Wednesday, May 30, 2012

The Present Future

To live in the moment, or worry about tomorrow?  Live like there’s no tomorrow, or spend today planning for contingencies?  Make the most out of the present, or hold back because there is a future?

I never realized it, but it finally hit me that these are the questions that I’ve consistently struggled with for years and years.  Now don’t get me wrong.   I do understand that there are no hard and fast rules here; that most of you would say that it all depends on the situation.  But I suspect that people can be grouped according to those two tendencies:  those who, for the most part, truly live in the present and take each day as they come, versus those who perpetually think of the future, living their lives in anticipation of what may happen, whether good or bad.  

Should I get married now or wait until I’m completely ready and all the pieces are in place? 

Do I spend money decorating my house as I see fit, or do I hold off because I’m not sure that money will be enough for future emergencies? 

Should I enjoy this romantic relationship for which I am completely passionate about even though I am uncertain of its future, or quit while I’m still ahead, while my heart is still intact?

Is this the time to quit the job that’s been making me unhappy, or wait some more until the perfect opportunity presents itself? 

Should I really go on that vacation that I have always dreamed of and can finally afford now, or wait some more until I truly have enough savings for rainy days? 

At some point, you may have found yourself struggling with such questions and I imagine that the resolution was not always quick and painless.

In 1995, one of my best friends introduced me to Alan Lightman’s magical novel “Einstein’s Dreams” and it has remained one of my absolute favorites.  As I’m plagued with these existential questions, I am reminded of this masterpiece.  Here is an excerpt to further illustrate my angst:

"...In fact, this is a world without future.  In this world, time is a line that terminates at the present, both in reality and in the mind.  In this world, no person can imagine the future.  Imagining the future is no more possible than seeing colors beyond violet:  the senses cannot conceive what may lie past the visible end of the spectrum.  In a world without future, each parting of friends is a death.  In a world without future, each loneliness is final.  In a world without future, each laugh is the last laugh.  In a world without future, beyond the present lies nothingness, and people cling to the present as if hanging from a cliff.

A person who cannot imagine the future is a person who cannot contemplate the results of his actions.  Some are thus paralyzed into inaction…..Others leap out of bed in the morning, unconcerned that each action leads into nothingness, unconcerned that they cannot plan out their lives.  They live moment to moment, and each moment is full." (Einstein’s Dreams, pp. 130-131)

As I read those words, I am overcome with such pangs of desire to be like one who does not really care how the future unfolds, or if there is even one to consider.  Part of me always wants to throw all caution to the wind and just live no matter how irresponsibly, carelessly.  Unfortunately, (or fortunately?), I have always been a ‘planner’.  The irony in all this is that though ‘planners’ would like to believe they are able to control the future, it is actually them (us) who are held prisoners and are controlled.

Do you know which group you belong to?