The Past: I’ve always been curious why folks enjoy posting pictures and sayings on Facebook from bygone years…you know, the “Remember when” posts or “Who can identify what this kitchen utensil was used for 50 years ago?” I’ve never identified with those posts and wonder what the benefit is. Maybe dwelling on the past brings a degree of comfort in remembering it as a less stressful period of life and therefore much better than the present. But memories can sugar-coat past realities or overwhelm us with regrets or “shoulds,” like “I should or shouldn’t have…” or “Why did I….?” or “If only…” and ultimately prevent us from fully being in the present moment.
There’s nothing wrong with reliving the past, but to what end? Seeing the past with rose-colored glasses or focusing only on regrets, mistakes or failures doesn’t get us where we need to go – meaning it’s not helpful. If we look back and get experience, then that is useful in the here and now. Asking questions like, “How did I get through that hard time? What could I have done differently? What have I learned?” can help integrate past experiences and provide a roadmap for moving forward.
The Future: I’m a long-range planner, and I love putting things on the calendar months ahead of time. In my work life, I loved planning and facilitating groups and classes, getting them scheduled a year in advance as that was necessary to ensure successful events. In my personal life, I love making plans for next year’s vacation – even while I’m enjoying this year’s vacation. I love thinking about the future. But not everyone does. Thinking about the future can evoke fear, dread and feelings of uncertainty, like dreading upcoming test results, worrying about finances, or kids…even if they’re now adults.
The familiar proverb, “Hope for the best, prepare for the worst,” gets me focused in the right direction. While I don’t prepare for the worst, it’s wise to prepare for things that might turn out differently than I expect. I’ve always asked my kids, “What’s your Plan B?” because life will not always happen how we want, and we can’t control everything. My goal is to look forward and see hope. And always have Plan B.
The Present: It’s hard to live in the present moment. The past intrudes, and the future is unknown. There are so many distractions – the pandemic, politics, finances, family dynamics, medical concerns; the list is endless. Yet being in the present moment is what is needed to reduce stress and live a fulfilling, meaningful life. The book, Mindfulness: An Eight-Week Plan for Finding Peace in a Frantic World by Williams and Penman, is one of my favorites. It provides down-to-earth activities and teaches us how to live in the present moment.
Living in the present, we look around and see reality. We see the beauty of nature, hear the unbridled happiness of the birds and squirrels, and smell the approaching rain and the aroma of the forest. In the present moment, we become less anxious, less stressed, less exhausted. We can truly be present to hear and see our loved ones. We can look within and feel confident, or as a different version reads, look within and find yourself.
Recalling the past, we can become immobilized by nostalgia and guilt or be propelled into the future with wisdom. Looking to the future, we can fear the worst or plan and hope for the best. Being in the present moment, we can become distracted by technology and worries, or seek out gratitude, joy, and meaning and ultimately, find confidence and ourselves.
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SUE'S GIFT BLOG
Sherry Martin is the Patient Services Director for Sue's Gift, a licensed clinical social worker with over thirty years of experience in the field of oncology social work, and author of the book, Beginning Again: Tools for the Journey through Grief: A Step-by-Step Guide for Facilitators of a Grief Support Group. Sherry lives with her husband in Woodland Park, Colorado.
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