On Nostalgia and Getting Carried Away

“Remembrance of things past is not necessarily the remembrance of things as they were”.

-Marcel Proust

 Autumn is my favorite time of  year: the cool air, the fresh juicy apples, the vibrant leaves. It is crisp. It is clear. It is the perfect time to practice the art of being present. So why do I always get nostalgic during this season? It’s as if each falling leaf represents a past version of myself. Something about it makes me want to go on long walks and think about who I used to be and what my life used to look like.

There are various ways that I have learned to nurture this nostalgia. I listen to songs that make me cry. I look through old photos, reminiscing about good times with good friends and old boyfriends and past cities that I lived in long, long ago. Sometimes as I am walking under the clear blue sky with falling purple and yellow leaves all around me, the cool clean air kisses my cheek and reminds me of the long walks that I used to take with those same past loves in those same past cities.

There is something warm and sweet about nostalgia. It’s like a soft, cozy sweater- safe and wholesome. It has the power to remind us of the beauty that life holds, the beauty of our own past that has brought us to where we are.

Nostalgia can also carry us away. Like hot cocoa that is too sweet, it can make us thirsty, unsatisfied, and craving something different than what is currently there.

Milan Kundera, one of my favorite novelists writes:

 “The Greek word for “return” is nostos.  Algos means “suffering”.  So nostalgia is the suffering caused by an unappeased yearning to return”

 What is it that we hope to return to in those moments of nostalgia? Is it that lover? Is it that city? Is it the way we used to be when we were younger? Was life easier? What is better? Were those walks we went on 10 years ago more lovely than the ones we take now? Were the leaves brighter then? Was the sky bluer?

Perhaps it is simply that the suffering of our past has been forgotten and we are left with the memory of the sweet without the bitter.

The present moment is hard to be in because it is filled with discomfort- the noisy city, the cold air, the tiny cramped apartment, the stomachache, and the lingering tension after an argument with someone you love.  The present has the capacity to make us suffer RIGHT NOW. So, it’s easier to take a hit of nostalgia. You just put on your headphones, listen to Bob Dylan singing about the North Country and suddenly your veins are full of hazy sweet memories.

It takes work to be present. It takes perseverance and dedication to return again and again to what’s right in front of us. Being present requires that we meet the noise, the cold air, the tension in our bodies and minds, the fear of discomfort and everything else without running away, without pulling the sweater of nostalgia on to keep us warm and seemingly safe.

Listen, I am all for long walks and listening to sad music. So, do it and revel in it. It is part of being human and it is lovely. But, if you are up for a challenge follow the steps below and enjoy this beautiful season as it is now, before it’s gone:


 Walking Autumn Mediation:

  1. Prep: put on your shoes, a warm sweater, and leave your phone and wallet and headphones at home. You won’t need them.
  2. Start walking in whatever direction seems interesting. If you ask yourself why it is interesting to you, don’t try to answer. Just walk.
  3. Notice how your body feels. Where does the weight land in your feet? Your heel bone? Your toes? Don’t fix it. Just keep walking the way that you do.
  4. Notice to the texture of the ground that you walk on. Is it hard or soft?
  5. What does the air feel like on your skin? What sounds do you hear? What do you see? Notice the desire to reach for your phone and take a photo of the yellow leaves or a selfie of you practicing mindfulness. Witness these things and then let them go.
  6. Keep walking in any direction that is interesting. Be willing to change your mind and change direction.  Don’t be too concerned with why you changed your mind.
  7. As you walk, notice what you are thinking about. Are you thinking about somebody? Are you thinking about a past conversation or experience that you had? Are you planning the rest of your day or week? Are you thinking about a future experience that you hope to either have or avoid? Be curious about your thoughts, but don’t dwell there for too long.
  8. Come back to this moment. Notice the air on your skin. The weight of your body as it moves through space. Let the thoughts come and then let the thoughts go.
  9. Repeat steps 2- 7 until you are tired or until life requires you return home to your phone and your wallet. They will be right where you left them.