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Are You Stuck in the Past?

Jan 22, 2014   //   by Ben Hollis   //   Ben's Blog  //  4 Comments


There’s been a lot of talk about living in the now, being in the present moment.  Eckhart Tolle’s The Power of Now really knocked me out years ago and I find his message as powerful as ever.  But what if you’re still hopelessly mired in the past?  And what if you don’t even know it?

In the next few posts I want to share with you 3 sneaky ways you may be letting yourself get sucked into the past without even realizing it.  These may not be a problem for you, but they sure have been for me.  To complicate matters, these activities are almost universally considered pleasurable and very popular.  To identify them as unhealthy is going to push some buttons.  Relax.  Breathe deeply.  If you feel angry as you read this list remember I’m not talking about you.  But just in case you think I am,  please, thank me, and consider maybe I’ve touched on a nerve that may merit further investigation.  (That’s where I leave off and your life coach or therapist can step in.)

Are you ready?

Puts on Sinatra and starts to cry…

On and On by Stephen Bishop

Sign Number One That You May Be Helplessly Drifting Into a Wasted Life of Living in the Past

  1. You prefer listening to music from your youth (and secretly – or not so secretly – you judge anything produced since as intolerably inferior.)

Steely Dan’s Reeling in the Years is my portal to wistful recollection of carefree times in Washington, D.C. right after college.  How Long by Ace transports me to slow dancing with Bonnie at Albert’s Plum above the South Kensington tube station during my exhilarating semester abroad in 1975.  10cc’s I’m Not in Love brings home the pain and melancholy of returning to the States later that summer after being blown off by the selfsame Bonnie.

In and of itself this line of thinking is not necessarily bad.  However, what I noticed was that I began seeking out older songs in order to create a mood-altering experience that always left me pining for “the good old days.”  That’s not helpful if I’m genuinely interested in living now, in this moment.  To put it bluntly, it’s insane.  Now is all there is.  The past doesn’t exist.  To believe my life was better in the past is not much different from saying I’d rather live inside a favorite movie.  (Like Local Hero or Field of Dreams.  Mmm, dreamy.)

What makes listening to these songs more nettlesome is my tendency to view myself in the past through a kind of “sad poet” filter.  I go negative and am soon engulfed in self-pity.  In this haze I see myself as heroic for soldiering on, but oh so sad.  Or I see everything as a rose-colored vignette, tragically beautiful compared to the agony that is my life today as I inch closer to death with every labored breath I take.  I forget that I have a wonderful wife, amazing children, a blog that is read by millions and I end up feeling depressed and unhappy with this awesome life I have right in front of my face, here, now.  Again, utter insanity. Like super-slow-motion suicide of the soul.

Remedy: Ask somebody younger than you to recommend a new band, prepare your mind to be receptive and welcoming, and give ’em a listen.

Brownie points:  If you do see that you’re inclined to romance the past, ask yourself “why?”  Are you avoiding something?  (I’ll tell you more about my deal a little later.)

In posts ahead:  Craving old movies, wallowing in ancient love letters,  getting hooked on black and white TV, and my journey back to the present.


  • Ooh, being stuck in the past and not knowing it? I think Boomers are nostalgic for a simpler time when having a conversation about some new idea or current events was more important that tweeting that you’re IN THE NOW having a latte at wherever and after that you’ll be taking a potty break. I find that my values remain the same and I’m still drawn to music and lyrics that tell a good story and is not laced with nostalgic lyrical pining for some co-dependent abusive relationship. Slowing down and reflecting on where one was rooted is good for the soul. Letting go of who we were then and accepting who we’ve become is even better — and BENeficial. Thanks for your honesty about your journey to the WILD side!

  • Thanks for your thoughtful comment, Valerie. I’m with you all the way. “Letting go of who we were then and accepting who we’ve become…”. That’s what I’m desirous of cultivating. When I catch myself wanting to “put on Sinatra and start to cry,” that’s tantamount to using a drug. Very different from simply enjoying the old music. Each of us has he or her own relationship with the past and all its lures, pains, joys. Living the W.I.L.D. Life helps me navigate — and being connected with people like you. Oh my — time for my latte and potty break!

  • There is value in what you are saying here Ben and it’s all about keeping a balance in life. We seem to go from one extreme to another and that’s never good for seeing things clearly. We should not ignore where we come from and who is no longer there in our life but we should also stay open to what is around us now. So I like your premises. Otherwise we are lost to the world and are left behind. i.e. If we can’t seem to get over the loss of someone it can be very painful and stop us to move ahead. Moving ahead doesn’t mean forgetting the person we have lost and one way we could do that would be to think of them as if they are still around and to talk to them frequently… Now that’s what I call being w.i.l.d. And others might call creasy. Call me old fashion but… Thanks for sharing a very modern topic Ben. 🙂

  • Hello Ben,
    Nothing wrong with being stuck in the past it’s called being human especially when you look at what’s going on today. With my 40 + years on the radio I still love playing the old hits and from the response of the audience they like hearing them. I ran across the voice demo that you cut in our studios years ago. Fun times. We hope to see you on the flat Screen soon.
    Drop note or call when you can.

    Denny Farrell
    Big Band/Jazz Hall of Fame Inductee.

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