Thursday, September 13, 2007

Past, Present or Future - Where Do You Live?

Very few of us truly tend to live in the present; for the most part we live in the past or the future. At it’s extreme this can lead to either an “Eden” or a “Utopian” narrative.

The Eden viewpoint is based on the idea that the best was in the past - nostalgia, rose-tinted memories, school days were the best days of our lives, yearning for the lost innocence of childhood, the good old days, and so on – while the future is doom and gloom – imminent catastrophe from global warming, terrorists, spread of capitalism, growth of communism, over population etc.

By contrast, the Utopian vision of the world is the idea that we are moving towards a better future – the past was a place of greater division, less education & understanding, more disease, shorter lifespan, and the like – whereas the future will be a far greater place – cures for diseases, longer healthier lives, more advanced technology, the global village, an alternative to Windows Vista operating system and so forth.

Which of these camps you fall into will fundamentally affect the way you view, and interact, with the world.

But this same past-dominant/ future-dominant idea can play out on a day-to-day level too. Are you the kind of person who spends the majority of their time mulling over what’s just happened, or are you the type who is always wondering what’s around the next corner? Of course we all tend to be a mix, but inevitably one tends to dominate.

By nature I’ve always been the kind of person with one foot in the future. I don’t tend to dwell in the past much; perhaps I do slightly more now as I get older, but the majority of my attention is still focused on what could happen, or what’s about to happen. Sometimes this is to the detriment of the now; I can easily miss out on what’s happening right under my nose because my sights are set in the distance.

The Eastern Philosophy of Taoism (pronounced Dow (rhymes with cow) - ism) is all about living in the now – the past is gone, the future doesn’t exist, so if we are to extract all we can from life then we should take notice of our surroundings and our actions, and “be” (a superb introduction to the principles of Taoism is Benjamin Hoff’sThe Tao of Pooh” which explains the concepts through looking at the behaviour of Pooh Bear from the A.A. Milne stories, and is well worth sticking on your birthday or xmas list).

Of all religions and philosophies I’ve looked at, Taoism is the one that has always had the most appeal, although it’s one I find almost impossible to implement.

32 comments:

Mary Witzl said...

I honestly don't think I fall into either camp unless you catch me just after I've been looking at my kids' baby pictures. I have no utopian view of the future, and the past is the past for me, water under the bridge, baby photographs notwithstanding. People who tend to dwell in the past strike me as being rather pitiful, or in some cases, tragic.

My life right now might be as good as it is ever going to get, and this philosophy helps to ground me in the present. Hope for my children -- all children's -- futures pushes me to do my best. And as for the past, I still have those baby pictures.

Brave Astronaut said...

I use to be a school teacher and the curriculum was focused on the countries of Asia, Africa, and Latin America. As a result, I use to teach about the Eastern religions.

At one point I owned the Tao of Pooh (and the Te of Piglet) and found them good touchstones to grab when things were particularly stressful.

I am a list maker. I tend to make lists to plan my life ahead. Whether all the items get done is a completely different story.

I would characterize myself as a "future" dweller. I like to believe the best is yet to come and I try not to look back on decisions made in the past.

Archivalist said...

As an archivist, I'm in the past all day at work. As a Southerner, the past is in my blood (To quote Faulkner: "The past isn't dead. It isn't even past." Said about life in the South.)

As much as I can, I live in the present and try not to literally worry too much about the future. But I have to work at it to not 'live in the past.'

No Longer anonymous said...

I think alot depends on what 's going on in the present When I first got divorced I spent alot of time in the past 6yrs later I'm newly engaged & I spend alot of time in the future, but I think for the most part I'm the type of person who lives in the present. I tend to have a good time wherever I am what ever I'm doing . If you take care of the present the past & the future will take care of themselves !!!

Archie said...

I'm always planning for the future.
I went on vacation quite a few years ago to Nevis, a gorgeous island in the Lesser Antilles, to watch a solar eclipse. Most of my time spent there was a recon mission, scoping it out for a future trip back with the wife and family I had not yet met. My most amazing memory from that trip was being caught in a downpour and finding refuge in a tiny cave on the beach. That hour or so, waiting out the storm, is one of the few times I have been truly immersed in the present. I remember feeling a great understanding of the Tao Te Ching at that moment; now I forget what great enlightening realizations I came to.

