With the constant competition for our attention in the present, it’s often difficult to find time to reflect on the past. Even people who journal regularly about daily activities are probably not contemplating the more distant past – things like early formative experiences, childhood memories, or just different periods of our lives that were different. Yet as our Connection Lab found during one of our recent studies, reflecting on our past experiences can actually help foster feelings of connection in the present.
Soundtrack from Another Life
One of our research study participants shared that during a recent long car ride, they decided to listen to songs from some of their favorite albums from 10 years earlier. At first, they found it hard to believe that they’d loved these songs so much. The music didn’t match their current taste. It was almost embarrassing to realize these songs had meant so much to them.
But then, they started really listening to the lyrics. The participant shared this revelation with us:
“I realized how perfectly they fit those times of my life. It is not who I am anymore but it is a complete reminder of all the good and bad times I have had, the different friends and relationships I have made it through, and all the times that have led me to where I am today. Those times are another thing I am grateful for. Without having lived all of my, as I like to call them ‘past lives,’ I wouldn’t know myself as well as I do today, and I am proud of who I am.”
By returning to the soundtrack of their prior life, this person was able to recognize and honor their former self as just that – an earlier version of themself. That former version was different, with different taste in music, different friends and priorities, but still an essential step toward becoming the person they are today. Those experiences and friends and songs helped shape their current reality.
Reflecting on how they had changed, and how their prior self had contributed positively to their current self was an extremely powerful way to reconnect – with their past, as well as their present.
The Ghost of Christmas Past
Another research study participant discovered the power of reflecting on early memories at a stage performance of A Christmas Carol. They shared with us that they’d had an unexpectedly emotional reaction to the play, and that it had helped them reconnect to both their childhood self and the experience of their grandson in the current day:
“The script of the play was almost word for word as Charles Dickens wrote the story. I found that I knew it almost by heart, as when I was a child, my father read it to me and my sisters for 4 consecutive nights before Christmas…. I found myself tearful in the scenes from the Ghost of Christmas Past, which deals with the lonely child, Ebenezer Scrooge, left alone in a boarding school over the Christmas holidays. A combination of longing for my father, who is dead, and appreciation for the fact that he had taken the trouble, year after year, to read this timeless tale to his children may have accounted for the tears.
They might also have been accounted for by the realization of the hope that children somehow manage to cling onto despite the adversity of their circumstances. I have a 3 year old grandson, who is not being raised in ideal circumstances, but in the play I recognized the same hopefulness that I see in him every time I am with him.
The surge of emotion that I experienced as the familiar words played out before me recalled me to my essential self, which I believe to be the self we are in childhood, before the exigencies of adult life force us to adopt various masks and personas with others that may not necessarily be reflective of our true selves.”
The familiar phrases of A Christmas Carol lit up deeply embedded memories of the past in ways that enabled this participant to feel and understand their present. The person recalled, cherished, and mourned their loving father and his dedication to his children. They also found a new connection with their grandson that enabled them to better understand his situation and emotional state.
While this experience was not something they had consciously sought out, it still enabled greater self-awareness and connection.
Looking Back to Look Forward
Stories like these confirm the power of our pasts to help us connect in the present. Reflecting on the positive value of our past experiences can almost* always help us better understand, accept and appreciate our present. It also often helps us make peace with negative events we may not have processed successfully.
So make the time to pull out those old photos, favorite songs or books/journals. Your past self may show you an important way to connect to your present.
* PLEASE NOTE: If you have suffered through violence or other severe trauma, revisiting your experience may trigger more trauma; seek advice from a qualified mental health professional before using this connection technique.