Another lazy morning after a lovely and relaxed evening. This is a relaxed and enjoyable existence. Apart from? Can you guess? Of course. My friends, the guilt spiders.
I live too much in the future. Or I live not enough in the future. Or I’m absorbed by the past. I’m anywhere but where I should be. I’m only ever present when I’m obsessing and ruminating on perceived hurts or inadequacies – and that’s very unlikely to be what’s going on in the exact present.
But hold on a minute (says my brain)! Hold on – seriously, I can’t think it’s useful to spend your life in the present moment. You have to consider the future. You have to learn the impacts of past actions in order to learn from them.
Yes (replies another part of my brain). But what are you doing all of that for if it’s not for a more enjoyable present moment. Because while we can imagine the future and remember the past, the only moments we are actually experiencing are the present ones. The suggestion is not that we ignore the past and future in favour of a hedonistic and selfish present; it’s that we maintain awareness of the present moment. Don’t get lost in future imaginings, don’t become blended with the hurts of the past. Plan for the future, learn from the past, but experience those passing present moments that you’re doing all of that for.
I think (out of Achilles and Tortoise mode now) that there’s great value in experiencing over and over again how transient each of our feelings, desires, whatevers are. When I pursue a hurt from 10 years ago, 20 years ago, however long ago – and relive each knife cutting part of it, that’s kind of a lie. After all, it’s just a movie, it’s not actually happening right now. In an actual five minute period of being just me with my breath, if I don’t actively cling onto those past injustices, they will float away like leaves in a river, and what’s left behind, immovable in that cold wet river, is me. Me in the moment, me desperately seeking more leaves to cover my nakedness, me panicking at the thought of seeing myself, me crashing about in the wet, creating any possible diversion so that I don’t have to look and see what I am.
Why the fear? I claim that I’m searching to find out true things about myself, and yet I’ll hunt in the past, in the future, right into hurts and joys, I’ll hunt anywhere but where I am. Why am I afraid? Why am I ashamed? I think, yes, I might be a little ashamed of the stripped down truth of myself.
- A person is not their potential
- A person is not their stories
- A person is not the good and bad things that have happened to them
- They are not their accomplishments
- They are not their children or lovers or loves or hates
And what am I, if I am not all the things I’ve taught myself to strive for and fight against? Am I boring? Am I no better or worse than anyone else? Am I nothing special?
Am I just a firefly whose existence on this plane is no more than the blink of an eye to the eternity of the universe.
Yes, but. Yes, and.
Here’s the thing:
“If nothing you do matters, then the only thing that matters is what you do.” (*)
Maybe that sounds like a really depressing quote, but I find it fantastically joyful and freeing. I am not religious in the traditional sense – I have thoughts about life and death and all the rest of it, but this phrase pretty much encapsulates how I feel about purpose. It is important to be good – but only according to your own moral code. It’s important because nobody else can judge for you.
“This above all: To thine own self be true.” (**)
But really, be true. People take that to mean being uncompromising, as an excuse to be selfish. Do you think that selfishness is a morally right decision? Personally, there are times when I think a modicum of selfishness is necessary for sustainability, but it’s not something I’d be grasping after as a planned way to be. It’s not the holy grail of self-building for me.
“Do what thou wilt shall be the whole of the law.” (***)
Another oft mis-interpreted quote. I feel like I could write a whole blog post on “will” and my interpretation of it.
Basically, I think these three are saying the same thing in different ways. Only you can judge what’s right for you, and with that comes a huge responsibility – to actually do it.
(*) Maybe there’s an original quote that this came from, but I know it from the Angel TV series by Joss Whedon.
(**) Polonius in Shakespeare’s Hamlet.
(***) Aleister Crowley