0124 – Stop living in the past

I was watching one of Jon Kabat-Zinn’s videos about mindfulness and meditation, and he talked about how we often spend our time fixated on the past or the future, instead of living in the now. He’s totally right, of course, and I’m especially guilty of it.

Idealizing or worrying about the future unnecessarily is a form of escapism. I’m going to do this and that when I finally get rich, I’m going to travel to all these places, read all these books… it’s great if I take concrete, actionable steps towards making them happen, but otherwise they’re just there as a sort of coffeetable display, to communicate what I want to be perceived as. It’s wasteful. One should keep one’s identity small. It’s a less laborious, stressful way to live. Who am I? Don’t know! How do I want to be perceived? It doesn’t matter! All that matters is now, and how I can live kindly, compassionately, skillfully.

I don’t really worry about the future too much. I’ve always been guilty of thinking that the future will kind of take care of itself, in the “as long as I’m breathing I’m doing okay” kinda way. I tend to worry about the short-term future- what happens when people find out that I’m a fraud? What happens when people realize what a horrible person I am? What will happen when I’m revealed as unreliable, irresponsible, and I lose everything? That’s something I worry about when I’m not careful.

But I don’t worry about the long-term future too much. I acknowledge the possibility of illness and random unexpected catastrophes- I tend to rehearse in my head for deaths in the family and such… but hey, ultimately the heat death of the universe is going to claim us all, wipe out every last remnant of everything that ever existed. So it doesn’t make sense to worry too much.

Ultimately what matters is that we’re able to live with ourselves, the decisions we make… it’s a matter of working with our biology, isn’t it? Riding on the waves of our breaths. That’s what life is about. We don’t yet have the full ability to remake ourselves entirely, so we have to work with what we have, while we have it. It’s a little bit depressing to think about how future generations might have opportunities that we can’t even dream of, but hey, our predecessors would’ve said the same thing about us, and life is a ridiculously, improbably precious gift as it is, anyway. It’s so easy to feel all self-important and entitled. I have access to food, shelter, water and an internet connection, which puts me ahead of billions of people in the world. I don’t have any right to bitch. Or, more sensibly, even if I COULD bitch, it wouldn’t achieve anything. This is the hand I’m dealt- how do I play it well?

Something like that. I don’t take much action about my few worries for the future (I need to save more money, I need to get better insurance coverage, stuff like that). But I don’t take much action about anything, period- which is something I want to work on fixing at this stage in my life. The sooner the better.

I don’t think I overly romanticize the past, or dwell upon it too much, but there’s something about the past that bugs me in a way that the future doesn’t. I feel like there are things about the past that I need to dig up, dust off and talk about. I feel like there are lessons in there that I have learnt that I haven’t quite articulated fully, and that reflecting on my past will give me valuable perspectives and insights. This has been something that I’ve been carrying on my shoulder ever since… I think National Service. I think the past can and should be mined for insight. Sometimes you think you’ve thought about a certain period of your life enough, but new experiences and perspectives open up new avenues of inquiry- you can look back on old conflicts and re-interpret them, and see things that you might have missed before.

The goal of all of this, ultimately, is to live better in the now. To make better decisions. To trip up less. To ride more comfortably on the breath. What surprises me, on hindsight? What were the mistakes I was making? What were the biases that I was suffering from? What went wrong, where could I have done better, and how do I use those insights to interpret the present and realize what sort of mistakes I must be making right now?

I think I have a rough idea- now really ought to be the most prolific period of my life, in terms of shit-work or schlep. It might not be the most insightful, the most clever, the most useful material imaginable, but I should be working my butt off to produce as much as I possibly can now… because my output is only going to diminish in the future. The more I write now, the more I will reap later, with interest. That’s a mistake I made over and over again in the past. I absolutely squandered my holidays, as well as my little pockets of free time. If I ever had some sort of unfair advantage over my peers, I sincerely believe it stemmed from the vast amount of reading I was doing. I read every night until I fell asleep, and I’d read books everywhere I went- on the bus (constantly missing my stop), and even at family occasions. I think I need to get back into that.

I should also be meeting people regularly, while I’m still young. I should be building relationships now, while I still have energy. I should be exercising more, so that I age more gracefully and am less likely to be impeded by my health.

I really started this vomit with an intention of analysing my past. I was thinking of maybe going through my NS experiences, or my secondary school experiences. I also want to be exploring ideas about procrastination, work-aversion, laziness, etc. I think I will attempt to do them in tandem. Maybe I’ll do it chronologically. Either way, what matters is that I keep writing a little bit everyday. Writing is going to be my competitive advantage a decade from now.

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