We all know the prevalent wisdom, right? Don’t look back – keep your focus on what’s ahead. It’s all over the place in pithy quotes…
“What is coming is far better than what is gone. Don’t look back, keep moving forward!”
“Never look backwards or else you’ll lose your way to your goals.”
“There’s no need to look back. What’s behind you is smaller than what’s in front of you.”
“Never look back. What’s gone is now history.”
“Once you’ve made the decision to move on, don’t look back. You will never find your future in the review.”
Hmmmm… Yeah, no.
It’s a great sentiment for a t-shirt or throw pillow, and it’s very good advice for someone who is wallowing in self-pity & longing for “what was”. But to say NEVER look back? Wrong. There’s a wealth of discovery to be found there.
One of my biggest challenges as an artist is when I compare my work to those who I admire. If I get too much in my own head, I start to think that I’ll never reach the heights where they are, I’ll never accomplish anything, (insert self-deprecation ad nauseum). While it’s not a healthy state of being, it’s perfectly normal. However, what I have to remind myself – when I get too wrapped up in the negative thinking – is that I’m not meant to compare myself to these people… the only comparison I need to make is with myself.
And that is one place where looking back comes in. I take an honest look at where I was, mentally & artistically, and even I can’t lie to myself enough to discount the strides I’ve made. I can see my present and my future far more clearly through the lens of the past.
It works for other things as well – how I treat the influence of toxic people in my life, how I see myself, what I need/ deserve in a relationship, even my magic… all can benefit from a healthy look back every now and again. … You cannot see your progress if you never look at the starting line.
But it’s more than just gauging how far we’ve come… there’s also the fact that not everything in the past is hurtful, harmful, or needs to be forgotten. There’s beauty, grace, lessons, and wisdom to be found.
I consider myself something of a logophile (look it up – lol), and there are certain words that just reach me to a soul-deep level. I came across one such word several years ago at an art installation I attended with my aunt – SANKOFA.
Sankofa is a word in the Akan language of Ghana that translates as “reach back and get it” (san – to return; ko – to go; fa – to fetch, to seek and take) and also refers to the Asante Adinkra symbol represented either by a bird with its head turned backwards taking an egg off its back, or as a stylized heart shape. Sankofa is often associated with the proverb, “Se wo were fi na wosankofa a yenkyi,” which translates as: “It is not wrong to go back for that which you have forgotten.”
The Sankofa symbol appears frequently in traditional Akan art, and has also been adopted as an important symbol in an African-American and African Diaspora context to represent the need to reflect on the past to build a successful future.
How perfect is that? … I mean, really. I was in love with the word before I knew its meaning – but once I did I was hopelessly obsessed. I’m also, as it happens, working on a new art piece with that theme – I finally feel like I can do it justice.
It’s not a bad thing to look back. To reach into the mists of what came before and grasp that which serves us… that which feeds us… that which heals us… and bring it into the now.
After all, isn’t that EXACTLY what we do every time we look to those who came before us in order to share in their wisdom?
So why is it that we all too often discount and discard the wisdom which is our own?