I Am Not What I Was

By Betty Bland

Originally printed in the July - August 2004 issue of Quest magazine. 
Citation: Bland, Betty. "I Am Not What I Was." Quest  92.4 (JULY - AUGUST 2004):122.


I love early morning walks. It is as if the day were so new that the first passersby cut through the expectant air, leaving swirls of possibility in their wake, like the bow of a ship disturbing the glassy surface of smooth water. Repeated walks seem to create a pattern in the air that strengthens with each repetition—like the visions reported by psychics of monks repeating their daily processionals hundreds of years after they have passed from the sight of human eyes.

This is especially true in one particular out-of-the-way place that I visit only occasionally. The passing years have hardly made a mark on the paths in the park or the cracked sidewalk by the schoolhouse. The same rail fence guards the pasture even though the old white mare no longer runs out to see if I might have an apple or two. I have passed these same spots since my youth. Sometimes that déjà vu feeling becomes most intense. I feel almost as if I have entered a time machine and am walking in my previous presence—the shadows of times gone by.

There is a set of science fiction novels (Anne McCaffrey's Dragonquest series) in which the characters are able to ride dragons through time, arriving in a period earlier by centuries, or by days or hours. But their danger lies in getting too close to an encounter with themselves and, in the contradictions of time, becoming totally debilitated. Fortunately for me, my analogous experience is not real enough to do me in, but it is real enough to teach me an object lesson. No matter how close one comes to a repeat of time and place, there is never an exact repeat of the same conditions—most especially the condition of oneself.

The flow of consciousness continues and modifies with each new experience. Just as one can never put one's foot into the same stream of water a second time, so one cannot reenter the exact same space in consciousness. Change is a universal law, as postulated in Madame Blavatsky's second fundamental proposition concerning the makeup of our cosmos:

This second assertion . . . is the absolute universality of that law of periodicity, of flux, reflux, ebb and flow, which physical science has observed and recorded in all departments of nature. An alternation such as that of Day and Night, Life and Death, Sleeping and Waking, is a fact so common, so perfectly universal and without exception, that it is easy to comprehend that in it we see one of the absolutely fundamental laws of the universe.

This translates to a universe that is in constant flux. Motion and constant change are fundamental characteristics of the entire manifested universe. This is certainly clear within our own stream of consciousness. Neither you nor I are the same from moment to moment. There are so many intervening moments of discovery, learning, pain, and joy. Whether one day has gone by or two months or thirty years, much has transpired to add to our storehouse of experiences that will translate into growth sooner or later. Sometimes we may have to repeat the same mistakes many times, but at some point the light will break through and we will at last say, "Ahaa!" We will finally get it and not need to repeat that particular lesson again.

If you have not seen the movie Groundhog Day, you have missed a good example of this very principle. Every time the protagonist awakens in the morning, it is the same Groundhog Day. Each day he repeats the same experiences, except that they change slightly because he is able to change his responses. It takes many times before he finally grows to the point that the outcome becomes what he would like it to be. He finally gets it.

The same sort of lesson can be derived from the cycle of a tree. Each spring when the tree issues its new growth, the leaves are not exactly the same as the year before but are reflective of the experiences the tree has garnered. If there are scars on the tree, or drought or insect damage, the new leafing pattern mirrors them. If a new branch has stretched forth into a spot of available sunshine, that too will be reflected. And so each year the tree, which of necessity remains in the same geographical spot, is ever new and ever formed by the previous seasons.

In every moment of our lives we can work to heal the wounds and grow new branches into the sun so that when we cycle through a situation again, we can be pleased with our progress. Whenever we return to similar circumstances, we will find ourselves the same in some ways, different in others.

If we pay attention to our lives, we can sense in the previous self a foreshadowing of the present version. In that moment we will realize that it took all of the former events to bring us to this particular place. We can begin to see the patterns and the meaning of it all. Why a particular occurrence happened still may not be totally clear, but we can honor the past as the vehicle that has brought us to this particular moment with all of its potentialities. If we have worked well within our circumstances, then we can be pleased with the self that has grown beyond the one that passed this way before. In the process the past can finally fall into place, resolved as a part of the overall pattern of our journey.

This kind of alchemy can occur only if we live each moment the very best way we can. We must take each present moment to challenge ourselves to grow beyond our old way of interacting in the world so that when we pass this way again we will be able to see real progress. Then we will be able to say, "I may not be what I ought to be, but I surely am better than what I was."

This is the task that is set before us. Personal transformation is the pathway of Theosophy and all quests for Truth. With sustained effort we can regulate our attitudes and actions, and little by little we can change our keynote to one of compassion and concern for all. Then the vibration of our being will be able to permeate the atmosphere, not with the distress of a siren, but with the call to responsible living and the music of altruism.

Hast thou attuned thy heart and mind to the great mind and heart of all mankind? For as the sacred River's roaring voice whereby all Nature-sounds are echoed back, so must the heart of him "who in the stream would enter," thrill in response to every sigh and thought of all that lives and breathes.

—Voice of the Silence