This morning while on a walk with my father, I asked him innocently ‘how are you similar to your parents?’. He paused at first, and then shared characteristics, qualities and beliefs that were very much his parents, my grandparents, and that he has identified with, and carried with him, throughout his life.
I then asked him ‘how are you different from your parents?’. His pause was longer this time. After deeper reflection on this second question, he shared choices that he has made in life that his parents did not make, and beliefs that he developed that did not come from his parents.
This line of questioning from me was initially motivated to highlight for my father how because he is both similar yet different than his parents, I too am both similar yet different than my parents. And that will include me making different choices, at times, then they would or did. He understood what I was getting at.
What followed was a long moment of silence, where words did not need to be exchanged, as we both absorbed this insight. It was then that a deeper meaning to this insight surfaced for me.
If his parents are a representation of the past, then he is a representation of the present, and I am a representation of the future.
The present is similar in some ways, yet different in other ways, to the past. The present is not an exact copy of what was, yet still connected to the past in some ways, but not all ways.
The future will be similar in some ways yet different in other ways, to the present. The future will not be an exact copy of what currently is, yet will be still connected to the present in some ways, but not all ways.
The future will not be like the past.
The human condition is to assume that the future will be like the past. Not because the past is better or worse, but because it is known. The human condition is to take comfort in the known, regardless of what it is filled with. The human condition is to feel discomfort with uncertainty, even if the uncertainty might bring a better future than the present.
The extrapolation of the past into the future happens so effortlessly for me that it is unconscious. When I pause for a moment and invite curiosity and awareness about how my mind unconsciously drags the past into the future, the evidence is abundant.
When I had a knee injury a few years ago, I felt agitated, concerned and distracted by it. I assumed that I would always have a knee injury. I believed that it was permanent, and that scared me.
When choosing stocks to buy, I automatically gravitate towards stocks that have been rising and avoid stocks that have been declining. I assume that if they have been going up, they of course will continue to go up, and vice versa. I assume that the past is a predictor of the future.
When I build a revenue forecast for my business, it is relatively easy and convenient to create formulas in a spreadsheet. I assume that the business will continue on the same trajectory as it has. There is little space in my mind for the possibility that the future might be drastically different than the past. I assume it will only be marginally different, of course only in ways that are to my liking.
When I interact with the people who are in my life regularly, be it family and friends, or clients and colleagues, I assume they are as they were, and treat them accordingly. Again, there is little space in my mind to see them as any different than I have previously.
When I am faced with the lack of mobility due to current pandemic precautions, I feel frustrated because I assume that they are permanent. It feels like Groundhog Day at times, with the same story on repeat each day.
In all of these cases, I have extrapolated the past into the future. However when I look a little more closely, I begin to uncover pockets of space within the perceived permanence, or blind beliefs, to play and explore. I start to see how I am adaptable, beyond my own awareness.
The reality is that everything changes. Absolutely everything.
Change is uncomfortable, even when that change brings desired, positive and wanted benefits. It is for this reason that the default programming of my mind is to assume that things will be as they are, or as they were.
The agitation, stress or anxiety that I feel in my mind is when I become attached to something that will change.
When I assume that the challenge or obstacle in front of me is permanent, I begin to react to the idea that it is permanent. I have now lost any connection to my present reality and I am living in some fictional future that I fear.
When I assume that the future will be like the past, and when it turns out not to be, I am disappointed, discouraged or disheartened. I expect reality to be different than how it is, and now that I see it is not as I expect, I struggle to accept it.
If I look closely at whatever, or whoever, I believe is a source of agitation present in my life, and take a moment to see how it will change, I no longer feel agitated by it. I cannot be agitated by anything, or anyone, once I truly understand that it is not permanent.
I can then begin to accept reality as it is, not as I desire it to be, as I understand that this reality will change. I may not know when or how, however I do not need to. I trust my inner wisdom, a deeper knowing, that nothing is permanent.
It is in this wisdom that I learn to find peace in the present. My life exists only in the present, the past is gone and the future is a fabrication of my mind. Nothing is permanent.