Nostalgia and Sentimentality

Recently, I was reminded of the pitfalls of nostalgia and sentimentality. Personally, I have never been a fan of either. Both embody an avoidance of being fully present and an attachment to the past born from denials. Nostalgia can lock one into wishing for something that was. Instead of facing the present which creates space to birth a future, persons feeling nostalgic tend to be looking to the past because some part of them thinks that things were better, more satisfying, happier, and so on at an earlier point in their lives. It’s one thing to remember past experiences with fondness. But, when that leads to a sense of longing, there can be an underlying assumption that feeds a sense of wanting things to be how they were, not as they are. The irony is that if we are feeling that our lives are missing something, nostalgia creates a denial that suggests we were fulfilled in the past. That the longing we feel was due to a sense of wholeness and well-being that was present previously. What is more likely, is that we are using selective memory to only remember the illusion of what was and not the reality of how we truly felt. For if we are present and authentic in soul awareness, then we are fulfilled and not longing for something that no longer is. When truly present, there is an awareness that acknowledges that if we feel separate and incomplete now, then most likely we felt that in the past as well. With nostalgia, the emptiness and pain that we seek to avoid is hidden by the dream and illusion that we would feel better if things could be how they once were.

Sentimentality is similar to nostalgia in that it’s based on attachments to over-romanticizing which comes from a denial of emotions and present reality. As Sharon Salzberg writes in her book Loving-Kindness: The Revolutionary Art of Happiness, sentimentality is a “mental state that masquerades as love”, and “is an ally of delusion.” I have always been suspicious of sentimentality. When I witness someone who is overly sentimental, I can always sense a lack of awareness that allows for simple observation without attaching judgment. The judgment in this case comes from caring that is limited to pleasurable thoughts only. The need to only see things as good, pleasurable, positive, etc. is firmly attached to an avoidance of emotional states within. If we aren’t willing to observe with honest and open perspectives, then we are reframing what we are thinking in order to avoid the unpleasantness of our feelings. Sentimentality is a tool that serves to ignore an inner fear of pain that is fully centered in an avoidance of our soul selves and authentic being. Both nostalgia and sentimentality serve delusion by fostering a narrow view of reality that cannot accept things as they actually are. Fear, avoidance, and fracturing of one’s self wins out. Authentic being, soul awareness, and healing fall away.

Nostalgia and sentimentality can trigger a door that opens to energetic vulnerability. For instance, when another is feeling nostalgic that includes memories of us, due to the history connection, we may unconsciously respond to the energy and take it on. As I mentioned in a previous blog, when energetic intrusion is overwhelming us, it is important to recognize what aspect(s) of the energy we are resonating with. Longing can embody over-romanticizing, and both can create an energetic influence that targets those who are part of the memories. The energy gets sent our way due to past experiences (or, vice versa). In addition, the energy can be projected rather strongly due to the intense denials that are present with those who are nostalgic and hoping for the Wizard of Oz fix of returning to what was. Recognizing these elements, we can focus on being present. We can center in an awareness that just because another is looking back to a time that included us, does not mean that we need to shift to the past as well. Then, we can release the energetic intrusions by clearing our own attachments to how things were, how we once were, or simply reacting to a shared memory as if it was our own.

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