Today, I sat with a friend under a tattered brewery umbrella and talked about all the wonderful things we hope to do in the future. And as our conversation began to focus more and more on what we eventually desired in life, I found myself thinking one of those rather morbid thoughts that are also, sadly, true:
I will never reach the future.
How sad, I thought. I will never be able to do all of the things that I want to do. I will never be able to marry the person of my dreams in 10 years, or plant the garden full of hibiscus that I envision in my future home, or manifest my naively optimistic answer to the “where do you want to be in 5 years?” interview question.
I have plans to adopt a puppy that I am plainly unfit to take care of. These plans will never happen in the future. At least, according to the existential crisis unfolding in the middle of my lunch break.
The future does not exist. The future will never exist. All that will ever exist is the present. All that will ever exist in time is the moment we find ourselves in RIGHT NOW. Or…next Tuesday at 4 during your coffee break. But it’s still the in future until it happens. And it probably won’t actually happen the way you think it will. So don’t get coffee next Tuesday at 4. Or sure, go ahead and do it, but it won’t be the real until it actually happens as you stand in front of the coffee machine, and when it happens, it’s now the present. Not the future. So the “future” you getting a caffeine jolt on your last leg at work was never going to exist. But the present, caffeinated version of what you thought of as your caffeinated self does exist. In the present.
And still, almost all of our present endeavors are aimed at the phantom and inaccessible future. Our endeavors will take place in this future, in order to lead to a better future, and so on.
We have whole parts of the human experience that are planned around the effects they might have on a future, whether it be our future or someone else’s future or the future of the job we have. Even inconsequential futures, that, even when they do exist, won’t really matter all that much. Namely, when I looked at the calamari in front of me and wondered what its future would be like if I didn’t finish it. That was the comic relief to break up my mid-meal there-is-no-future-only-the-present existential crisis.
I am fearful of this reality. I am terrified of focusing my entire life on a comfortable future that will never come, at least not with any certainty. I know that I will take all the necessary steps, professional and personal, to secure a “future” that aligns with how I want to spend the rest of my “presents.” And all with the afflictive guilt about the disdain I have for doing these things, because most people in this world will never have the opportunities that I do, right in front of me.
We live our lives in absence of presence. Our happiness in the present relies entirely upon whether or not we have maximized the likelihood of having happiness in the future. We could, if we chose to, live our lives with clarity and lucid awareness. We could, if we chose to, inhabit our existence. But we don’t. And it’s not necessarily because we choose not to, we just don’t know how to make the choice to do it.
I wrote in one of my former pieces of my recent attentiveness to authentic human connection. What I desire, what my soul actually craves, is to experience human connection in the most unhindered and perfect way I can. And I am realizing now that it is impossible to experience human connection in the way I want to if I live my life focusing on what seems to be to be a hallucination of time derived from our productivity obsessed age.
But, I have, in addition to the knowledge I’ve expressed above, a practical understanding that living life in disregard of the days to come is unwise. Even stupid. So I’ve decided to take this overwhelming feeling of fear and awareness and desire for something phantom, and write about it, and what I want to do about it, in the hopes of clarifying my own thoughts. This is what I’ve come up with.
I’ll continue to read and write about what the future might hold, and I’ll continue to question myself relentlessly. I’ll continue to sing jazz because it stops time. I’ll continue looking for a path that looks like it has a good “present” at the end of it. But it’s the not-manifested present that I’ll chase. Not the future.
I’ll start to pay attention to the things that keep me alive. I’ll notice more intently to the way certain music gives me the shivers and I’ll look more closely at the map of the world on my wall because it gives me a sense of peace. I’ll stop looking at the time and wondering when I should stop writing this. I’ll let myself feel things that make my head spin and leave me, for once, with no words to describe them. I’ll stop ignoring the way my heart beats out of my chest every time I get overwhelmed by my constantly racing mind.
I will let myself accept the butterflies in my heart and the madness in my brain and sacrifice my preparations for the future in order to follow them.
After all, they tell us to listen to our hearts for a reason.
Who knows what might happen when we actually do?