Keep your face always toward the sunshine – and shadows will fall behind you.
~ Walt Whitman
This is sage advice from this 19th Century American poet. I like the imagery of sunshine and shadows that he utilized. Not to be taken literally, Whitman is providing solid direction about living one’s life in the present, rather than in the unchangeable past.
Facing the sunshine sounds positively uplifting, and I’m guessing that he chose this image to entice his audience to focus their living on the present day. We know that when we actually face the sunshine, our shadow falls behind us. Shadows are often used as negative, even fearful images. Again, we are presented with another incentive to leave the past, in the past. Clearly, not everything in our past is negative. We all harbor fond memories of loving moments, as well as achievements and victories. I believe, Whitman uses the negative image to ward us away from living our lives in the past – dwelling on events and decisions we have no hope of changing! The implied question is, why go there?
While we would clearly benefit from remembering life’s lessons from the past, dwelling there is of no benefit to us at all. Regret over past mistakes is normal, and we need to learn from them, so that we don’t repeat them in the present. But focusing much of our attention on these things, serves only to depress us. Who wants to be around a depressed person? Such a person is of little use to himself or anyone else. A good friend said to me recently, “I don’t do pity parties.” I must admit that I don’t want any part of myself when I’m depressed.
Whitman is telling us that living in the past is a tragic waste of time, and God knows, we don’t have unlimited amounts of time to live. The unhappy memories and their circumstances are fixed in time. We cannot change what has happened, so why do we insist on revisiting them time and again? This is both depressing and counter-productive.
On the other hand, what’s wrong with revisiting happy memories? They won’t depress us and render us poor company. Perhaps not, but if our present circumstances are less than happy, focusing on our “happy days” turns into an escape. While we are escaping into the shadows of the past, who is living our life in the present? Wallowing in the misery of the past or escaping into the warmth of happy memories, robs us of our present – pure and simple.
When we face the sunshine that Whitman speaks of, we are focused on our present life – its challenges, its sweetness, and its pain. It is the only part of our lives that we can control. True, we are not masters of our circumstances – life does happen, after all! But within these events that we face daily, we have choices. We choose how we will behave each day. We can choose to be angry and lose our temper when provoked. Or we can choose to beat back the urge to lash out. We can choose to do a good deed randomly for a stranger. We can smile at people who treat us with rudeness. Or…
I believe that how we live, how we choose to behave is determined overwhelmingly by one factor: attitude. We can adjust our attitude to be a positive force, or we can orchestrate a never-ending pity party. Why is that guy always so happy?? The truth is… because he chooses to be. No one can make us happy people, only we can do that for ourselves.
So let us live our lives in the present and choose to be a positive force in our world!