An old shibboleth says that the present is all there is, and that the past and future do not exist except as memories, recollections, hopes, wishes, intentions, and possibilities. Whoever first said that should spend five minutes in my mind to see the insanity of that definition.
The past informs me, keeps me relatively safe, and the future provides a reason to get out of bed in the morning, other than the insistent purr of the cat sitting on me wanting to be fed. I like the cat rationale best, since "safe" is relative. The past also provides benchmarks for those anal engineers (guilty as charged) who are always collecting data and keeping score, so that we can find out how we are "doing" in this competition called "life."
Every self-improvement seminar I have taken, every course purporting to show the way to "success," and all of my academic classes and job performance reviews (including a marriage or two) use metrics and benchmarks to measure where we are, how we are doing, and how - of course - to improve and "get better."
Then there are the wise sages of old, who sit on mountain-tops with their long white beards, (or lecture in classrooms in front of white or green or black boards) maintaining that the key to happiness is being totally "in the present moment," notwithstanding the gathering storm clouds, nor the fierce and hungry wild animal creeping up from behind. And of course they are all correct, and we almost constantly shift our focus from one thing to another to maintain life, sanity, future growth, and sometimes (perhaps quite often) to avoid boredom.
It has just occurred to me that boredom is a relatively new experience in mankind's crawl from the primordial ooze, in that throughout most of history staying alive took much of the consciousness that humans and animals were able to muster, in order to continue living, propagating, and repeating the same cycle in future beings.
And so we go to seminars, read books, take drugs, sit on mountain-tops, and do other things to stay "in the moment" when it is a actually a relatively new concept in the overall scheme of things. That is, we find we have to regress to an earlier state in order to progress with our lives.
My dear wife Liz and I had a startling, difficult, and very useful conversation a few days ago about what we expected from one another; the sort of thing that does not normally come up when grocery-shopping, watching television, sleeping, or even talking. It had to do with our expectations of each other in this soap opera we call life (not demeaning life when I say that, but my life does has had elements of a soap opera at times, which I am sure is likely only applicable to me).
And I realized, as I think Liz did, that it was a tremendously difficult and at the same time penetrating and eye-opening talk about our relationship. I certainly realized that I am on "autopilot" much of the time, relying on old patterns to form some coherent and even useful conversation, without necessarily examining the truth or implication of what I am saying, not to mention its impact on the person to whom and with whom I am talking. I also realized that I often do not really listen to the other person, instead preferring to rehearse my response to what they are saying while I am rehearsing my response to them. I believe that just perhaps I am not the only person who does that. Werner Erhard used the term "automaticity" to describe that state, which is deliciously penetrating if a wee bit uncomfortable.
As I type this, I realize that there are many millions of dollars and massive amounts of time spent by people in all walks of life to learn how to talk simply and effectively talk to one another. That is an astonishing assertion, and may even be true. Quite often those conversations are geared toward influencing the world-view of the other person in order to advance some personal goal of our own (often known as "going for the goodies.") There are certainly other reasons for our communications, but that back-and-forth on a good day is filled with opportunities for misunderstanding and a whole lot of other assortments of mischief, entrapment, and proselytizing.
I will further assert that much of what we say is not from our present experience, but is filled with thoughts and fears of the past and future, and how to change, avoid, manipulate, and gain advantage over the other person. It is not very often that we talk about what is happening right now, at this moment, and when we do it is often clouded by considerations, thoughts, worries, and plans regarding the past and future, yet rarely the present.
I will parenthetically acknowledge that although I am pretending that I am writing this for You, the Reader, I am actually writing it for Me, so that I may occasionally remember it with all due, necessary, and effervescent humility. And I will now note that this is the fourth time I have rewritten this particular chapter, since I keep discovering things that I do that might possibly be applicable elsewhere.
And so I think this is Relationship 101, a graduate course for sophomores who want to skip the hard work to get that degree/job/relationship/respect and on and on to the graduate studies. So it is no wonder we sometimes misunderstand or feel misunderstood when we strive for that elusive goal. It is, I assert, anchored in the past and future, and not the present.
"Quod erat demonstrandum" (look it up in your basic Latin textbook, if you ever had one and retained it). Or if you are under 78 years old, Google it.