“Life can only be understood backwards; but it must be lived forwards.”
~ Søren Kierkegaard
I speak the essence of this quote almost daily, actually – I live it. It is the premise of my memoir… a journey of understanding who I am – how I became me. It is also the premise from which I seek to understand each of my clients. I strive to make sure that they leave my office with a curiosity of ‘why’ they are ‘who’ they are.
We need to look backward – not to blame or regret… in fact, those are worthless efforts We must seek to understand what it was that designed the framework for the way that we understand the world. I sometimes talk about the ‘fabric’ that shrouds us… comprised of the threads of each of our experiences. A vibrant red one from my first love, a purple one for that time I was touched by a hymn in church, and a blue one for the deep sadness I felt when Billy laughed at me in 4th grade.
Each of us wears a shroud that has been designed through the years very differently than the one that is worn by another. Even siblings – growing up in the same household weave shrouds different than one another based on the precise experiences they encounter. If I believe that I am my parent’s favorite my thread may be pink while my brother, who felt challenged to garner acceptance may have a brown thread. The oldest child may weave white, the middle child – yellow, and the youngest, perhaps gold.
Imagine the diversity of each shroud. We wear them over our eyes and ears. We listen to and see the world through them. How could we ever – ever anticipate that any of us see our environments in the same way? And yet – that does not keep us from the expectation that you might think or feel like I do…
If we consider our shroud and look at each thread – not with judgment – but with interest, just to observe and take note… Oh, that is the thread from when my girlfriend broke up with me and that green one is the thread I wove into my shroud after graduating with my Masters… every experience, good or bad, woven into the fabric of our life.
The way that I interrupt the world depends entirely on which threads the sound is being filtered across. Likewise – how I interpret what I see is dependent on the placement and combination of those threads.
Do you know what thread comprises your shroud? The bright ones and the bleak ones? Do you recognize the patches that exist in your shroud? Are you aware of the contradictions – perhaps twisting that happened during weaving? I am reminded of times when someone told me they loved me but they behaved in a way that wasn’t at all loving. Those threads may have been twisted in such a way that my perception/understanding of love was disorganized and convoluted.
It’s no wonder that communication can be incredibly difficult between people. The way that we anticipate or expect someone to behave is directly related to those threads that we correlate to ‘love’ or ‘friendship’ or ‘family’. We develop expectations based on what we know, want, or observe. I find examples of it constantly with clients and in my own life. If I consider the word ‘friend’ I have several examples and each of them is very different. Is it because the word friend has a variable definition? No… the basic definition (per Webster) is “someone attached to another by affection or esteem”.
I can safely state that I have a great number of ‘friends’ based on Webster’s definition but then there is my ‘expectation’ of what denotes friendship (the quality or state of being friends). You see – we all have a thought or a vision of what constitutes a good friend or friendship – much of it dependent on the construction of those ‘threads’ that are woven into our shroud. I may experience disappointment if my ‘vision’ of a friend is different than that of some I consider a friend.
In any regard – seeking to examine your ‘threads’ so that you glean an understanding about yourself that is rich and precise is worthy, albeit perhaps a bit daunting. We probably are unable to examine each and every fiber of that shroud in an unemotional manner, thus allowing for maximum acceptance… but we can take a good look at the thick ones. The ones that tend to shape or instruct the bulk of your perception and understanding.
Using my own experience, I notice a LOT of threads that are woven from the experience of people I love – leaving me. It’s not always on purpose and hence, they may not be identical threads but they are common nonetheless. I realize that I tend to see the world from the perspective that if you love me – you will leave me. This isn’t a universal truth – just a common theme in the shroud of my life. If I am looking at it objectively – it is just something I notice.
If I look at it emotionally (which is where most of us do our observing) then I must pay attention to how it directs my emotions and consequently… my behavior. I would be doing myself a great disservice if I allow myself to forgo love because it ‘might’ not be there at some point. It would be a sin to harden myself against love because there is a historical precedent… what progress has ever been made with that inclination? In my years as a financial advisor, I was trained to tell people that ‘historical precedence does not indicate future results’… that can apply to us as people too!
Our future may depend on how well we understand the composition of our shroud. It’s certainly possible for us to twist, turn, and/or position the fabric in a way that more accurately allows us to interrupt what comes. For example, I don’t have to allow the experiences of lost love in my past to dictate how I will engage in love going forward. I can choose to pull threads when appropriate… eliminate their influence in my future. I can choose to experience love and be in-the-moment rather than anticipating loss and living in fear of losing.
Looking back is ONLY for understanding. We don’t live there anymore and so going forward… pay attention to what was learned because of having lived and keep what worked. If there are threads that exist in your shroud that prohibit you from seeing – cut them out. Purposely and with intent… weave in a new thread that is woven from positivity and pleasure.
Stay aware and intentional so that only the threads of experiences that are meaningful become dominant in your shroud. Today… even though the pain and uncertainty of cancer are appearing in a variety of colors throughout new weavings, there are thicker – stronger threads that represent intention – awareness – and coping; positive traits that will continue to serve me regardless of the others. Going forward, I am paying attention to the threads that I allow to dominate.