The Retrospective-Prospective Turn

By Ofer Zur, Ph.D.

The Daffodils
by William Wordsworth 

I wandered lonely as a cloud
That floats on high o’er vales and hills,
When all at once I saw a crowd,
A host, of golden daffodils;
Beside the lake, beneath the trees,
Fluttering and dancing in the breeze.
Continuous as the stars that shine
And twinkle on the Milky Way,
They stretched in never-ending line
Along the margin of a bay:
Ten thousand saw I at a glance,
Tossing their heads in sprightly dance.
The waves beside them danced, but they
Out-did the sparkling waves in glee:
A Poet could not but be gay,
In such a jocund company:
I gazed—and gazed—but little thought
What wealth the show to me had brought:
For oft, when on my couch I lie
In vacant or in pensive mood,
They flash upon that inward eye
Which is the bliss of solitude;
And then my heart with pleasure fills,
And dances with the daffodils.


As we fast approach the darkest day of the year, on winter solstice, as well as the end of 2018, you and your clients might feel pulled by the “inward eye”, quietly guiding you deep into the realm of contemplation and introspection. As you arrive, you might feel yourselves dancing in the space of “in between”, back and forth, between memories from this past year and hopes and expectations for the new year to come. And so you turn and re-turn.

In poetry, the retrospective-prospective structure starts with a reflection of past occurrences and then turns to gaze and imagine the future or to look at the present moment with new eyes. You may look at life itself as a vessel for continuous poetic turns, visualizing the past and envisioning the future as a flow of interconnected processes.

Science seems to concur. A growing body of research suggests that memories are instrumental in visualizing the future. Psychologist Thomas Zentall puts it this way: “Being able to remember past events and being able to plan for the future go hand in hand”. Amnesia patients, for example, find it challenging to imagine the future. It appears disorganized and emotionless. Professor, of Psychological and Brain Sciences, Kathleen McDermott found that brain scans indicate that when individuals imagine potential future events it is the memory processing centers in the brain that get activated. Remembering the past and imagining similar events in the future ignite the same area in the brain. These MRI studies illustrate that past memories are retrieved and drawn upon when images are projected into the future. Like Wordsworth’s Daffodils.

What can you, and those seeking your help, take away from understanding that our past and our future, our memories and our visions, are intimately linked? Perhaps you come to better appreciate that that which has been exiled, displaced, and ignored in your past will continue to wrestle with you in the future. As the darkest day of the year comes near, you might want to contemplate, with gentle compassion, those disregarded and suppressed parts of the psyche that long to be witnessed, to be heard, and to be brought into the light of consciousness again.

Consider doing the following exercise alone or with a client. 

Bring to mind the different facets of your life: 

  • Career
  • Finances
  • Relationship with Friends, Neighbors, Family
  • Engagement with the suffering of others/the world
  • Fun and Recreation
  • Physical/Mental Health & Self-growth
  • Other 

Contemplate the following: 

  • What facet/s of your life is/are specifically challenging for you to relate to?
  • What aspects of it might you be wanting to ignore or push away?
  • Can you remember a time when this area fulfilled you? When it was not a “problem”?
  • Can you give yourself the gift to take some time to write or artfully express your experiences? Create one piece that expresses memories of contentment and another piece that touches on the struggles. Bring the two pieces into a dialogue in a third piece. Imagine the two experiences are communicating with each other. Let yourself be curious about the process and surprised by what wants to emerge.
  • Can you visualize, as detailed as you can, a future where you are living harmoniously in relationship to this facet? Can you let yourself feel it in your body?


“And then my heart with pleasure fills,
And dances with the daffodils.”
~William Wordsworth

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