problems, and suffering of the past prevent them from living a full and enjoyable life today. I suggest, as do our quotes today, that your attitude about the past has an important role to play in your present and future.
I like to relate to my past as if it were a series of past “selves” that were distinct individuals and different than the person I am today. I find it easier to extend compassion and understanding to these past selves for the hurts they endured, the confusion they had, and the mistakes (in retrospect) that they made. It is amazing how many times that those past people actually did their best to avoid problems and make good decisions in the moment only to have things turn out badly. Since they are not the current me, I can feel gratitude for their efforts, I can feel compassion for their pain, and I am able to appreciate their hopes and fears.
An additional benefit of adopting this point of view is that guilt, remorse and pain become more like parts of a story rather than an acute feeling echoing into the present. It is less disturbing and easier to be calm in the moment when we review these things that happened to our past selves. We certainly don’t want to ignore the past, or pretend like it didn’t happen but we can’t let the past become so dominant in our life that we can’t live well in the days in front of us.
Although I usually like to use the iceberg for my analogies, today I’d like to use some different imagery to highlight the balance and interplay between our past, present and future. Let’s fly a kite!
If you’ve ever flown a classic diamond-shaped kite then you may be familiar with the long kite “tail” that is usually made out of some sort of cloth or fabric. Sometimes there would be little knots tied into this tail to help increase the drag. This tail on the kite serves a very important purpose. If you’ve tried flying such a kite without the tail then you know what that purpose is. The wind resistance the tail provides, its drag in the wind pulls on the kite and keeps the kite pointed in the right direction. Without the correct orientation, the kite will spin wildly and generally crash in an uninspiring sort of way.
By way of analogy, the tail of the kite, including the little knots tied into it, represent our history – those previous selves. You need some of those hardships and milestone events to be tied into the fabric of your history because they help you stay pointed in the right direction. That delicate balance of enough drag, but not too much, will let you stay active in the present and keep oriented toward the future. The tail of our kite is necessary and we should be grateful that it helps us enjoy the flight.
Trying to ignore our past is like trying to fly that kite with no tail. Also, if the weight of the knots in that tail is too heavy then we never even get off the ground and the future becomes irrelevant to the non-flying kite.
I don’t know how far you can really take the kite metaphor but I do like the imagery of it for myself. For me it makes it much easier to see my past selves as being integral to where I am today and helps me to use those experiences to make better decisions going forward. Even in a strong wind, a good long tail on our kite can keep us quite stable and for that we should be grateful.
It is your attitude about the past that makes the tail of your kite work well or not.
What does the tail of your kite look like? Is it too heavy? Is it non-existent?
Adjust the tail when necessary to take advantage of the breeze of the day. You’ll be glad you did.
Have a great flight this week!