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Living Backwards or in Reverse?

By Marlene Buffa

T.H. White in his series, Once and Future King, told the tale of the legendary King Arthur. Here, White presented Merlyn, a friend and wizard to the King, who lived backwards in time. Merlyn relied on his memory of the future to guide and mentor Arthur, all the while allowing Arthur the enlightenment of self-discovery. In this unusual character development, White showed us that even though the future may appear set and final, the choices we make effect us here and now and can be interpreted as significant to our decisions farther along our path.

Merlyn demonstrated the difficulty of living in the past while in a constant circuitous flux of the future and the present moment. Surely incomprehensible to those of us living in a forwardly linear progression, Merlyn juggled and balanced the grapples of his memory and experience to allow Arthur to wield the necessary bravado to create a history, already lived. Merlyn's advantage of knowing and having already lived the future, comforts us in strange ways. What if we already lived our future and we're just now providing ourselves with the points-of-proof that mete out the geometric progressions of our lives? If we know the outcomes in our lives, can we manipulate our present day to assure the mold for future castings is accurate?

In High Heels
In 1982, Frank Thaves, comic strip genius, published a provocative one cell illustration. In it, Frank and Earnest stand outside a movie theatre looking at a poster promoting a Fred Astaire film festival. A female patron turns to them and says, "Sure he was great, but don't forget that Ginger Rogers did everything he did... backwards and in high heels."

Even more amazingly, Ginger made her role in the dance duo appear easy, almost second nature. We don't need to perform ballroom dance feats or even have a partner to go through life backwards. Most of us do this every day without realizing it. Often we allow life to lead us in a predictable direction but not necessarily forward. Nonetheless, life seems to get us where we want to go. The high heel part? We choose to make our lives a bit more difficult than required, we give ourselves a disadvantage. In spite of our self-inflicted handicap, we spin around through our experiences, taking dips and turns, switching directions and often tempo along the way, to face our grand finale with pride as we take our final bow.

A subtle but integral distinction between backwards and reverse can best be depicted using words in a sentence. Take, for instance, the above portion of a sentence, "backwards in high heels." If you backward-ize this sentence, it becomes, "heels high in backwards."

However, if you reverse this sentence it reads, "sdrawkcab ni hgih sleeh." Or even further, to combine backwards and reverse, it's now, "sleeh hgih ni sdrawkcab."

Michael Jackson perfected his famous "Moon Walk" to give us the illusion of walking backward, all the while actually moving forward. Think about that one.

In most New Thought teaching, we learn that everything happens for a reason - there are no accidents. In retrospect, we easily use our hindsight to console ourselves for enduring such interwoven experiences to finally reach a God-given outcome. During the unfolding of unrelated (or so they seem) events or situations in our lives, we rarely look at how these vignettes work together to bring us to a higher place. While we live these experiences, we cannot see how they relate to one another, much less lead to our heart's desire. Using our 20/20 vision, we see how God took these amazing coincidences and pieced them together to reveal the jigsaw puzzle of our life! If someone told you that in order to get from point A to point Z you'd have to endure ridiculous twists and turns and exercise precise timing and "dumb luck." You'd never believe you could do it. God does this with consistency and regularity. Just smile, and say "thank you."

Picture yourself behind the wheel of your favorite vehicle. The gears read PRNDL for the most part. Think about reverse for a moment. When you shift your transmission into R(everse), the vehicle still points forward, although you change directions. You face the road ahead of you head on, yet your vehicle takes you over already-covered territory. Perhaps we should rename this gear Backwards. Like Ginger, we face forward but move in the opposite direction. Other than in the grace of performing arts, I can't imagine how this practice could lead us down the path we wish to travel.

Reverse, on the other hand, presents a different mechanism. Re, in Latin, means again. Vers, means to turn. When we're headed in one direction and decide to go in reverse, we turn around and retrace our steps. We relive our lives (or certain aspects thereof) repeatedly. We go through life with the appearance of moving in a forward direction, all the while reliving our past all with a shift in the transmission of our thinking! Stunt drivers master the art of maneuvering the vehicle around corners down endless city blocks in reverse gear for the benefit of moviegoers. What is your payoff to perform similar linear gymnastics?

Rear view mirror
In fast paced thriller stories the protagonist hears "watch your 6" from his mentor, meaning to pay attention to what's directly behind him. When we look in the rear view mirror of our life whether its daily, monthly or annually, we see how far our journey took us down the road. We diligently consult the reflection in the glass to see if our immediate past stalks us and we glance sideways at life to our flanking mirrors to see what's beside us on our travels. Satisfied that our trek is shielded from unwanted interruptions from past mistakes or present breaches, we continue forward, only to consult the reflections over and over again until we either reach our destination or change course.

The mirrors provide insight in many ways. Since everyone in our lives serves as a mirror for us, we look back at ourselves in the present moment as well as our past. By looking back and accepting the past that lies behind us, we move forward looking into the eyes of our enlightenment and the joy of those near us providing us with feedback for our spiritual growth. You can't outrun your past and it will always be with you, but periodic reflection of your life lessons empowers you to keep looking ahead and moving forward.

Often, in word processing software, we use the Un-Do button. Ever experience a faux pas and wish life itself came equipped with such a key? Regrets live in that rear view mirror and no longer affect you. Hitting un-do brings the past back to the present only to force you to relive it. So, whenever you feel you've chosen poorly, forgive yourself and move on. There is no "retry" no "do-over" and no "un-do" to our experiences. What's done belongs to history and you choose to either live with it and make it right the next time a similar experience presents itself or you can live your life in a constant loop of regret and blame. Life teaches us we can't "un-do" anything. Choose instead to learn and grow.

In his song, "I Love the Now," singer songwriter Jimmy Buffett writes

Tomorrow's right around the corner
I'll get there somehow
But I'm stuck in the meantime
And I love the now
Get stuck in the present moment. Like it or not, it's all you have.

Whether you're living life in the past, backwards or in reverse, know that it's all your choice. You can relive your history ad nauseam or you can choose to live in the present moment. Knowing you can't back up and delete your choices, look forward with the mindfulness of your actions and dance through life to the tune of your heart's desire!

Marlene Buffa: "There I was, minding my own business, and God showed up!"
Taking a quiet sideways glance at life, Marlene offers us insight through her words and experiences. With degrees in Communications and Psychology from the University of Michigan, Marlene finds practical spirituality around every corner. A student of new-thought teachings she seeks wisdom through her observation of inter-relationships in our daily lives. Sometimes playful, sometimes poignant, always thought-provoking, her works inspire her readers in meaningful ways. You can visit her website at and write to her by email.

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