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Time travel is human nature

Time travel has been on been on my mind lately, and in that context, nostalgia. As someone who meditates, and who, at one point, was highly influenced by Zen Buddhism, I do recognize that we exist in the ephemeral moment our language has defined as“now.” But do we actually live there?

The opposite of nostalgia

A chunk of my day is spent taking care of my good friend, Future Mark. I make healthy meals, I work out, I clean the house, continue to be employed so I can save for Future Mark’s retirement. Do I, Current Mark, enjoy the benefits of the results of these activities? No. (Though I have learned to somewhat enjoy the process of cooking and working out.)

Some days I curse Past Mark for not doing as well as he could have. Curse is too strong. I question his commitment. I know this is unfair – he was doing the best he could – but some of his actions have made my own life harder than it would otherwise have to be. I’ll be as compassionate to Past Mark as I am trying to be to Future Mark. No doubt, Future Mark will have some of the same complaints about me.

And if I’ve done my job well, he will have learned even more compassion for my failures.

Does the future suck?

I’ll admit it, I’m a cock-eyed optimist, so I tend to be future-oriented. When I’m meditating, and my thoughts do their thing, I don’t relive my past, but imagine possible futures. Perhaps it’s this future-orientation, but I’ve always distrusted nostalgia. It’s there in the etymology: it’s a formation of the Ancient Greek words for “homecoming,” and,“despair” or “sorrow.”

In modern terms, I see nostalgia as a longing for a time that never really existed. Our minds tend to wash out the unpleasant memories as time goes by, and leave only the positive. That, my friends, is a really good thing. We really don’t want to have to relive all the cringe-y moments of our Past Selves. But it sets us up for false narratives about the “good old days.”

These fake histories tend to be used in ways that make it harder for us to be compassionate to our Future Selves. Especially by those with an authoritarian bent.

The benefits of nostalgia

Psychologically, though, there are positives. In trying times nostalgia can help us be more positive about the future. Wait, what? How does that work?

Research shows that reliving our pasts can help us be more energized and positive about what’s to come … but only if we’re reflective about the past. We can’t fall into the trap of thinking that things were perfect in the past. Nostalgia has to be leavened by fact.

And there’s no question, revising an old favorite childhood movie or book definitely can improve one’s mood. Whenever I’m picking a movie to watch, I note that on the days when I’m feeling less certain and excited about the future, I have a harder time watching something new. And so, I turn to an older piece of media that I may have even consumed before. I feel a little badly – there’s so much great stuff that I haven’t seen or read or heard yet – why am I revisiting this old art again?

But I’m learning to be compassionate about that too.

Time travel is one of the unintentional aspects of Alpha Max. It’s also a recurring theme on Re-Creative, the podcast I co-host.

cover art of The Fridgularity and Marvellous Hairy, both by Mark A. Rayner

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