The future, distractions, and Gilbert O'Sullivan
Every day we are immersed in an unspoken and ubiquitous pressure to maximize the efforts of today in order to ensure, or in the hopes of, the stability of the future. Since the Agrarian Revolution, when human beings began purposely cultivating food and ultimately leading to civilization as we know it, the assumption that the future will be better than the present has been a part of how we orient to life. In modernity, this has translated into capitalism, investment, industrialization, and eventually the rise of pollution, countless forms of ecological devastation, and a sharp decline in the variety of cultures and languages. Assumptions, beliefs, desires, and ideas about the future have and continue to drive how we live our lives. Although the future may seem like a nebulous far-off place, but it is directly linked to us in every moment.
We might look at the landscape of today with solemnity or regret for past times we lived, or might have lived, when water flowed clear and humanity was less poisoned by greed and hubris. We might recoil from the challenges of today, witnessing clashes of ideas, opinions, attitudes, and actions, bracing ourselves against the impact of extreme political and environmental tumult. We might dare to dream in honest hopes of realizing the prayers and struggles of our ancestors. We might envision a world made whole embracing the wisdom of lessons learned, and hard earned victories against ignorance and oppression. We might celebrate the day, knowing that joy is the most powerful expression of gratitude in the midst of uncertainty, hopelessness, and confusion. But we would be wise to ask, how best can we make use of this life that we are living amidst all that has or might be.
It may be painful or challenging to be present with our own life, and therefore the world that surrounds us, and that's okay. We are living in a time when the capacity to distract ourselves is available in abundance. When we are distracted, we temporarily numb the hurt and pain of being vulnerable to life, and all the things that impact us as an ordinary human being. It is unreasonable, and unnecessary to suggest that we should attempt to be totally present with life all the time. Some parts of life really suck. A lot. Distraction may "take the edge off" and allow us the opportunity to regroup, refocus, and re-approach our lives with freshness. However we must be wise and practice compassion with ourselves in order to accurately understand when "checking out" because life does not stop even when we don't pay attention, as we know.
Our actions, or lack of actions, determine the experience of our life. We may not choose what happens in our life, but we can work with our conditioned point of view. This is the invisible and uncomfortable work of all mindfulness traditions. The dominant culture that distracts and reinforces the desire to avoid discomfort and seek pleasure robs us of our agency and the potential for love, contentment, and real joy in life. Cultivating and practicing humility can be a supreme path to devotion to being present with life, and therefore free, capable, and of potent loving service to the world.
Maybe everything written before this sentence was too confusing or poetic, so I'll be as clear as I can from here:
The bridge to the future is built, not of ideas, dreams, hopes, intentions, beliefs or desires, but from earnest and sincere attention to the present. Actions that emerge from our willingness to meet the conditions of the present with humility and an understanding of our shared Earth-bound lives have the potential to create conditions of prosperity, equity, and compassion.
Here are some more thoughts on how to approach the future.
Inspired by Gilbert O'Sullivan's song "Too Much Attention"