Remaking the Past

I recently had the privilege of seeing the basilica at San Marco’s Square in Venice, and I was struck by a similarity that has been present throughout the centuries. Mainly, how we have a history of replacing the “old” with something more current.

In the basilica, the original Byzantine mosaics were replaced during the Renaissance with something more appealing to the times. Tastes had changed, artistry had evolved, and so it seemed natural to take down the old, and put something else in its place. We’ve done this for hundreds, if not thousands, of years. We do it with houses, cars, clothing, art, technology – it always seems that if there’s something “better,” we need it. But why?

In the case of technology, I understand the importance of keeping up with new inventions. After all, you couldn’t use a rotary telephone anymore, even if you wanted to. But when it comes to bigger things like houses and public spaces, I’ve always preferred to keep our history alive by retrofitting our lives to the past, rather than tearing it down and replacing it. As an example, I grew up in a town that was older than the Revolutionary War. I saw houses that pre-dated our country’s Independence, in which families were still living. They adapted their needs to maintain the original structure. As I grew older, I saw beautiful old homes torn down and replaced with McMansions, in order to meet the “needs” of a modern family. I don’t necessarily have a problem with this. My “problem” is more with the use of the word “needs.”

Somewhere in our DNA, it seems, we have a desire to improve ourselves. However, it doesn’t seem to be accompanied any longer by an understanding of patience and moderation. Furthermore, this desire seems to be coupled with a competitive nature that is always seeking validation externally, rather than internally. We have, in essence, lost sight of our Essence. We seem to no longer be able to self-soothe, and we look for comfort and security in objects and others. This is why things have become so transient. This is why there is less and less permanence in our society, and at the same time why we have a longing to see remnants of our past, and admire them and learn from them. If not, why would tourism to historical sites be such a huge industry?

It seems to me that we have a history of remaking our past. We have evidence of societies building on top of one another in the same places for centuries. Slowly, we have evolved into a society that justifies its consumption by the improper use of the word “need.” And yet, somehow, we rarely feel full. I’ve seen it time and again – a person searching outside him/herself for something which is lacking inside. They will never meet this need through external solutions. An addict (whether it be alcohol, gambling, drugs or any other substance) will eventually never be able to consume enough of their preferred substance, and they will either a) have to seek help and abstain, or b) die. Similarly, a person seeking validation in another person’s love, will ultimately have to keep moving on to more and more people, because they looked outwardly rather than in a mirror.

At this point in time, we are coming to a crescendo and beginning to feel the effects of too much consumption. I think you will agree with me that more and more people are looking for a simpler way to live. More and more individuals are in search of inner peace and happiness. The tide is shifting, and it will be up to you whether you choose to swim with it, or swim against it. Would you choose to stay in your home, make do with what you have and adapt your lifestyle/behaviors to your world? Or would you choose to endlessly seek external validation in your life, always searching for that next thing that might bring you happiness?

It’s a question of whether or not you look at a Byzantine mosaic and feel it’s not “good enough,” or look at a Byzantine mosaic and admire and accept it for its own qualities. Something new isn’t better or worse, it’s just different. And that’s ok, provided we also remember and honor the past and learn to work with what we already have, dovetailing in the ‘new’ rather than replacing the ‘old.’

In Love and Light,


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