This is a proverb by the Māori people of New Zealand (other sources attribute them to ancient Mesopotamia). It means walking backwards into the future. Take a moment to think about this incredibly cool idea!
When we talk about the past and the future, we seem to mean that we walk into the future with our eyes facing it, and away from the past, leaving it behind us. We say things like “the past is behind us” and “the future is ahead of us” or “facing the future.” But this wisdom by the Maori people is interesting in that it suggests the opposite.
By walking backwards towards the future, it means that our eyes are looking at the past, and our backs are facing the future. You cannot see what is in the future, but you have access to your past. You can only imagine the what is to come based on the information you have of the past. For example, if you imagine a war, your imagination is based on the scenes of war you have seen in the past. if you imagine sex, what your mind sees and feels is because you have probably had it before. It would be difficult for you to imagine something without relating it to something else you have interacted with before. So, we use the past to make sense of the future.
Also read: The Paradox of Being Too Good
Walking backwards towards the future also means that we have easy access to what has just happened, what happened earlier on and what happened a long time ago. Imagine that you are walking on a straight road, with your back towards where you are going. The more you keep going, the more you leave things behind, until some of them eventually fade into the horizon. That is precisely what happens with your memory. You can remember things that happened yesterday with quite some accuracy, but you are unable to remember things that happened to you 17 years ago with as much precision. As you walk backwards into the future [read: the older you get], your mind collects so much information that improves your ability to make estimations of the future. In Swahili we say ‘Kuishi kwingi kuona mengi’ (the older get, the wiser you become).
What this tells me is that it is useful for one to have a good understanding of history. Know why you are here where you are. Be curious about what happened. Because the way you navigate the life you have not lived will always be a sum of all those experiences of the life you have already lived.