The Thing I Like About …

The Spongebob Movie: the part where Patrick reminds Spongebob why he’s sad.

In The Spongebob Movie, Spongebob has been passed up for promotion at a job he loves. He decides to drown his sorrows in ice cream sundaes, but after a little while of blubbering, he decides not to think about the promotion anymore. He focuses on enjoying his ice cream, and realizes that he doesn’t even remember why he was sad.

His friend Patrick comes up to him and reminds him that he was passed up for promotion; Spongebob dissolves into tears again, and goes right back to being sad.

It’s not that Patrick is a thoughtless friend – he can’t help it if his brain is a hollow gourd. It’s that Spongebob had decided not to think about something that made him sad and angry, and this tactic had worked so well that he didn’t even remember why he was burying himself in a hot-fudge sundae. But in a moment, a reminder of the past pushed him out of a happy present and back into a situation that he couldn’t control in the first place.

We hesitate to live in the “now”. We want to learn from our pasts – of course we do – but we refuse to let those lessons actually change how we feel today. We stay with our pain, with our guilt and shame, our disappointment and despair, because those feelings are things that “good” people feel about mistakes. We want to feel like “good” people. We want to feel like we took our mistakes seriously – or at least that others think we took our mistakes seriously – but we hesitate to do the work required to make different choices next time. We want to grieve for the things we’ve lost or the hurts we’ve suffered, but we have trouble accepting that they happened, and we don’t really want to examine the part we may have played in it.

Most pointlessly, we want to be able to go back and change the way things went … and so we camp out in the past in our heads and our hearts, waiting for the opportunity to alter that past at its source.

We decide for countless reasons that the only lesson the past can teach us is to feel bad.

We set ourselves up to learn nothing, to do nothing, and to fix nothing.

But if we give ourselves the space to cry about it – or eat a sundae about it – we can get to a place where we learn from our lessons (Spongebob, for instance, had not taken the time to learn about managing a restaurant) and re-establish the happy dynamic that preceded the mistake/painful event. If we allow ourselves to live in the now, and to be happy again, the past slips away from our hearts and minds as completely as it slips away from this moment.

Our challenge is to commit to that – to consciously decide to stay in the moment and let go of the past – so that when well-meaning empty-headed starfish remind us of things we’d rather leave behind, we can accept their words without being plunged once more into negativity … especially if we ourselves are that “empty-headed starfish”.

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