How Facing Off With Our Past Can Help Our Present

5 minute read

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When I was a kid, I called my dad “The Man Who Never Smiled.” As you can imagine, this nickname thrilled him.

I wish I could say it was one of those moments in childhood when fading memories and blurred dreams merge into one, and you’re not sure what’s real.
But I can’t. I remember it clear as day.
It’s not that my dad was a jerk. He wasn’t.
I was very blunt and observant as a kid. I wasn’t saying it to be malicious. I was merely saying what I saw. That’s how kids work. They say what they see. No personal agenda. Just what is.

I remember my dad’s nightly ritual of coming home from the hospital and going straight into his study. I knew that the sound of the door closing followed by the faint clink of ice hitting a glass meant my dad needed a moment. It was his own transition from the fast pace and high-stress medical life of saving lives into the fast pace and high-stress domestic life of having a spouse and two kids.

Fast forward thirty years and I’m facing off with my younger self as I stand in the shoes of being a parent while looking into the eyes of my own kids. Their talent for eyeballing my moods and bullshit is a real art. I instantly empathize with my dad as I sometimes feel like “The Lady Who Never Smiles.” I am so in my head ruminating to-do lists and worries at record speed that my face shows it. I can’t help it. It is life, and it is human. There are days that I’m aligned with my best self and days when I can’t find her anywhere. There are moments when my body is electric with anxiety, and I’m wild-eyed; ready to pounce and other days where I feel clear-eyed and grounded; wholly in my element.

“Insight in and of itself is an intellectual comfort. Power in and of itself is a blind force that can destroy as easily as build. It is only when we consciously learn to link power and light that we begin to feel our rightful identities as creative beings.”
Julia Cameron, The Artist’s Way

But for the days where self-awareness is clouded by concern, who better than an unaffected kid to talk me down? To wake me up; to be my eyes for me. They see what is. They feel what is. It’s matter-of-fact and straightforward. We may not like what they see, but chances are they’re right on the nose. And on the days when I’m not about to completely lose it, I am forever grateful for these small mortals keeping me in check. This is why when my daughter at two years old, pointed to a picture at a book and said, “Look, Mommy. It’s you,” I didn’t get mad when she was, in fact, pointing to Malificient.  This is why I still didn’t get mad a year later when she said, “Mom, that lady is like you,” while we watched Diane Keaton freak out at the peak of a nervous breakdown in Baby Boom. Humbled by a toddler? I’m betting I’m not the first.

This goes with any moment in life where you are the leader. Are you now the boss and facing off with your past “you’re not the boss of me” employee self? Or maybe you’re the teacher and finding yourself face to face with a version of your past restless student self? Wherever we are running the show, it takes humility and courage to make a point to understand where others stand; to be willing to peer through their vantage point and to see what they may be seeing.

These are the moments that allow us all to take a little look-see for what’s out of sync with ourselves. Because channeling a spastic red-eyed, horn-sprouting maniac is not a great look for anyone. Is there a high chance we may end up in a pool of tears in the bathroom or in a wine glass or in a wine glass in the bathroom? Sure. Take comfort knowing that small space cries often offer the most significant release and relief. They also give us space to gain perspective (there it is again) so that we can understand and appreciate the people in our lives and those we have yet to meet.

Sometimes the best way to lovingly head back to your present self is to face off with your past.

EXERCISE
That observing wake-up call need not always come from outside of us. Sometimes our internal wise voice just needs some dusting off. I recently reacquainted myself with Morning Pages, an exercise that keeps my mind clear enough while letting me vent, doubt, and pout to get there. If you’re not familiar with Morning Pages, it’s an exercise by artist and writer Julia Cameron from her classic book, The Artist’s Way. It’s a simple exercise in theory and incredibly profound in its results.

The direction follows:

1. Write three full pages, longhand, first thing in the morning.

That’s it.

It’s a stream of consciousness writing method that has absolutely nothing to do with being a writer and everything to do with being human. It helps you unmuck your brain and inner critic so that you can enter your day feeling clearer and less mentally stuck. In an interview with Julia Cameron, she shared that we have 40 minutes when we wake up before our ego demands our attention. What better way to spend that time than to take control of our mind and pay attention to our true needs.

Reuniting with this book and exercise was like coming home; like hitting the joyous midpoint of a long run; like laying in savasana after a nourishing yoga class. I wondered why I ever stopped in the first place. Then I remembered that we have a tendency to start any practice when we’re in physical, mental, or spiritual pain and then stop the minute we feel better…until we feel the next pain. The key is consistent practice so that it becomes your co-pilot through life.

Morning Pages is that for me. It helps my day begin with gunk out of me. It allows me to know that no matter what the day brings, I released an ounce of the mental pressure valve, stoked my creative coals, and started and finished something all before 6:30 am. As someone who prides herself on effective efficiency, this fills me with joy. Try it out for yourself and let me know how it goes!


Face/Off (1997. Director: John Woo. Writers: Mike Werb and Michael Colleary) In order to foil an extortion plot, an FBI agent undergoes a facial transplant surgery and assumes the identity and physical appearance of a terrorist, but the plan turns from bad to worse when the same terrorist impersonates the FBI agent.

Trivia:

Originally, Nicolas Cage turned down the role of Castor Troy, citing a lack of interest in playing a villain. However, once he was told that he would actually be playing the hero for a majority of the film, he quickly signed on.

 

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