Thursday, February 22, 2007

Daily Om: The Past In Light Of The Present

This is today's Daily Om:
The Past In Light Of The Present
Knowing Better Now

When we look back at the past, knowing what we know now, we often find it difficult to understand how we made the mistakes we made. This is because once we learn new information, it is nearly impossible to reenter the headspace we were in before we learned that information. And so we look back at parents who spanked their kids, for example, and wonder how they could have thought that was a good idea. Similarly, our personal pasts are full of mistakes we can't believe we made. We did things then that we would never do now, and this is precisely because we have information now that we didn't have, or weren't able to access, then.

From ideas about how to raise children to how to treat the environment, our collective human past sometimes reads like a document on what not to do. In many ways, this is exactly as it should be. We learn from living and having experiences. It is from these past actions that we garnered the information that guides us to live differently now. Just so, in our personal lives, we probably had to have a few unsuccessful relationships or jobs, learning about our negative tendencies through them, in order to gain the wisdom we have now.

In order to live more peacefully with the past, it helps to remember that once we know better, we tend to do better. Prior to knowing, we generally do our best, and while it's true that from the perspective of the present, our best doesn't always seem good enough, we can at least give our past selves the benefit of the doubt. We did our best with what knowledge we had. Beyond this, we serve the greater good most effectively by not dwelling on the past, instead reigning our energy and knowledge into our present actions. It is here, in this moment, that we create our reality and ourselves anew, with our current knowledge and information.
I am someone who has often been haunted by past mistakes -- the Catholics are really good with teaching guilt. But even where there isn't guilt or shame, there is almost always the sense that I should have known better.

This post frames that feeling in its proper context -- once we learn a lesson, it's hard to imagine that ever didn't know it. We can feel as stupid as we want, pointlessly, and it will not change the fact that we did not know it until we knew it.

What makes this whole issue tougher, and isn't mentioned above, is that once we know something we can see all the hints and clues that we think we should have picked up on before. Looking back at my last relationship, it's clear to me that is wasn't working (for either of us) for a long time. And even though there were lots of hints and clues along the way, I didn't pay attention or didn't want to see them.

I can blame myself for being stupid all I want, but the reality is that I was doing the best I could at the time. Now I know better, so I likely won't make the same mistakes again.

In the end, that's all that matters -- that we learn from our mistakes and make every effort not to repeat them. If we didn't make mistakes, we would have no material to fuel our growth.

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