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The Tinkered Mind
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March 9th, 2019
It’s unclear what exactly has given us our imaginative abilities, but what is clear is how ruthlessly such abilities dominate our experience. Often our mental space is inundated with dreams about the future, or nostalgia for the past. Each tendency has at its core some feeling that we felt or hope to feel again. We morn the passing of such circumstances that gave us this sense of feeling and we hamster-wheel our way towards future circumstances that we think will bring about this wonderful feeling again.
We can all picture someone sitting on a beach with a wonderful body, in the lap of luxury with a brow furrowed as they angrily tap away at a phone. Perhaps we have even been fortunate enough to have this unfortunate experience of being miserable while engrossed in a lovely circumstance.
Certainly no one would disagree that this disconnect is rampant in our experience of life. And yet the follow-up question that should naturally arise from such an observation rarely intercedes on the way we operate in any meaningful or long-lasting way:
Is it not our perspective in the given moment that defines the moment more than the circumstances in which we find ourselves?
Certainly this must be the case. And yet, do we spend as much time and as many resources developing our perspective as we do on destination vacations?
One of these options certainly sounds way easier. Pick a place. Spend the money. Done.
Develop a perspective? This is far less concrete and certainly not something that is easily or smoothly purchased if such a thing can be purchased at all. This begins to sound like real work and what could be more antithetical to a destination vacation? The point is to not work.
The funny allusion here is that something that doesn’t work: is broken, which begs the same question about our perspective. Do we have broken perspectives?
If our perspective seems hellbent on paying attention to anything other than the present moment, perhaps it is broken. Such a wayward focus certainly doesn’t help with execution, learning, or the subject at hand: enjoying life as it happens.
The problem here becomes even more twisted if we recognize that the future and the past don’t actually exist. We cannot go retrieve them in the same way that other existing things can be experienced. Our experience of the past is really an imperfect memory. What actually exists is some combination and path of neuronal fire. The future is exactly the same thing: some novel and changing combination of neuronal fire. The past only really existed as the present moment, and if the future happens, it will only be experienced as the present moment. Both the past and the future are really just different ways of thinking about the present. We are indeed daydreaming about the present moment when we are wrapped up in thoughts about the past or the future, all the while missing the actual present moment.
Of course there is benefit to conceptualizing the future and reflecting on the past: doing so has helped us create the modern world. But spending too much time exercising this conceptual ability robs us of another ability: to invoke a sense of calm and equanimity and simply enjoy the present moment, no matter what the circumstance.
Chances are the saving fund for the next vacation should be put aside and the time should be used for a different kind of work, one that begins to answer the question: how do I develop my perspective and my attention so that I can enjoy the gift of being alive in the present moment.
Indeed, the present is the only gift we can really enjoy.
Best to stop daydreaming about it, and figure out how to relax and
let it happen.