I spend a considerable amount of time thinking about the past. My own past and our collective pasts - pasts that we didn’t experience but that we know happened. History. Personal, national and global history.
Some would say I should stop ‘living in the past’ and look to the future instead and while I agree that we can’t get too stuck in our ways or we’ll never evolve, I believe that the past can help us understand which path the future needs to take.
For me, finding simplicity in my life again has been largely dominated by a time in my past where I lived much simpler than I have been doing for the past decade or so. I look back and compare how I felt in one stage with how I felt in the other, how my different choices affected both me personally, my family, the community around me and the planet as a whole. What changed? Did it change for the better or not? Was I happier? Did I have more or less time to spend with my family? Was I under more or less financial pressure? How was my relationship with my friends? These, and others, are questions I ask myself and the answers let me learn and develop as I move forward through the changes I‘m implementing now and, because we‘re continuously evolving our lives and attitudes, they help me map where I want to go.
When I listen to my mum tell stories from her past; from a time when reusing was the norm and recycling just happened without needing a name, I’m learning ‘new‘ ways of wasting less. When she tells me how the neighbours all rallied around for one another, looking out for the elderly and making sure the new or sick mum had the help that she needed, I realise that we intelligent, evolving humans have built a society of loneliness and isolation; we close our doors and the rest of the world can just ‘get on with it’. She has so much to tell me and I have so much to learn.
Yes, we can hark back to an ideal and imagined past when everybody was happy and all was well with the world and long for a utopia that hasn’t and never is going to happen, and yes, there are some who do just that, but reflecting on what has been doesn’t have to mean we’re living in a dream state, exiling ourselves from reality, but that we’re learning from the mistakes and triumphs that we’ve experienced personally, or that our ancestors experienced before us.
And yes, the past has happened and we can’t go back there, but we can build on certain elements of history, incorporating them into our lives in order to create a better, more fulfilling future where contentment and freedom from commercialism, debt, isolation, endless rules and regulations that strip us of our personal responsibility, and the constant need to keep up with the elusive Jones’ can again be enjoyed; a life where stress, anxiety, depression and exhaustion are no longer part of ’the norm’.
The past was what set me on my path to rediscover a more simple way of living - I knew I’d been happier without credit cards, fast food, endless rounds of shopping, expensive holidays taken just for the sake of it, closed doors amongst neighbours I barely know and ‘stuff’ cluttering every corner of my life. By looking back I could identify what had changed, how it had changed and what I needed to do in order to incorporate some of my past ways into my present life. I can’t turn the clocks back to become young and healthy again but I can find some of that past contentment and happiness that had been lost amongst the endless ‘wants’ I’d developed - wants that had led me to a life less pleasant.
The past has happened and we can learn from it - the future is nothing more than fantasy.