Henry David Thoreau once said:
“NEVER LOOK BACK UNLESS YOU ARE PLANNING TO GO THAT WAY.”
I’ve seen this quote in countless places: classrooms, journals, Facebook posts, Instagram, Pinterest, articles and inspirations…you name it, I’ve seen it there. Google Image it…you’ll understand what I mean. If you haven’t seen this quote before, I’m not judging you, I’m just gently telling you to climb out of the cave you’ve been living in.
I completely understand the message old Mr. Thoreau was trying to convey: The more we focus on what’s behind us, the higher the possibility of regressing.
But, you see, while I understand the message……..I’m also calling “bullshit.”
I see things a bit differently. (I should note that as I’m typing this, I’m thinking, “Am I really about to argue with the writer of Walden right now? In a public forum?” Please blame my boldness on the glass (es) of wine I’ve had. But, alas, I wanted to write honestly about what led me to these thoughts and this was it.)
Before you judge me, let me share with you what led to this epiphany. Ironically, I’m even going to bring nature into it and how it brought me to this realization:
I seek the woods.
I am at peace when I am alone in nature.
I yearn for the outdoors. I can see the trees around me, and sense the open space, and feel the air, and taste the earth, and smell the dirt. After growing up with miles of woods surrounding me, it’s ingrained in my soul to seek nature…
It’s where I find my center.
It’s where I do my best thinking.
It’s where thoughts and inspirations, quite literally, flood my brain; so much so that I’ve actually had to start recording myself on my phone when new thoughts hit me so I don’t lose them.
Living in LA, there’s not a whole lot of places you can go to immerse yourself in nature and this has led me to become an even more avid hiker. While LA lacks in the nature department compared to New England (let’s be honest: everywhere lacks in that department compared to New England, and this is something Thoreau would agree with, no doubt), it has no shortage of amazing hikes. The trails are winding and dusty and filled with luxurious and coveted quiet spots among the City of Angels.
Today, I went hiking in Malibu. I’ve done this particular hike about 20 times. It’s incredibly challenging and when it’s hot enough out, there are actually points where I think to myself: “I’m absolutely going to pass out on the trail and someone is going trip over my lifeless and dehydrated body.” But I ALWAYS make it. And I always take the hard way up. And I always pound through as fast as I can without letting my eyes leave the next peak.
Yet, today was different.
I did something I’ve never done.
I looked back.
I turned my body around on the trail and I looked behind me and lost my breath as I realized I’d been missing half of the view.
Because, man, that view…It was breathtaking.
That view made me realize how amazing my body is; how perfectly and powerfully it functions and how strong I am. It made me realize what I’d conquered.
When we’re in the midst of a climb, it’s easy to forget to stop and take in the progress we’ve made. It’s hard to pat ourselves on the back and say, “Damn, you’re gettin’ through it, kid” when we never look back at where we’ve been.
It’s easy to forget that we’re in the midst of conquering a mountain.
So, as I climbed and my body hurt and screamed for me to stop, I looked back, and it encouranged me to push forward, because I couldn’t believe what I’d already done. I couldn’t believe I’d started out at the very bottom and now had a breathtaking 360 degree view of the ocean and mountains because I was so high up.
In my waking life, I’m still climbing that mountain. I’m still conquering the hills that make my soul hurt and scream out for me to stop. I still ache with uncertainty and missteps and lack of direction.
But….I’m looking back.
I’m looking back and I’m seeing that I like the view of what’s behind me.
I’m seeing that I’ve come so far. I’m seeing that even though at times, I get lost in the climb and focus soley on putting one foot in front of the other, I’m still climbing. I’m still getting to a higher place and gaining view of an incredible perspective. And at NO POINT, am I worried that I’m going back there…to what’s behind me.
….And that, put as simply as possible, is why I don’t agree with one of the writers I’ve admired since I was in the 7th grade.
Every good thing is a good thing because we have something less than good to compare it to.
I’m afraid that if we ignore what’s behind us for fear of going back, we’ll never realize how far we’ve come. We’ll keep finding ourselves exerting so much effort and not really taking the time to give ourselves credit for what we’ve already accomlished. Let what is behind you serve as motivation to continue climbing. And if you’re at the bottom…well, darling, there’s no where to go but up.
Create your view from the top…then look back at all the things behind you – not with the intention of returning to them, but with admiration for the perspective that you’ve gained.