The Essence of Nostalgia
In my last blog I spoke about what mindfulness means to me and the many different ways we can all find in our day to day lives to experience the moment.
Well, nostalgia is the exact opposite and for many can be a bitter sweet experience. The very word conjures up an image of looking back at the past to certain traditions, situations and people through rose coloured glasses. The wonderful memory and belief that things were so much better then because of who we were with, where we were what we were doing and how we were feeling. This can have the effect of bringing up joyful memories and a deep sense of connection to those people, places or events or, depending on our present circumstances, create feelings of something lost and a great sense of disconnection.
Christmas is a wonderful example of this. It is bitter sweet because I love embracing the essence of Christmas; the songs, films, sense of joy and peace and kindness but I no longer have a close family to share it with.
I am fortunate enough to have wonderful friends who invite me to share their Christmas with them and this is something I often gratefully and hugely enjoyably do. Yet not always. Sometimes I prefer to stay on my own, with just me and my dog because in my present situation, I regard him as my family. Having Christmas shared just with him and not feeling, however warmly welcome I am made to feel, an outsider to other’s family traditions provides every bit of the love and connection I felt as a child and young woman with my own family.
Yet I would be lying if I said I didn’t sometimes feel sad, lonely or disconnected, despite being surrounded by the love and generosity of others. And the reason I watch so many of those Christmas films? (Yes, including the overly sentimental ones and even the one with Arnold Swarzenegger) is that they connect me to the essence of what I want to remember and how I want to feel.
Nostalgia is all around us at the moment, from revivals of 70s and 80s music and TV shows and films and this can create wonderful memories and a reminder of how we used to feel which can be both positive and negative depending on the memories associated with them.
We are surrounded with TV adverts, films, shops and charities that create constant reminders of what the ‘true meaning’ of Christmas supposedly is and the expectations this then places on us for what to buy, who to be with and how to behave towards our fellow man, can be horribly overwhelming, particularly if our current circumstances are radically different or are filtered by the expectations we feel placed on us by our immediate family, friends or culture.
Nostalgia can then cause us to look back and completely delete or distort our memories to fit in with how we want to feel or how we think we should feel in the present.
And that for me is the crux, nostalgia is all about the essence, the sense of connection to past people and events, and it is the meaning we attach to that connection that provides us with the choice to either look back in sadness or anger or with love and affection. Most likely it will be both. Essentially, memories furnish us with the opportunity to reflect on either what we feel we still have in our lives from the past we are grateful for and want more of or what is now missing and we want to add.
Nostalgia can provide us with wonderful reminders of key life moments and people who have helped shaped our lives which then create a sense of purpose and strength to tackle the present and reshape the future. It is the feelings that nostalgia generates that is important. Feelings such as warmth, connection, love, freedom, joy, significance. The feelings may not be so positive but the essence is the same, how much of those feelings exist in your present and what can you do to either create them now or change them to what you want to feel more of?
If we are to be truly mindful, hanging on to an illusion of what we feel the past represented won’t necessarily help us feel good in the present. However, if we take the essence of those feelings, we can take the pressure off lamenting its passing or trying to recreate it and focus instead on the moments we can create now to help feel more of what we want to feel.
So wallow away! Take every opportunity to recreate the feelings of love, connection, freedom and fun that your memories provide in any way that suits you. If you’re anything like me, this involves dancing in my friend’s kitchen to 80s music and Christmas top hits, inviting friends round to watch The Muppet Christmas Carol, going to as many carol services as I can, decorating the tree with baubles my mum bought from Woolworths for 11p and, most importantly, looking through old family photos remembering the good and the bad and feeling grateful for it all.
The key for me is to find the essence. Do those little things for yourself and for others that will help capture the positive feelings nostalgia creates in you and honour the lessons those people and events provided that have made you who you are today. And if things are missing, then start creating new traditions to be nostalgic about! It really is the little things that count. Looking after your own sense of wellbeing today will help create those magic memories that will then be tomorrow’s nostalgia.