Face Your Past for a Better Future

Haunted by ‘Ghosts of Girlfriends Past’

‘Ghosts of Girlfriends Past’ is about a fickle guy, who is so scrooge-ly with his love, that he doesn’t really develop genuine affection for anyone, while he plays ‘love’ as a game. That’s right, Conner’s a playboy, and that’s wrong! So much faith does he have that romances are best kept as one-night stands, that he claims that committed ‘Love is magical comfort food for the weak and uneducated’, that leaves one eventually ‘weak, dependent and fat’. But doesn’t true love make one ‘strong and lean’ with healthy mutually beneficial interdependence?

With such thinking, Conner couldn’t really rejoice in his brother’s upcoming marriage. He found it hard to settle down because he already ‘loves’ all women by making love with them. Truth is, he was merely having sex. This is the usual confusion between expressions of love versus lust. Love needs not be sealed by sex, while sex does not always mean love! The scene where his ex-girlfriends line up into a seemingly endless stretch is reminiscent of how we each must have had innumerable ex-lovers in our countless past lives. Like it or not, we have been one another’s heartbreakers ad infinitum and ad nauseam in Samsara!

Conner is visited by the ‘ghost’ of an ex-girlfriend, who brings him on retrospective visits to his other ex-girlfriends, from which he learns invaluable lessons upon hindsight. It isn’t portrayed too clearly at first – whether his supernatural excursions were the stuff of literal nightmares or not, but hey, even dreams can be highly educational if you are mindful of your responses to the unexpected situations in them! Recalling past flings like remembering past lives, there must be lessons of immeasurable importance missed in the past – which is why we are still not enlightened! Real life too can be dream-like anyway, in terms of similar transience and unpredictability.

Like a ghost who finally learns to mindfully reflect and review himself, Conner sees all in his past, yet is seen by none, thus transcending conventional space and time. He isn’t a substantial ‘being’ in his haunts of the past, yet he learns solid lessons that reshapes his future for the better. Maybe this is how the Buddha ‘revisited’ his past lives – ‘time-travelling’ within his mind’s vast memories without really moving! How we behaved in the past shapes our present situation, but how we now review the same past changes both our present and future. That’s karma at play. With increased mindfulness, there is hope for us all!

Conner’s first love remarks that one really gets over a lost love only by caring for someone else more. Seems true, but if one learns to love less conditionally (with less expectations, e.g. of reciprocated love) in the first place, there would be less of a sense of loss. And one recovers more readily by first learning to love oneself well (with non-judgmental loving-kindness) – before seeking to be better loved or to love someone else better. By the end of the story, he shares some words of wisdom – ‘Someone once told me that the power in all relationships lies with whoever cares less, and he was right. But power isn’t happiness, and I think that maybe happiness comes from caring more about people rather than less.’

That reminds us of a famous quote from Shantideva’s teachings, that many Buddhists can’t seem to quote enough of – ‘All the sufferinf in the world comes from seeking happiness for oneself. All the happiness in the world comes from seeking happiness for others.’ I would add to Conner’s words that having unconditional love equipped with wisdom is to have real power. Training ourselves to love well inevitably involves some pain, but ‘no pain, no gain’. There is no worse pain than that from wallowing in the misery of regret – from not learning to love anyone well – including oneself. If there’s going to be pain in life anyway, let’s make it worth it!

– Shen Shi’an