Gonna take a sentimental journey / Gonna set my heart at ease / Gonna make a sentimental journey / To renew old memories . . . Never thought my heart could be so yearny / Why did I decide to roam / Gonna take a sentimental journey / Sentimental journey home.
Sung by Doris Day, Frank Sinatra, Ella Fitzgerald, and Ringo Starr, to name just four who made it popular, Sentimental Journey* is ostensibly about the heart wanting what it wants when it wants it. And it’s about the yearning, second-guessing reminiscences that at some point down the road may accompany the choices we make.
Full of nostalgia for “the good old days” or “lost innocence,” we may lose ourselves in thoughts about simpler and easier times in our past. We may even wish to be back in the past so we could do it differently. It’s also possible that we “romance” the past, that is, talk about things in a way that makes them seem more exciting, perfect or meaningful than they really were.
This is because human beings are determined and certain about what they want. But in general, these determinations are a part of our programming rather than our thoughtfulness. In these moments, our passions, desires, longings and sentiments seem right on target. We are tempted to, and often follow, our hearts or, less romantically, our instincts. They tell us when to go, when to stay, when to wish that we had gone and when to wish that we had stayed.
Sometimes our memories come out of “nowhere” so to speak. Nostalgic dreams about lovers or friends we’ve chosen to leave behind may haunt our sleep. Renewing happy memories, à la the song, may feel good. But sometimes the memories prompt a sorrowful regret about the determinism or instincts that informed us. In this case, we can no longer summon to mind, or heart, why we did what we did.
However, the frustrations and anxieties that have compromised our desires don’t have to leave us with a permanent wistfulness or discontent. We don’t have to go backwards, wishfully, to find comfort. We can be artists and educators of our own emotions and feelings and design our lives accordingly. Said another way, willing to be an artist of our becoming and of our sentimental education, we can emerge from the pressure of our determinism with the means to create an alternate response to the frustration and the feelings of remorse, homesickness or anger that dog the unexamined life.
Sure, a shift in sentiment is not a quick and easy move. How we’ve responded to life — our instinctive and sentimental nature, is programmed. It fits a predictable, repetitive pattern.
We must practice our new responses, just as ballplayers have to practice fielding and throwing a ground ball. Our practice, though, begins in our extending thinking on our future. Instead of looking to past sentiments to guide our choices, we look forward—to the responsive potential we would like to possess as a result of our thinking. And we engage this effort because it is its own reward.
* The music to Sentimental Journey was written by Les Brown and Ben Homer, and the lyrics by Arthur Green.
Arnold Siegel is the founder of Autonomy and Life and the leader of its Retreat Workshops and Advanced Classes. Visit autonomyandlife.com for more information.