The new academic year will soon be upon us. Some parents will see their child head off for university. You may look at this as freedom-at-last: your child will be leaving home, allowing you to do what you have longed to do all these years. Some of you will fear the empty nest syndrome. And for others, possibly most, a mixture of both.
My 19-year-old son and I were clearing out unwanted items from his bedroom, getting it ready for re-decoration once he has left for university. As we were taking things down from the shelves, out of nowhere sadness suddenly fell upon me. This is his childhood room, why not keep it just as it is? So when he is away, it would feel as if he is still around. But who am I kidding? I looked at the collection of toys he used to play with: the little aliens, monsters, footballer figures, the lego bricks he spent many hours constructing into a castle and a pirate ship, all resting on the chest of drawers, gathering dust. And there was his favourite game that he carried around in a toy suitcase and tried to pester all of us to play with him. They brought back such fond memories of his younger days. I looked at them nostalgically, dusted them and carefully put them into a box. My son, meanwhile, discarded some of them in the bin without any hesitation. He wondered why I wanted to keep them.
I questioned the same thing some thirty years ago when I returned home to my mother and found, to my surprise, that she still kept my childhood jewellery: hair clips, brooches and rings, all neat and clean in a pretty box. They were of no value to me. "Why did you keep them," I asked her, "You could have thrown them away, I won't be using them again." There was no reply.
When my son asked me that same question, I was silent. For now I knew why my mother had kept those items. They reminded her of when I was her little girl. I looked at my son, thinking, perhaps, one day you will understand and you may even want to keep some of my bric-a-brac to preserve the memory of me - as I do of my late mother and her pretty box of my jewellery! Or perhaps not.
As I was pondering, my heart sank. I felt sadness - for the bygone age was looming like a dark cloud and I realised that my mind was actually lost in it. It was pulling me down memory lane, with the help of added thoughts provided by the mind. Related new thoughts soon arose and sent me time-travelling into the future. This mini emotional journey could have continued for longer, hadn't I realised what the mind was doing. I could see what these additional thoughts did to the pondering process: giving the eager-to-renovate mind a short set-back. Realising this, the sadness I felt disappeared. That moment, the mind understood. It automatically left the journey and came back to the present. A smile instantly spread across my face.
The path down memory lane can be comforting or upsetting, but it remains tempting and we make frequent visits. If it were all dreary, we wouldn't visit. When it is comforting, we make it more so than it really was so we can indulge in it more. Lost in reverie! The same can be said about the path we don't want to tread yet we keep going back anyway, hoping to fix it for the better or make it happier with our thoughts. The emotions that arise along the memory lane are states of mind that may continue or come to a halt or change course when there is a disruption of thought. We are unable to delete unwanted ones from our memory at will. They arise, continue and end naturally through their own accord. Given that the mind can only focus on one thing at a time, if we keep going back to the past, how can we enjoy or be happy in the present moment?
We need to develop an understanding - to see things as they are. This understanding differs from cognitive understanding; it needs to come from the mind - through mindfulness practice. And even if the mind understands, this does not mean that the mind will never get lost again unless mindfulness is intact.
And with that, my son's childhood toys have already found their ways into charity bags, ready to go to those who can make better use of them, love them or appreciate them more!
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