A Matter of Focus

231100_1058858028767_3654_nIt is traditional to look back at the year, at the end of the year, and we are at the end of the year, so perhaps we should look back.  But why do that?  The past is, after all, past, and cannot be changed.  There is the old saying that those who do not remember the past are condemned to repeat it, a saying attributed to Samuel Johnson and supposedly repeated by George Santayana.  It is a catchy phrase, one that is probably one hundred percent half true as a colleague of mine liked to say.

Sometimes, though, it is good to repeat the past.  After all, the new is not always better than the old, and I sure know that remembering the past is no guarantee it will not be repeated. So why look back?  I suppose it grounds us in a way, links us to ourselves and others, gives points of reference that can help us feel at home.  But it is not good to be stuck there.

We live our lives forward, not backwards, and so it may be wiser to look ahead than look behind. Satchell Paige’s dictum, “Don’t look back, something might be gaining on you.” is good advice.  Think about what you can do more than what you did, imagine how you can deepen your love of the world rather than rest in how much you already do.

Here in California, the spring gardens are beginning.  Lettuces, greens, beets, onions are in the ground, and a few California poppy plants have popped up.  They are looking forward, and I am with them.

The spiritual life is about what can be more than what was, about what we have now rather than what we had before. Blessings begin in the present and look forward. It’s a matter of focus.

Happy New Year.

Rev. Dr. Jim Nelson

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3 Responses to A Matter of Focus

  1. Mary Chadsey says:

    All this is true, of course, unless you are a rower. Then you set your focus on where you have been, base your forward motion on what you are now working with (tide, current, wind, bridges, markers, buoys, teammates, strength, power, etc.) and row on, balancing carefully. With muscle memory and knowledge, you drop your blade, push hard and breathe. The key is to memorize only the good strokes which worked well in the past. But, even with careful planning, an unlikely bridge or marker will sometimes appear out of nowhere. Trusting where you are going, based on where you have been, works well if you have learned to balance even the most horrendous waters.

    Happy New Year,

    Mary Chadsey

  2. Robert Gotham says:

    I certainly agree with the notion that our primary focus should be on the future. But I do think that recollecting our experiences of the past (good and bad) can positively and strongly influence our future. I don’t believe it is an “either / or” situation – but rather finding the right balance.

  3. This is good, good to start number 13 with, I like the “100% – half true” line. And it reminds me of what my shrink told me two days ago, he said “You are greater than the sum of your past experiences.”
    This line may be better in context, as they say, but it was certainly a relief to me, since he knows most of mine!

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