A self-inulgent sorrow selfie. Embarrassing but true*
I used to wrap myself up in nostalgia. Not happy nostalgia, like “Remember when we all wore acid-washed jeans,” but more like… hm, deep grey clouds of melancholy nostalgia. I was secretly proud of my ability to nurse a bittersweet memory. I made regret an art form, sculpting what-ifs in my head into castles of fantasy lives I’d never get to live.
These days, I’m able to see a little more clearly that things pass, and that nothing lasts, and that this is mostly okay. As Buddha suggested, I suffer less as a result.
I was recently listening to a Dharma teaching on this concept of impermanence and was struck by a particular line: “The emotions of the past are gone,” said my teacher, Mingyur Rinpoche.
When I say struck, I mean it felt like I was physically struck- spontaneous tears actually welled up. The emotions, gone? But, but… I LIKED those emotions. Even the sad, sorry-for-myself ones. I’d spent so much time nursing them, cultivating my garden of self-pity. In an instant I saw clearly that I had been attempting to carry these emotions with me into the present, but that they had already changed. New emotions were there, and some of them might be similar, but nothing was quite the same.
I recently ended a relationship (this is the VERY short version, friends), and at the same time, I reconnected with someone that I loved and lost many years ago. So I’ve had the opportunity to look back and consider, compare, and contrast the similarities and differences between these two loves.
There are many patterns to observe, but one that I see clearly is a tendency to fondly romanticize both the high points and the low points of the relationships. To dwell in them, to turn them over in my memory until I can’t be sure how much is truth and how much an idealized emotion- one that changed long ago, despite my insistence on dragging it with me like an old battered bag full of crap.
A little indulgence in memory, in past emotion, in lost love, can feel awfully good. But it doesn’t always serve me well. I’m working to turn transform this indulgence into inquiry instead- yes, I think it’s good to appreciate and remember, but I’m also finding that some space around the emotion/memory/whatever can help me to see (and, I hope, release) the patterns that have caused suffering.
The following poem- The Lost Garden by Dana Gioia- speaks to this very phenomena in a much more beautiful way. Enjoy.
The Lost Garden
by Dana Gioia
If ever we see those gardens again,
The summer will be gone—at least our summer.
Some other mockingbird will concertize
Among the mulberries, and other vines
Will climb the high brick wall to disappear.
How many footpaths crossed the old estate—
The gracious acreage of a grander age—
So many trees to kiss or argue under,
And greenery enough for any mood.
What pleasure to be sad in such surroundings.
At least in retrospect. For even sorrow
Seems bearable when studied at a distance,
And if we speak of private suffering,
The pain becomes part of a well-turned tale
Describing someone else who shares our name.
Still, thinking of you, I sometimes play a game.
What if we had walked a different path one day,
Would some small incident have nudged us elsewhere
The way a pebble tossed into a brook
Might change the course a hundred miles downstream?
The trick is making memory a blessing,
To learn by loss the cool subtraction of desire,
Of wanting nothing more than what has been,
To know the past forever lost, yet seeing
Behind the wall a garden still in blossom.
*Please don’t worry, guys. I’m really quite okay, and was even when this photo was taken. 🙂 It was a moment of nostalgic, self-indulgent mental “weather.” It passed and all is well.