I heard a jingle on the radio the other day — an advertisement for Charmin toilet paper inviting me to enjoy their product and have a “happy new rear.” I snorted coffee out my nose.
After marveling for a while at the delightful vulgarity of the phrase, I began to contemplate its spiritual significance:
HAPPY NEW REAR sounds to me like a perfect motto for embracing the past and owning the present as we consciously create the future.
When we look back, considering where we’ve been, how do we hold our own experiences?
Sometimes, it feels empowering to look down as we look back — to view the past from our loftier evolved state, positioning ourselves on a trajectory of ascent. This can be a way of honoring our accomplishments, recognizing how far we’ve come and how much we’ve grown, which is true and lovely.
But if it means disparaging where we’ve been and who we’ve been, maybe this vantage isn’t as powerful as it could be. Even in the cause of self-improvement, I’m not sure that it’s ever so great to knock down ourselves or our lives, then or now . As much as I love a good tale of redemption, I don’t know that a miserable rear-view really supports a glorious future.
Other times, we might prefer to dismiss the past entirely. It’s all just story, after all. The past is but a subjective interpretation that need not have any bearing whatsoever on the magnificent future into which we’re living, the infinite possibilities before us. Right? So we resolve to let go of our burdensome histories, our painful narratives. We commit to releasing the ways we’ve felt victimized and the ways we ourselves have behaved regrettably. We try to wipe it all clean (thank you, Charmin) so we can prance freely and lightly into the wide world yet-to-be.
Okay, I get this, too. And sometimes, honestly, there is stuff that we can simply drop, old stories that no longer serve us and whatnot. When I’m trying to envision a joyful future, dragging into it all my old resentments and hurts and shame and guilt doesn’t sound like much of a picnic. So, yeah, let’s let go of that which we can let go, if it makes us happier.
But I also know that this is usually easier said than actually done. For me, “letting go” is often right up there with “surrender” in terms of least-favorite, nearly-impossible spiritual practices.
I’m sure that part of this is just my stubborn orneriness. But also, I think sometimes “letting go” can toss out the baby with the bathwater. We discard the richness of our experiences, the deep, earned value of our past — which must include everything we’ve been and done and said and thought, even the crappy stuff. That’s good fertilizer, there.
What if we could stand in the present with appreciation not just for the expansive possibilities of the future, but also for the past that shaped us and prepared us?
We can claim joy and love now, possibility now, the creative power of intention and commitment now. We can, and that’s awesome. But let’s remember that it’s not out of thin air that we’re claiming or creating anything. We’re always standing on the gigantic shoulders of our own experience. Maybe recognizing this can help us to look back on everything that has come before not as failure or misunderstanding, not as error or sin, but rather as the strong foundation upon which we can now build something new.
I’m not talking about a white-wash or historical revisionism. We don’t have to reframe or redefine what was wrong then as right in retrospect. We don’t have to be happy about the things that hurt. And we shouldn’t take undue self-satisfaction in our own missteps, smugly pretending that just because things eventually worked out that that means shitty behavior gets a pass or pardon.
But — AND — if we are able to find even a glimmer of happiness and hope where we stand in this moment, then perhaps this can empower us to look back not just with anger and regret but also with acceptance and even gratitude for the fact that here we are.
The stuff that happened, happened, and I’m less than thrilled about plenty of it. Still, I’m really happy that I’m here. And I believe in a bright tomorrow. So maybe, if I allow this, and I allow myself, this affords me access not just to the resolutions and opportunities of a hopeful vision forward but also an appreciative look backward.
This Sunday, December 29, we’ll be setting personal and shared intentions for the coming year. At our 10:00 am service at Bosque Center for Spiritual Living, we’ve got a sweet ritual that invites us to create not out of nothing, but out of EVERYTHING.
Happy New Rear, friends. XO, Drew
© 2019 Drew Groves