Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Present Imperfect

Would you want to know the future?

That's a question we ask ourselves, bandying around the answers like they really matter. "Yes, I'd use that knowledge to my benefit. Can anyone say 'Internet millionaire'?" "No, what if I'm gonna get hit by a garbage truck and die under a mountain of moldy lettuce? I wouldn't want to know that was coming down the pike." It's a thought game, often fun but always pointless.

The past, now, that's another matter altogether. "Those who don't know their history are doomed to repeat it" and all that. The past is knowable and directly determines the present: every minute action, every thought, every tiny bit of activity is predicated on some past event, whether that event happened just a second ago (I'm drinking tea now because I made it within the last few minutes) or decades before (the lyrics to "Oh Mickey you're so fine you're so fine you blow my mind Hey Mickey" just floated through my head). The past gets us to where we are.

Where we are is the present, and if this were a Buddhist blog I could now go on to blather about how the present is all there is, living in the moment, mindfulness, yadda yadda. All true, all true - it's just not my point at the moment. At the moment I'm going for the decidedly UN-Buddhist idea that the present makes no sense without the future.

See, there are some things I've been trying to figure out. Going round and round in circles in my head (yes, I know, so difficult to imagine for me). I decided that maybe I was driving myself crazy because I wanted to know the future and therefore know if the actions I take now work out the way I want them to. But that wasn't quite right: that was more the hammer hitting my thumb (painful and pointless) rather than the head of the nail. So I scooted around my interior geography a bit more to see what else I could find, and lo and behold if I didn't come across just the thing:

I want to know the present.

Yeah, that may seem fairly straightforward, but once again appearances are deceiving. The present is happening right now, and it's all that really exists - I'm with the Buddhists on that. And the present is totally conditioned by the past - I'm with the historians on that. But here's the thing: the present has to be lived in the moment, but it can only be understood in the future. Understanding is a function of reflection, and it takes the perspective of looking back to get it. We act in the now, but even when we feel like we are moving in the light of blinding clarity, the truth is that usually we don't understand our deepest motivations until later. The truth is that we walk through life flabbergasting unaware of what the hell we are really meaning and doing - and let's make that a double when it comes to understanding the present actions, thoughts and feelings of friends and loved ones. The truth is that we're walking blind here.

I absolutely crave the knowledge of what's going on right in the very now; I want to understand it, to see it in all it's glory. And I just can't; like everyone else, I can only see as through a glass darkly, even when I'm aching for light. And that, I know from all my futures that became pasts, is where faith comes in, and simple trust. Gotta say, though, I'm not so much feeling the faith at the moment.

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