It seems that the dynamics of day-to-day life always include a kind of negotiation with the past and its power to pull us into regression. Of course, when I speak of the dynamics of day-to-day life I’m speaking of one’s psychological life since there is no life besides this one. Many people believe psychology is something they can turn to when things go awry or that it’s a discipline where one can discover techniques for business and creative success, but they fail to understand that they are living all of their lives — psychologically — all day long. All of our impulses, ideas, emotions, compulsions, and neuroses arise out of the psychological realm to which our identities, our habits, and our behaviors are magically tethered. There is no daily life without the pervasive influence of the psyche and its powers.
The past is an amorphous and ephemeral force of nature that gets its power from the ever-churning machine of human imagination. In fact, the past does not exist since it is long gone, but the stories we tell ourselves about the past, the his stories and her stories and old wive’s tales and myths and legends all contribute to a functional mono-myth about reality that is entirely dependent upon the way people imagine the past. Continual retellings of these stories in books and films reinforce the seemingly solid structure of the past, its functional basis in the real and not imaginary reality. This is likewise true of the stories we tell about our personal past and the history that surrounds it, which is again, alive and kicking in our imagination. What happens is that a psychological wind dances around these stories and gathers strength from the images that keep repeating there, at psychospiritual home base, and this wind evolves into an impenetrable forcefield that prevents any diverging opinions from entering the realm of imagination. This is how the past becomes a strange otherworldly monolith before which we can only howl in dismay and awe.
Life is really hard and the dimensions of psychological skulduggery found in the rugged deeps of our souls only add to the challenges we must face as we proceed on the path. But life is made all the harder when we succumb to regression after a long bout of hard-earned growth. Have you ever noticed the very quiet way it can happen, how subtle and skilled the past is at imperceptibly dragging you backward? Becoming ourselves deeply and truly, standing in the stable truth of who we are without pretense or affectation, building an indelible bond with the fathomless profundity of the human experience together with all of its mysteries and bewildering inanities, this is very noble yet difficult work. Each time we gain new ground and set ginger foot on a new plateau, we find there an unhinged threshold guardian wearing a face from the past. This guardian is terrifying enough that pushing forward seems impossible and we are forced to retreat to the disheveled hovel of our old habits where we can suck neurotically on our binky — a fully grown adult in baby diapers and a bonnet.
Yesterday evening I saw myself clearly standing on a straight line that divided the future from the past. In front of me was a sparkling ocean of clear blue waters stretching far away into the magical horizon — the future of unimpeded possibilities, the ocean filled with billions of fish to catch whose magic fruit divulges new events, new stories, new habits, new behaviors all devoid of past fears but pulsing rather with the inherent health and freedom of the newly born. Behind me was a wasteland of dried-up bones and dying crackheads, ghouls, and ghosts with barely any blood left in them and faces all graying and ashen, blending into the landscape that went on forever. I saw Jesus there and Mohammed, too. All the old bearded masculine prophets and the Men-Of-War were there, growing grayer by the minute. My father was there, slowly becoming a small pile of gray ash, less substantial even than the tiniest raindrop.
Things are not always this clear. The past is a crafty fellow and regressing backward into past habits, hanging out with past people, eating and drinking in the old ways, losing ground, losing ground, losing more ground — the past can be like a riptide that drags you out to see, only its power is not aquatic, it’s dusty and ashen, dry and brittle. The past is a hardened perspective meant to keep us caught up in the land of the dead, the land of the old, the land of the already established, and hence eternally boring untruths told by fear mongers and liars. Why are so many of us so attached to the past, then? Why do we weigh every event of our present moments in the scales of the past? Why are today’s triumphs colored and diminished by yesterday’s failures? Why do we stand on that line between magic and death and have to even wonder which way to go?
It’s as if we are all dusty vagabonds on the road, each carrying a giant sack of rocks on our backs and each of those rocks is a story about the past that we inherited from the older rock carriers. It seems like the simplest thing in the world to put the sack down and walk away but we don’t do that. Instead, we raise arms against those who would question the validity of our mighty rock-sacks that keep us stuck in one place (for who can proceed while carrying a burden this heavy?), tethered to a perspective, yoked to an idea, penned in with all the other animals on the farm known as His Story.
History is written by the victors, they say, but who are the victors within our psychic economy? Are they the forces of progress and growth or the forces of regression, backsliding, and losing ground? This is an ongoing negotiation that we are engaged in all the day long and it’s kind of important to be aware of it, otherwise, we devolve into bloodless shadows and ghosts busy taking orders from history’s ghouls.