When certain moods set in, the mind has a tendency to wander, and one finds oneself recalling “the good old days,” with nostalgia. One may recall a certain point in time, certain individuals, or certain behaviors for that matter that seem “better,” “brighter” or “filled with promise.” The problem with such nostalgia is that it does not really promote an accurate evaluation of matters, with one of the side-effects being a downplaying of negative circumstances, behaviors, or people. This can lead to at least two potential problems.
An idealized past. In adopting the attitude of an idealized past, one puts on the proverbial blinders, only looking behind rather than forward. As part of this process, shortcomings of the past are often conveniently overlooked in order to maintain the “feel good” perspective, in essence creating a fictitious past from pieces of fact in order to avoid threatening the nostalgic “ideal.” Reminiscing about the “good old days” constantly becomes preferable to actually putting any time into one’s present circumstances, and slowly but surely, one begins to atrophy, just as a still pool of water becomes a center of pestilence and disease. I’ve heard it said that those who forget the past rob the future, and while I agree with this, I’ll go further in saying that those who live in the past rob the future as well. Regardless of how much joy the past may have held, it cannot be relived or recaptured, no matter how hard one may try, nor will any amount of dwelling on the “good times” (at the cost of experiences in the present) grant us any new sources of vitality or preserve us from the grave. While there is a degree of “safety” in the past (that is, in what is known), there is great potential waiting out there beyond one’s present experience (that is, the unknown.) Cultivate an adventurous heart, arm yourself with all that you’ve become, step forth into the unknown, and reap the vitality that comes as a fruit of the quest.
Reintegration of adverse people or behaviors. When nostalagia creeps in, the potential for allowing detrimental influences back into one’s life is high. During these moments of nostalgia, one needs to examine the reasons that one parted ways with people and behaviors in the first place in order to maintain perspective. While I still can, with a certain degree of amusement, recall reading Crowley’s Gems From the Equinox in its entirety while high on Methamphetamine, I also bear in mind what using that substance did to my body & mind, and remember the kind of people (now excluded from my life) that I found myself in the company of when using it. While I may fondly recall good times shared with someone who was once a good friend, I also need to bear in mind the shortcomings in their character and their behavior that ultimately prompted me to exclude them from my life. There are reasons why it becomes necessary to make changes in one’s life in the form of removing people and eliminating behaviors; forgetting these reasons or minimizing the reality of them them will likely result in those reasons taking root on one’s life once more. When forging a good sword, the steel to be used must first be purged of impurities, then protected from contaminants within the environment throughout the shaping process. If this is not done, then the work is ruined, and must be started again (and again), wasting time, energy and resources in the process. Life is too short, time is too valuable to spend it repeating the same thing over and over again when the end result is already known to be failure at best, or potentially fatal at worst.
Nostalgia itself is neither good nor bad; in fact, it’s probably one of the factors about us that makes us human beings: the ability to reflect upon people & events, and the emotions associated with them. What counts is the way that one approaches nostalgia: with a whole mind and honesty or with half a brain and the need to prop oneself up with pieces of the past. One can glean wisdom from one’s past or allow a skewed version of it to hypnotize one into stasis. One can remember the reality of one’s sometimes deficient actions or companions when one pleasantly reflects on the past, or one can forget the deficiencies and potentially repeat them again and again. It’s all in the attitude and the honesty that one approaches this whole matter with.