As long as I live I’ll anxiously await those cheesy Halloween haunted houses that pop up in the weeks preceding what’s arguably the weirdest holiday of the year. They tap into the goofy nature of who I once was and reconnect me with an important part of my psyche I never want to abandon. As I make my yearly pilgrimage through these dark macabre labyrinths I always seem to find myself laughing. The creativeness and to me, silliness, feed my desire to stay connected to a sense of wonder. It’s an alluring ride of shock and suspense without any real threat of danger. Another, similar experience I clearly remember was my first time visiting a carnival. I was probably six or seven and still wide-eyed almost everywhere I went, but this was different. It was like stepping onto another planet. Barkers in strange costumes were selling their corner to any passerby who would listen. Smells of foods I’d never before tried or heard of wafted through the air, and the lights and sounds of the whirling rides and alluring booths lit the night and gave it an eerie but uplifting soundtrack. Some of it was scary, but most was jaw dropping. It was if I’d stepped into a custom-made dream. Amusement parks still have their appeal, but alas, my constitution disagrees most violently with anything that spins these days. I wish it didn’t.
Childhood, in my opinion, is where the least amount of discrimination and the most amount of acceptance is found. I believe this observation is the first key to youthfulness. As we grow older we must not only remain open to new and exciting experiences, we also have an obligation to deliberately put ourselves in the position of attracting and manufacturing such events. Any situation of unpredictability mixed with anticipation is the secret ingredient for a powerful life affirming experience. Witness the abundance of death-defying activities from the fairly benign, like roller-coasters, to downright dangerous even for those who are experts. Free climbing and wingsuit gliding are good examples. Once a certain age has passed creating awe becomes paramount when reconnecting to a youthful perspective. It comes naturally when we are young because our mind still has a lot of blank space. There’s relatively little in our past to equate to current events, so we simply experience our lives. The problem is the more we age, the more we compare and life becomes smoother and easier. It’s supposed to, but in the process we leave behind our ability to face the world in a non-judgmental or open-minded manner. I recognized this a long time ago so I started looking for new roads to explore. Planning and taking action on setting up surprises is a huge part of my life, and strangely I receive almost as much joy in the arrangement and expectation as I do once my intentions come to fruition. It’s a double win; which brings me to the second key.
Envisioning and perusing new events will usually result in adventurous or exciting circumstances, but there’s a more important reason to practice this habit. When we were kids almost ALL our thought processes were in the mode of anticipation. We constantly looked forward, which is why it felt as if our birthdays were three years apart. And the days before Christmas, are you kidding? THAT took forever. The opposite was true if we didn’t want something to happen, time would seem to speed up and all too soon we would find ourselves standing before an angry parent over a bad report card or facing down the class bully after school. In any case I believe looking forward STILL slows down time no matter what, it’s just that looking forward to good things slows it down to a greater degree. Life marches on and history accumulates as we grow older prompting a tendency to want to reminisce more and more, but here lurks a hidden danger. Our brain is hard-wired to want to forget bad things and remember good things, which is why so many look back to what they think are “the good old days.” This is an illusion, one that breeds the conviction our past is where all the best moments are. It’s easy and common to get lost in this train of thought. The more we immerse ourselves in yesterday, the more we fail to look ahead, or even acknowledge our present situations. This is why the older we get, the more time seems to speed up and in the process it ages us terribly. Occasionally reminiscing is not all that horrible, but continually doing so can eventually lead to regret. Once the veil of what we wanted to forget is inevitably lifted because of how much time is spent looking back, it can trap us there. We dwell on what we cannot change and (subconsciously) punish ourselves for not doing things differently. This can become a dark path few return from.
Those who embrace anticipation and create excitement perpetuate youthfulness. There’s a common behavior practiced daily that separates them from everyone else. It’s laughter. Humor, especially the ability to laugh at oneself, is the secret ingredient to living enthusiastically. Laughter (in the context of kindness ONLY) is hardcore evidence of an enjoyable and often spontaneous lifestyle. It’s obvious when we look to those who don’t seem to age. They are masters of not only seeing the bright side of life, they elevate it to the next level by doing what it takes to express themselves beyond simply smiling. Often they have a gift for unintentionally raising the attitudes and dispositions of those in close proximity. On the other hand, those who seem to age faster than they should spend most of their time looking back and reacting to life rather than acting on it instead. Their laughter, when it does happen, is almost always at the expense of someone else’s pain or misfortune and it’s akin to inviting cancer into one’s life, not a good idea.
I am not my past, nor do I want to live there no matter how wonderful I try to convince myself it was. Old news. It’s no doubt important to know what needs avoided or re-created, but I can accomplish this quite efficiently using a rear-view mirror. No need to turn around, no need to spotlight events from yesterday in order to justify the moment. All excuses for lousy, self-destructive behavior (which leads to a fast-lived, quick to die life) thrive in the gardens of history. When we stop watering and tending to them, excuses disappear, as they should.
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With Love and Compassion, Daniel Andrew Lockwood