ArleneWKW said...

When I was younger, I tended to look towards the future. To a large extent, I was planning, preparing for, and plotting out the years ahead of me. As I've grown older, I tend to live more in the present. Partially, I think, dealing with a critical situation, (my hubby's illness) tends to focus one's energies. Beyond that, as I stand closer to the exit than the entrance, I know that Now is all that I have.

At the philosophical level, I spend (too much) time reflecting on such unknowables as the nature of reality. I can't even imagine what a realistic utopia might look like.

redhead83402 said...

I like to know of my past, so that I can plan for my future, so that I can enjoy my present. :-D

There are some really important lessons to learn from the past.

I also like to work hard in my present, enjoying it, loving it, living it.

But I find that it is quite valuable to be aware of the future, and plan for it, so that when you reach that future present, you will have prepared for it, and made it as enjoyable as possible.

I also think it helps to have a good idea of what your future may hold, or what you want it to hold, so that when you are living your present, you may prepare & make ready for the future.

It helps to have "the big picture" in mind. In fact, that's the cycle of life, really ~ being able to know the past, to mend the future to enjoy the present.
Hence why family, ancestors, and future generations are so very very important.
Just my own thoughts ~
~Red

Sini said...

I live in alternate universes all the time.. ;)

Dr Maroon said...

What a copydog.
You're starting to frighten me. You know all about my solipsism.
I demand a credit.
And it's Tao with a godamned T

Happy and I'm smiling
walk three miles
to drink your water
you know I love to love you
and above you
there's no other
we'll go walking out
while others shout
of wars dis-a-a-aster

Fat Lazy Guy said...

I tend to live in the past. I'm one of those "oh, do you remember back when..." and "those were the days" types. I know I shouldn't be... but that's where I'm at.

Z said...

My mother, in her latter years, took the Eden viewpoint, which made her quite miserable. Good as it is to have happy memories, I would not wish to live in the past.

At one time, because the present was all I could cope with, I was unable to look at the future without anxiety. I wouldn't want to feel like that again, but I recovered from it, in part, by enjoying and appreciating the present.

I think I've always lived in the present (when I was not living through books), but only in the last few years have I done so consciously and with such deliberate pleasure. I look forward too, but not in a starry-eyed Utopian way.

Tom said...

Sorry it's unrelated to this post, but just wanted to say a quick thanks for the words on my blog concerning my son and DS. Appreciate it and look forward to reading more from a fellow philosophy enthusiast.

Kim Ayres said...

Mary - ah, baby photos... so good for embarrassing teenagers

Brave Astronaut - I must admit I didn't enjoy The Te of Piglet much at all. All the way through I kept thinking "This guy should really re-read his other book..."

Archivalist - that's a great quote. In the UK it could have been easily said by someone from Wales

NLA - sounds like you've got life sussed :)

Archie - you jut need to plan to read the Tao Te Ching again in the future, that way you can enjoy it now...

Arlene - I think some illnesses can draw you much more into the present. Certainly when I'm in survival mode, the focus is on getting to the end of the day, and not worrying about tomorrow.

Red - wise words :)

Sini - there's a short story in that somewhere, I'm sure :)

Doc - Of course I know all about your solipsism - the whole of your universe does.

And Jethro Tull? Do you still wear flares under your lycra?

FLG - you're only 21, which is far too young to be living in the past. There's not enough of the past to dwell in. Time to go out and create a new future

Z - Anxiety is all about the future - it is the fear that we will somehow make the wrong decision(s). Living in the present is a way of coping with it.

Kim Ayres said...

Tom - welcome to my ramblings and thanks for taking the time to comment :)

MikeP said...

The Eden position seems like a variant of the Golden Age point of view--"everything was better in the good old days."

Personally, I subscribe to your Utopian theory--make a little progress each day. Which leads me to wonder often that if God did create the world and keeps creating it, why should he stop?

And if he doesn't stop, then the world doesn't ever have to end, and we shouldn't put all our hopes into a heavenly reward at the end.

Eden is the model for heaven.

I guess you are right. The best we can hope for is right here right now.

Stinkypaw said...

interesting post.

