There is a natural process of reflection that occurs at the conclusion of any cycle. Birthdays, the turn of the year, times of transition like the changing of homes, jobs and relationships. With every ending, there is a new beginning and the ending of our cycle on earth is one that is celebrated in this same manner by some elders as they reflect on the life they have lived. ,
For other elders, such recollections may take on a more emotional and mental taint, a phenomenon known as nostalgia. This quality of looking back carries more a sense of attachment to the past, a holding on to earlier phases in the cycle, rather than embracing one’s next steps within their cycle.
Why would our elders take this path of nostalgia?
There seems to be a widespread belief, an acceptance, that as we age, many of us will become nostalgic about ‘happier times,’ achievements and accomplishments of our earlier life. In contrast to the loving impulses of reflection, nostalgia is a longing for, a reminiscing, a sentimental holding onto the past at the expense of connecting with all that is on offer in the present moment. However, have we ever taken a closer look at what is going on when we engage in this?
Family photos, for example, can confirm a loving connection with the group we have been a part of in this life. In nostalgia, however, they serve to cement the attachment and identification with the emotional familiarity with our own, exclusive family group.
For many elders, music is a source of nostalgia, particularly the way that music has been shown to trigger strong memories of the emotional and physiological states of previous times. There are often sentimental feelings associated with specific moments and the people with whom we shared them, as well as what we were doing when first we heard various songs and musical genres.(1) (2) (3)
Yet another instance of nostalgia is the way in which many elders visit or return to their childhood homes, communities, extended family and to the place they met their spouses. Others research the Family Tree over many generations, unlocking both the skeletons and the glamour in the family closet. With the advent of the internet, this has escalated exponentially and there are also worldwide TV programmes where celebrities now role model and validate this as a worthwhile pastime.
Advances in technology in the form of DNA testing now support us in seeking out our past in ways that have not been previously available to us. Burrowing out one’s past, it would seem, is now big and profitable business.
For many, this all-consuming, nostalgic reaching back to the past seems to bring comfort, solace and security, offering a way of holding on to the memories of all that has been their life.
In this, is it also possible that nostalgia acts as a coping mechanism to avoid feeling the hurts and unresolved issues of life and also, perhaps even more surprisingly, to avoid celebrating and appreciating the true value of one’s life?
In connection with the inner heart, with our essence, the past is reflected on and seen as opportunity to learn from our mistakes and to celebrate our true successes. This reflective process has self-love as its foundation, allowing one to connect with oneself more deeply and from there to connect in this quality with all others equally. Nostalgia seems to turn its back on, and to disconnect from, this true foundation and quality, taking on more of an individualistic hue where there is a subtle desire to own the past, focussing on myself, my family and my life without the impulse to learn and to celebrate, in preparation for one’s next unfolding.
In so doing, the loving impulses from the inner heart are distorted into a mental phenomenon, barring access to the self-love and appreciation that is naturally available to us all as part of this cycle. Nostalgia is thus exposed as a loveless filler of the emptiness we feel within when we disconnect from our inner heart and the cycles it lovingly impulses us to embrace.
Nostalgia brings us what we most fear
There is a widespread anxiety around ageing – a fear that we may start to become forgetful, confused with the real possibility of Alzheimer’s. Is it possible that distracting ourselves with nostalgia actually lays a platform, which, in its exclusive focus on holding onto the past in this mental way, takes us out of the moment and being present with our bodies, and so exacerbates the potential for confusion and forgetfulness?
Why do we go into it then?
There is a very evident global and societal rejection of anything associated with ageing, with little value attributed to elders. Usually ageing is seen as being ‘past it,’ ‘over the hill,’ ‘you lose your marbles.’ Collectively, could this rejection of the ageing process, in ways we are yet to fully understand, be forcing our elderly into hanging onto their memories of the past and indulging in nostalgia because they then believe and tell themselves “That’s all I have”? Negative constructions of the story of ageing could well be pushing all of us into the emotional and mental versions of reflection known as nostalgia, which actually lacks the real and true connection we all so deeply crave.
Is it time for us to go past this and to allow the space for us all to consider how true reflection and appreciation of every life lived is a natural part of our ongoing cycle of life, death and re birth; and how appreciation of each life builds our foundational platform of inner connection from one life to the next?
How ironic is it that nostalgia is about holding on to one’s memories, as many of our elderly have a debilitating fear of losing their memory, so much so that even the first indicators of memory loss, like forgetting words or the location of items, induces a sense of panic? And yet, it is precisely this focus on nostalgia and the past that takes us away not only from the support offered by the cycle of reflection, but also the quality of our own essence being present in each moment. This is particularly poignant in light of the fact that this is the self-same quality that truly preserves us as we age, as indeed it does throughout our entire lives.
Coleen H. and Judith H., Australia
(1) Keep Your Brain Young with Music, John Hopkins Medicine ONLINE accessed 22.09.2017 http://www.hopkinsmedicine.org/health/healthy_aging/healthy_mind/keep-your-brain-young-with-music
(2) 7 Ways that Music Therapy Can Benefit Seniors, Retire at Home Services ONLINE accesses 22.09.2017
(3) The Benefits of Music for Seniors with Alzheimer's and Dementia, UMH ONLINE accessed 22.09.2017