Missing the Past

Posted on May 15, 2017 in Self-Help

Simply put, we all want to feel good. Depending on where our balance lies, feeling good will mean accessing different resources at different times. In one moment or another we may be in search of comfort, joy, connection, stimulation, rest, inspiration, purpose or safety, for example.


If we aren’t in this present state of feeling satisfied, we can catch ourselves not present at all, but rather off in a past or future fantasy world.


We think back to a time we once felt fulfillment, and want for it.

“College, those were the good old days!”

“I remember my job as a summer camp counsellor, that was the best!”

“That vacation to Europe last year was absolute bliss.”

“I was so happy with my last partner.”


We put the highlight reel on repeat and in missing that experience we start to wonder…

“Maybe I should go back to school.”

“Maybe I should get that job back.”

“Maybe I should move there.”

“Maybe we should get back together.”


We project our rosy past onto our blank future and imagine an effortless replication of that experience.

Certainly, there are going to be times when it’s appropriate to return to a previous relationship, environment or occupation, but more often then not we are forgetting that there was a valid reason that that chapter ended — a reason which may still be relevant.

“You can never visit the same place twice.”
– Maureen Johnson

In making return trips I’ve often found that the place, person or thing I was visiting had changed, or simply that I had changed and would now be looking at it through a new lens. There was no recreation to be had.


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From Destructive Distraction to Helpful Tool

None of this is to say that to miss the past is “bad” or that it is a waste of time. In fact, if we know how to work with it, it can be incredibly useful!

There is a reason the mind wanders. It does so, in part out of habit, and in part because it’s seeking. If the mind is repeatedly conjuring up a particular memory from the past, this can reveal to us what may be lacking in our current situation.

Though it may be painful, to recognize the presence of emptiness in one’s life is invaluable information!

Our mind identifies a problem and in search of a solution, roams in fantasy.  We roam also to escape from the dissatisfaction of the present moment. This is when we can loose ourselves in memories. It becomes a productive exercise though, when we are able to find ourselves in them. If we are thoughtful and inquisitive, this otherwise passive daydream can be utilized to our advantage.

To forage fruit from your trips down memory lane, follow these 3 steps:
1. Observation
2. Deliberate Exploration
3. Dissection, Extraction & Pursuit



→ Which memories continue to arise?

Deliberate Exploration
 → When I fully immerse myself in that world, how do I feel?

Dissection, Extraction & Pursuit
What needs were being met at that time?
→ Which of these needs are not being met in my present life situation?
→ Where might I get these needs met?


eflection contemplation self help depression worry

The honest question to ask oneself is:
Do I really miss that situation, or do I miss what it provided for me?
It’s useful to catch oneself in moments of nostalgia because we can work to pinpoint exactly which needs were being fulfilled at the time we are dreaming back to. These give insight to one’s deep desires for the present, thus providing a direction for the future.



  • 😩 I miss college! → Or, do you miss the community, the autonomy, the mental challenge of creative projects, the gregariousness, the motivation from peers, the mentorship from elders, the stimulation of new surroundings?
  • 😩 I miss being a camp counsellor! → Or, do you miss the time in nature, the physically demanding activities, the playful environment, the comradery of likeminded individuals, the sense of belonging, the structure of a schedule, the purposeful work?
  • 😩 I miss my last vacation! → Or, do you miss the excitement of being in a new place, the sense of freedom, the exposure to art & entertainment, the quiet time for contemplation; the opportunity for relaxation, the nourishing food, the social engagement?
  • 😩 I miss my last partner! → Or, do you miss the companionship, the support, the caring touch, the feeling of being heard, the sense of harmony, the physical intimacy?


More often than not we walk around in agony, thinking that we don’t know what we want. It is this first step of identifying our deep desires that seems to be the hardest one. The asking for it/the going after it is the easy part. Once we know our direction we can move forward, if we don’t, we may feel stuck or at wander. 


Moving Forward

Note that, to truly move forward, we must shed any attachments to the people/places/things that we have cast as stars in these memories.

For instance, if I wasn’t able to accept my last relationship as over, if I still clung to the dreamy version of it, I might run back to that partner. We might reunite and although I may not be content, I may attempt to convince myself of otherwise in an effort to play out my fantasy. I might try and “make it work,” forcing a square peg in a round hole. In this, l’d likely end up exhausted and yet still unfulfilled…

However, if I were to understand that it’s not that relationship I’m missing, it’s what it provided me with, I could step back into my power. I could seek out different ways of getting my needs met. For instance, finding companionship though more time with friends, finding physical touch though professional massage and finding support through talk therapy. I could then let go of this relationship which would open me up to receive the infinite number of new & unexpected experiences that are coming my way. (Ie. A different partner, a job opportunity, inspiration for a personal creative project etc.)

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Looking Back

Memories poke their head out the past because they want our attention. There is a part of us that keeps them alive because they serve. Even beyond what has been discussed, they are helping us in a multitude of other ways…

A 90 year old man may recall the thrilling time he went skydiving. He may not have the desire or ability to parachute up again, but the courage it took to do so will remain a part of him forever. Though it may play out in different ways these days, that bravery has been stored within, so he can tap into and draw upon it at any time. Memories are what help keep character traits alive in oneself.

Similarly, we remember times we are less proud of, like that evening the mother who was so run-down, yelled at her kids. These memories are also here to serve. Though they are painful, they remain a part of us because in retrieving them we are able to relate to others. We may see someone out in public who is shouting angrily at the store clerk and label them as a jerk; or we may have someone act in anger towards us and react by taking it personally. However, when we employ our memory and access that time we felt a frustration that manifested itself as yelling at our children, we can better understand the complex experience of that other angry person. It is this empathy that cuts through judgement and allows for compassion and connection.

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In Conclusion

  • Our memories are not here to hold us back but to guide us forward. With this knowledge we can appreciate the events of our lives, learn from them, and move on with confidence. Though it is natural to embed a particular feeling in an experience, we no longer have to feel shackled to such person, place or thing in order to access this feeling. In directing ourselves to new resources we regain our freedom and our power.
  • Our memories are not here to hold us back but to hold us up, and to hold us accountable. They keep us in touch with the array of character qualities we have experimented with in this life. They keep us humble, they keep us human and thus, they keep us connected.


 Like this post? You may also enjoy Future UnknownsFriendship or Guilt.

One Comment

  1. Well said :-). I enjoyed how you arrived at empathy with self through thinking about the past. Versus having the past lead our mental and emotional state. Keep up the writing. Cheers.

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