(December 11th, 2011)
Life gets so very busy at times. A week can go by, sometimes even a month or two, and you suddenly realize that some event that you once considered to be immediately recent is now almost entirely lost into the past, sometimes inconclusively muddled into the rest of the surrounding depths. You might have trouble recalling what day some remembered event happened on, or what other events of the same timeframe were. They become a blur, now mixing with ever-more-recent events continuing to confuse things. You lose track of the individual moments, of the complicated mesh of factors which constantly work to make you who you are, make your decisions what they are, make your life what it is. But we must realize that our existence in this world is due entirely to the ever-playing-out unfolding of the sum of all of the moments of our past. Every single intertwining thread of your personal history, unimaginably complicated in its interweaving with those of every person you’ve ever had influence with, imposes its role on the present. The being you are is utterly, fundamentally made up by the being you have been, and this being you have been is entirely abstract, compounded by the passing of each and every single moment as they pass by ever-fleetingly into the perpetually growing collection of your memories.
But you cannot look upon the past as a meaningfully continuous, unbroken assessment of influences on the present. Your past is fragmented, broken and scattered (unless you are an exceedingly rare case who can seemingly remember everything) across your notion of time so much that it’s often difficult even to gauge the time difference between two events you know (for whatever that’s worth) must have occurred in close proximity. So many of them get twisted up among themselves, and it may take a directed, powerful conscious effort to recall enough details to place a meaningful correlation upon one such event in respect to any others.
Rather than a reel or stream of video able to be accessed at your leisure, the influences of your past make up a sort of collection of discrete luminous points against otherwise utter black nothingness. Because you won’t remember everything... black nothingness reaches out to swallow up everything that is not somehow committed to permanent recallable memory. This is what’s behind you, if you were to consider yourself as a point on a sort of lifelong timeline. These discrete, luminous points against the all-encompassing blackness are your memories of the past, some nearer to the “present” and some much more clear and distinct than the rest despite their varying time-distances, and therefore brighter, more distinguishable. Around you, then, everything in clear focus beside you is your present—unhindered by distance, at least within the extreme recent past, and able to be viewed in all of its immediately considerable glory. And in front of you are mere projections, ultimately indistinguishable in their haziness, exponentially more so as the projections increase in forward-time-distance, but sometimes clear enough to grasp a future you may have considerable control over bringing about.
You stand at the center of this thought experiment. Time is a river, ever-flowing past your rooted position, forever working to glide each moment smoothly past you into the swallowing blackness of the past. Yet because you possess this remarkable faculty to recall events, those which flow behind your immediate vicinity are not necessarily lost forever—they may become luminous points, positioned somewhere behind you among all of the complexity that is your past experience, and are then able to be recalled at will. But not all—not even an appreciable fraction of all—of the events which flow behind you take on such a form. Most of them flow right past and meld into the utter blackness so fully that they will likely never be recalled again. Those that do not share this fate, those that take on their luminous positions against this encroaching blackness, are usually those which are most worthy of this honor. They were somehow more meaningful than the rest which failed to attain such status, most likely because of an emotional tie or any number of such personal significances. Perhaps all memories, every single moment, is assigned a space into this blackness, but might be so vanishingly faint that no amount of effort will ever fully recall. Regardless, those which take their place above the threshold of conscious recollection, bright enough to be seen when you turn around to look, are by definition those which will have the power to remind you of where you came from, what being you have been and therefore what being you are and what being you have the power to become.
Filtered in this way, those memories which somehow survive the passage into meaningful luminescence will take their place amidst the surrounding blackness and other such “survivors”. Some will even work further; they will constellate themselves into meaningful groupings which will then yield even further insights, multiplied by their cooperation. Negative memories will provide for you recollections of mistakes or other such reinforcements of an event which could hopefully have some sort of insight gleaned from them. You can use them to avoid similar recurrences. Positive memories will remind you of things you did right, or things that happened to play out favorably, and in turn will help to shape your present attitude so as to create more such favorable points. Ultimately, you want each moment to flow by you on its way to take its place as a brightly shining, positively reinforcing memory to be recalled when its relevance will serve you positively.