I don't really think I have a view of the future as such, and I don't dwell on the past. yes I do remember things, but I tend to enjoy life that life that I have now 'cause who knows what the future holds and I sure wouldn't want to go back.

Sayre said...

I suppose I appreciate my past - not because of particularly wonderful or awful memories, but it did make me who I am now, and I wouldn't change that for anything. And while I plan for the future, I don't dwell on it - who knows if I'll even have one? So while I try to make sure the future is comfortable, I take nothing for granted. The present is absolutely the place where I live the most. One day at a time.

Kanani said...

I agree that it all depends on what's going on now. If things are good, then it's very pleasant to be in the now. If there are financial problems, then there's been a tendency for me to straddle the past and the future and have a tough time being in the present --I think it's called anxiety, no?
Pretty much, I know I'm in a healthier state of mind when I'm only thinking about what's going on now.

Kim Ayres said...

MikeP - ah, well, that debate falls apart if you don't believe in god...

Stinkypaw - if you can stay in the present, I think it's the best place to be... usually...

Sayre - if you wouldn't change yourself, then that's a great place to be :)

Kanani - one of my probems is that quite often the "now" is actually pretty good, but I miss out on it because I'm too busy looking out for what could happen just ahead.

savannah said...

there's an old sufi proverb..."the world ends when i die" for me anyway, so i try to live in the now BUT i also live by "trust in god, but tie your camel"

besides, we all know, everything is mom's fault (that would be me) and crafty little vixen that i am...i'm gonna die before the third scene...

jotcr2 said...

Today it seems that I am just trying to get the housework done. :( Not thinking about much at all, other than looking forward to it being over.

Eryl Shields said...

I have tried too Kim but the block never seems to remain uncarved for long. The demons come out with their hammers and chisels... The present often involves copious amounts of sandpaper to remove their vile designs.

Conan Drumm said...

Hmm, where do heffalumps fit in? He wondered thoughtfully to himself.

fatmammycat said...

I'm a now gal. Thinking about the past is pointless, you can't change it, and the future is just that.

PI said...

I recognise the truth of living in the moment and the older one gets the more one realises how very lucky one was at particular times in one's life. For instance for years we had a cottage in Yorkshire and all the time in the world to do what we wanted and yes for years we just took it for granted.
Inevitably whilst I am writing Past Imperfect I am living in the past but as soon as it's written it's gone again.
The way I have always coped with life is to always have something - no mattter how simple - to look forward to - a break in October - a family lunch in November - Having highlights in my hair .
So juggling all these balls I don't know where I fit in. The story of my life!

michael greenwell said...

don't think i am in either camp either.

i think it is possible to move forward to a better position or move forward to a nightmare scenario and that it is US now, not politicians, that have to do something about it.

Kim Ayres said...

Savannah - I love "trust in god, but tie your camel" - that's a wise one to adopt :)

Jo - Looking to the future then :)

Eryl - you're getting quite poetic in your comments - the storyteller in you is clearly growing stronger

Conan Drumm - a bear of more brain than he lets on, methinks...

FMC - probably the best place to be

Pat - having something to look forward to is always a good idea :)

Michael - is the cup half full, half empty, or twice the size required?

Tara Marie said...

The Tao of Pooh is one of my favorites.

I actually try to live in the present, but realize that I have been carrying around the dead weight of the past. I look to the future at this point, knowing that the only way I am getting there is by embracing today.

:0)

Kanani said...

Good lord! I almost posted a response on that Chronic Psoriasis ad that appears between your posts!

Kim Ayres said...

Tara Marie - it never ceases to amaze me how much of the past we carry around with us, weighing us down without realising it

Kanani - I have no control over the ads - not that I generate vast amounts of revenue from them - about $5 a year at the current rate. At the moment it's telling me about delicious recipies and how to spice up MySpace pages

Carole said...

I hope I don't live in the past, it wasn't pretty. I don't live much in the future either, and unfortunately I don't pay enough attention to the present. My next purchase will be The Tao of Pooh on your recommendation. I just watched "The Peaceful Warrior" on DVD and although it doesn't state it, I wonder if the belief the writer endorses is Tao. Good stuff.

Kim Ayres said...

I've not heard of "The Peaceful Warrior" - I'll keep an eye out for it. "The Tao of Pooh" is a great read and I'm sure you'll enjoy it :)