Wednesday, January 04, 2017

"Make America Great Again"... and other illusions

A while back, I had this notion that I was going to write a meaningful post-election article about how to navigate a turbulent and uncertain world, especially if you're an HSP. It seemed like a good idea at the time... because many folks presented as deeply distressed and lost at the end of a very "noisy" Presidential election year here in the US.

As time passed, I started realizing that I felt "stuck," so the article progressed into becoming a "Thanksgiving Message," then a "Holiday Message" and ultimately a "New Year's Message." And still, I remained stuck. For some reason, I didn't really have any words-- let alone words of wisdom-- to share. 

A quick side note: I should hurry to add that this is not a political post... and it was never intended to be. It's a human post.

All other things aside, it was not until earlier today-- when a photo of Donald Trump from the campaigning days rolled across my Facebook feed-- that I understood why words had been failing me, and why so many people I know had been feeling strangely immobilized and unmotivated for the past few months.

"Make America Great Again!"

If you live in the US or follow the news, it's almost inevitable that you've seen this campaign slogan, regardless of which side of the political fence you sit on. 

"Make America Great... AGAIN!"

The words made me pause for a moment to remember how often I-- and many people-- tend to look backwards during periods where we feel under extreme duress, stress, disappointment and uncertainty. Sometimes this inclination arises as a result of loss-- a loved one dies, a relationship ends, we lose our job, our beloved pet passes, our core beliefs are rocked-- so we seek some kind of emotional "anchor" in the chaos we feel. At other times, we perceive our lives to be so uncertain that we focus on a solid memory simply because it is known, and the known affords us at least the illusion of control where we otherwise feel like we have none.

It's a natural thing we do. Regardless of whether we consider ourselves "forward looking" or prone to nostalgia, it is psychologically easier to recall feelings and events that have actually happened than to imagine feelings and events that are yet to be.. or maybe not to be. The tangible and recorded past outweighs the uncertain and ambiguous future. There's nothing wrong with that... it simply is.

But here's the rub: there is no recreating the past. This type of escape is merely an illusion. The cold reality is that the past only exists in our memories... because neither we, nor our environmental reality, exists today as it existed ten, twenty, fifty years ago. 

The "Good Old Days" are an abstraction. What's more, we tend to look back through a selective filter of positivity... we remember our favorite dog wagging his tail, not the three years where he peed on the floor twice a week.

Looking back may offer a moment of comfort, but it's not only fleeting, it's nothing more than a thin veil over a present reality that's not about to disappear.

I am originally from Europe and grew up there until moving to the US in 1981. That said, my parents lived in Phoenix, Arizona for many years, before going back "home" in 2002. 

Not long after they left the US, I went to visit them in the south of Spain where I spent my teen years. Having not been there in some 20 years, I went "time traveling," with the vague hope-- a longing-- of somehow "re-feeling" moments from my past. It was a difficult time in my life and I was perhaps trying to "run away." 

It was then I came to understand that "The Past" is not an actual thing, not a place, not a person, not an event... but simply a basket of feelings attached to a moment in time. I stood under the same trees in front of the house where we lived and looked at the same mountains across the same riverbed... and yet felt nothing. I sat in the bar where I had my first beer and drank the same kind of beer... and felt nothing. I stood on the beach where I sought solitude with my teenage angst... and felt nothing.

Well, not exactly "nothing.

What I felt was emptiness. Disappointment. The same feeling you have when your favorite coffee mug shatters and you realize you will never have it again, even if you replace it with an identical one. The past may look rosy, but we can never go back.

Something similar happened at a different time, years later, when my parents passed away. And at an earlier time when my beloved aunt-- who helped raise me-- passed away. Both times, I looked for points in my past where things seemed... simpler; less painful; less confusing.

In each case, the memories were intact, but the attempt to recreate something "that once was" felt flat and colorless... because the person originally having the experience in real time no longer existed

Bringing this back to current reality in the USA, I find myself feeling for all those people in down-and-out coal country who voted for Donald Trump with dreams of looking back to an easier time when jobs were plentiful and their lives did not eternally center on where their next meal will come from. I realize that their past time of relative comfort cannot exist again because neither the society nor the people they are now are who they were then.

We can't make things anything "again." We can't unlearn what we already know to be true.

Even when we make our late mother's apple pie exactly as she did, it will never be exactly the same because the original circumstances cannot exist outside our memories.

So, regardless of whether you're a liberal who longs be in in the days of Obama or Bill Clinton, or a conservative longing for the "good old days" of the 1950's... the past for which you wax nostalgic (and perhaps make your choices based on?) cannot and will not ever exist again.

All we have is now... this present moment... and the future we can co-create by stringing together the most meaningful series of "present moments" we can come up with. Sure, our choices can be informed by our past... but there is only now as far as actually living our lives go. 

So, if you feel stuck and spend  lot of time on "if only" thinking, it's time to let it go and find the strength to get up and create a new set of memories to look back on, from some future time... 

Happy New Year!

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