Henry David Thoreau was a famous philosopher, author of Walden, Or Life in the Woods. A must read, this book and its author have had a profound effect on generations of those of us who are on the road to create meaning in life. Thoreau escaped into contemplative nature through which he reflected grand thoughts for living to us.
While not found in Walden, this Thoreau quote is a directive to us for how to live our lives. Don’t look back! Look forward! If you look back, you will not go forward. Is this good advice for planning your future?
I think not.
We are all made up, in large part, of our past. Looking back puts inevitable mistakes into perspective so we can not make them again. Looking back gives us satisfaction of making a difference in life. Looking back points us in a direction that makes sense from what came before.
So there is some benefit gained from looking back. As long as you have no regrets. The key, and what I think Thoreau was getting at, is that if you let the regrets of the past bind you, you cannot make progress to the future.
So what’s the solution? Make regrets into be fleeting feelings. Relegate them to a moment and point in time where you can recognize what might have gone wrong. Transform regrets into lessons learned.
And when you are done, time to go forward. To grow and to change. And where regrets may keep us uselessly in the past, change has propelled us into a future faster than was ever imaginable. And unimaginable in Thoreau’s time, the rate of change has become a burden of a different sort.
Today change, for change’s sake, has become our new prison. We have lost the luxury of lingering over a thought, looking at memories made, or visiting with our lives gone by. So as the present speeds past us at a rate that leaves us in a blur, we might start to look at the past (without regrets) to keep us from missing the future!