The Present over The Past and The Future

The present.  It would seem obvious that we all live in the present.  Without the aid of time travel it is impossible for us to live in the past or the future.  However, many people try.

The past provides a warm comfortable blanket.  It is known.  The comfort the past provides assuages the discomfort of the present where things are changing to things we don’t want and frankly scare us.  People are able to pick the things from the past that they want to not only remember but relive.

People look back at the past and at history as the good old days because they choose to remember only the good things from the past.  Those things that make them feel safe and comfortable.  They run from the present because the bad things, the things they fear, the things that cause pain cannot be avoided in the present.  They can avoid those things in the past by choosing the past to remember selectively.

Where the past provides warm comfort, the future provides bright hope.  Because the future is unknown and it obviously has not occurred, it can be whatever it is we want it to be.  You can be anything or anyone in the future.

We bathe in the light of the hope of the future because our present is too hard and too full of pain.  People hope for a better day, a better time, a point when all the pain is gone and the end result shows the reason for all the suffering that came before.   It shows the reasons for the present pain.

Looking to the past or the future are not bad things in and of themselves.  As long as one learns from history and takes comfort in hope in order to experience and enjoy the present, they are not bad.  Our problems come when we let the past and the future take precedence over the now.

I have been reading Alan Watts recently and that is a great deal of what he wrote about.  He believed that one of our greatest modern problems was the fear of pain and how that keeps us from living in the present.  People retreat into the known past or flee towards the unknown future to avoid pain and find happiness.  Watts wrote that in order to find true happiness one must stay present even in the face of great pain and fear.  To almost embrace the pain and fear as part of yourself and move through them, only then can you find true happiness.

The present is what the artist and the critic both strive for in their work.  The artist struggles to create something that will speak to the present moment the work is being enjoyed in whether it be today, tomorrow, or a hundred years from now.  He is trying to construct something that has resonance as long as it exists.  Hamlet is not important simply because Shakespeare wrote it.  Hamlet is important because the core messages and issues it deals with still resonate with people.  It is timeless.

Critics also seek the timeless.  Critics try to do two things.  First, they try to capture that initial moment of joy or disgust in their writing like a fly being caught in amber.  They are trying to capture that thing that makes the work important to their time.  Second, they must then pivot and try express why that thing that makes it important in their time also makes a work timeless.

I found Watts’ books and writings at a point when my this year’s New Year’s resolution was simple:  Be more present.  I found his work and the works of others thanks to the website brainpickings.org which has quickly become one of my favorite sites and certainly my most welcome tweets during the day.  If you like smart, literate, and interesting you should really check it out.

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