The Road Ahead

By David Jones

A man had built a time machine.

He gave it to the Buddha.

But Buddha wasn’t miffed.

It was the perfect gift.

He used it as a planter.

While tending his garden, time stopped.

I recently dwelled on my own human nature.

I felt unhappy for years because I rejected the present. I worried to distraction over the future. I regretted to tears over the past. And I resented the present as a result. Thanks to mindfulness therapy I finally came to recognize I had missed years of my life, despite living through them.

It really hit me because of poetry.

See, years ago I wrote, reviewed, and taught poetry online. In a writer’s group I belong to today, a pre-Valentine’s Day discussion thread asked for us to share any romantic piece we had ever written. I had done some romantic poetry, so I was encouraged to go back to the site where I had published it and share a piece.

I hadn’t posted anything there since 2008 when my life disintegrated. I got divorced, my mom and my mother-in-law passed away, and many other tragedies left 2008 a steaming crater.

I wrote from 2006 into 2008 as a way to deal with my fracturing life. When it all came apart I stopped that activity, and I left that writing in the past where it belonged.

Guess what? Although I have healed and moved on in my life, by revisiting the things I’d written back then I went emotionally back in time.

I recall guitarist Tony Iommi talking about how he couldn’t enjoy listening to an older album from his band because, while it had good tracks, all it did was remind him of the anxiety and heartbreak that he suffered while making it. You remember the thing that happened, is the way he put it.

The circumstances surrounding the creation of art can become an integral part of the art.

The art is informed by the life being lived parallel to it. It becomes the context of art. The art must be understood at least partly in the context of its environment.

On reading my words from 2006-2008 I felt all the anxiety, loss, and pain rush back. My wounds were no longer healed but raw and bloody. I felt sad and overwhelmed just from reading things I wrote during a sad and overwhelmed period of my life. Unprepared for this mental and emotional jump back in time, it wrecked me for a couple of days. Only by analyzing the phenomenon could I recognize I was having an emotional flashback.

H. G. Wells wrote the classic tale The Time Machine because one of man’s great preoccupations is dwelling on the past. A machine that would let us go back in time? You could change your past. Preoccupation with one’s past has to do with regret over decisions made and dissatisfaction over one’s present.

The human mind reasons: If I had just made a different decision about getting married, having kids, taking that job, moving to that town, getting away from my family… everything would be great now.

But the mind falls into the very trap it itself sets. Rather than dance freely into the moments ahead of us, we trudge along resenting the anchor we choose to drag behind us with each laborious step.

By focusing on the moment we are continually in, rather than being upset that it isn’t how we wanted it to be, we can let go of the anchor’s chain. We can accept that past choices—good, bad, or ugly—were what they were for the time and can be safely left in the past where they rightfully belong.

My poems of the past had some great lines, but they need to remain memories of another time instead of scapegoats for my sad moment in the here-and-now. Why long to go back in time if it just sets me up to suffer over and over?

Attachment to the past can be painful.

I ought to write a poem about that.

David JonesDavid Jones has a 27-year career with the United States government. He encountered mindfulness in therapy for his endangered marriage (which had led to anxiety-based depression and dissociative disorder symptoms), and writes about the experience in his blog as well as articles in various publications. He started writing articles about mindfulness for Yahoo Voices under the brand A Mindful Guy. Check out his blog.

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Editor: Alicia Wozniak