They say it’s dangerous to dwell on the past… doing so hinders your progress, eats up your focus which could be better spent dealing with the ever-present present and planning for an effective future. But an effective future is, in all likelihood, going to be achieved through an effective understanding of the past. Those luminous points shining so brightly behind you are forever there for you to analyze. They most likely hold the most profitable keys to a successful future, especially if you can see them for the ways in which they may relate to a current situation, how they might be constellated into a collective meaning, but even when this is not obvious the more happy memories among them will always work to remind you of fortunes you once held within your grasp, times which were once being experienced in a long-lost present. They may yet hold secrets to blissful fortunes you would otherwise overlook in constant consideration of the present/future. The goal, clearly, is to develop an effective balance of past, present and future considerations. But it often seems to me to be the case (and I hope I’m wrong!) that the past is the first one consciously dropped, unfortunately, in favor of the alternatives.
A busy life is not unlike a massively populated city, so crowded with people and buildings and lights that most of the incredible starry night sky is shrouded in its own produced glare. People go about their lives, of course living, physically, entirely within the present, but their probing minds may not reach far in any other direction because of this convoluted mess always stealing away their attention. The vast majority of the bright points of light standing out among the rest of the mind-numbingly black sky are drowned out entirely and people don’t even stop to realize that there are countless more beautiful stars lighting up the blackness, staring them in the face if they would only take some time to separate themselves from such unrelenting focus on the present and just take in some of the wonder that is just outside the reach of their typical lifestyles.
If you’ve ever looked at the sky far enough away from any electrically populated area then you probably noticed the utter, almost indescribable vastness of the night sky as practically uncountable numbers of stars were made apparent to your unaccustomed eyes. It’s absolutely incredible, I believe, as few times as I’ve seen such a sight myself (and I certainly hope to see it many more times in the future!), and yet is almost entirely overlooked within the daily routines of the vast majority of the people on (largely civilized portions of) the planet today. Today’s modern world, with all of its widespread electricity bringing us the wonders of artificial light, heat, internet, refrigeration, gaming, and the like, often neglects to remind us of the difficult stages we’ve been through. So caught up in our modern technology, bringing us our superior artificial light and entertainment, we sometimes lose sight of the enormous scales of time in which such luxuries were not possible because of the available resources and knowledge. Long ago, people saw such sights every single night (discounting clouds and such). Of course the modern luxuries would not be possible without the struggles and the breakthroughs of the past, and they are inherently meaningful to us all because of this fact, but even so we tend to discount the matter entirely when current stresses and trials call much of our attention to the present, into the glare.
The intense glare of the present moment tends to far outshine the past, even where it is directly related to the very well-being of that which we hold so dear to our present lifestyle, because we see it as it is and tend to believe that the struggles of the past—however tightly they may have been intertwined with the luxuries of the present—are gone, and only worth fleeting consideration when such a thing is forced upon us. But set aside some amount of time, such as a carefree weekend (as many do when they get the chance), and go and enjoy the uncomplicated luxuries of a relaxing camping trip, or some such trip, spent far enough away from modern civilization that you can truly appreciate the incredibly vast sight that awaits you when you gaze upon a clear night sky. Even when you are looking upon the clear night sky in all of its unsheltered glory, you could probably assign every single star in the sky a memory of your past and not even come close to exhausting the entire “library” your mind has at its disposal. There certainly aren’t enough constellations in the typically recognized assortment to map out all the complicated connections.
Our personal lives are like that, in a way. So caught up in our present moments, so engulfed in all of our modern habits and technologies, we tend to lose sight of the awesome complexities of our past lives which may hold untold fortunes for our present and future potentials if we were to give them proper consideration. They get lost in the glare of all of this modernity. But those starry points are there, even if you do not see them currently. Take a few steps back, and some time to devote to careful consideration, and they should make their way back into the sky as the glare of your overwhelming present subsides for a time. Do this occasionally. Remember your roots. Each of us has much to learn.
Each of us can be considered a similar, though wildly uncomplicated, model of humanity—just as we have so much to learn for ourselves, from ourselves, so humanity has much to learn for itself… from itself. What is available to be remembered of the past is, by far, the most effective way to indulge this necessity. Because things done wrong can be perfected, and things done right can be repeated… because we remember. Because we have the capacity to look back upon an event long past, recognize its brightly shining light so much like a beacon upon the utter blackness of the rest of the past, and devote our time and our consideration to its usefulness. Because the past is forever entangled within the present, and realizing this and seizing this phenomenon for all its worth opens up untold windows into the best possible futures—both for you, and anyone, as individuals, and for humankind as a whole.
The starlit blackness of the past is our only true guide into the hazy unknown of the inexorable future. THE BEST IS YET TO COME.