The Year That Was
Guest writer Christopher Kiely takes on the important task of the review of 2022 with his blog post: “The Year That Was.”
I was asked to write a “year in review” type reflection piece for the end of the year. As you can tell it is now past the end of 2022 and no such piece was produced. Instead, I pondered and wondered and debated and did all the usual writer’s block prolonging techniques that I have perfected over the years. If there was a market for such knowledge, I could write a book!
The problem is, I take this lesson to heart, elucidated by many but perhaps most succinctly by Buddha:
“Do not dwell in the past, do not dream of the future, concentrate the mind on the present moment.”
2022 was a challenging year for me and many of my friends and acquaintances, and unfortunately for many people I know 2023 is continuing to provide challenges even in its nascent state. Sitting around pondering the past and predicting the future are intrinsically intwined human behaviours and this time of year when our calendar flip urges us to reflect and consider past and future there is no shortage of such behaviour. There is also no shortage of depression and anxiety surrounding this time of year.
As Lao Tzu pointed out:
“If you are depressed you are living in the past. If you are anxious you are living in the future. If you are at peace you are living in the present.”
That is some of our oldest written human wisdom right there, often repeated throughout millennia. Yet we persist in our mind-wanderings into fictional futures and misrepresented pasts, ignoring the reality of the present for the dream images of the past or the imaginative dilemmas of invented futures. We have become consumed with such things in our culture. Tearing down symbols of our past while making plans and predictions about our future based on ill-conceived computational models. We spend remarkably little time in the present. Perhaps if we did, we would solve our more “present problems” such as homelessness and poverty rather than trying to right past injustices (a fool’s errand) or get to Mars in an EV spaceship (a fool’s goal).
Time is a glittering light for most of us. A shiny beacon we can hardly take our eyes off or shift our mind from. It is all around us, on our phones, on our wrists, on our walls, glowing from billboards and signalled at quarter hours by bells and cuckoos. Yet we don’t even really know what it is. We can explain it chronologically, “time is the continued sequence of existence… blahblahblah”. But where does it go when we sleep, when we no longer perceive it and its best-friend space? It becomes an illusion.
As my best-friend I never met Alan Watts points out:
“We are living in a culture entirely hypnotized by the illusion of time, in which the so-called present moment is felt as nothing but an infinitesimal hairline between a causative past and an absorbingly important future. We have no present. Our consciousness is almost completely preoccupied with memory and expectation. We do not realize that there never was, is, nor will be any other experience than present experience. We are therefore out of touch with reality.”
“Out of touch with reality” is how more and more of us are beginning to see the world we live in. At least those of us that have broken away from the institutional propaganda we have been conditioned to accept as our past, present and future. These are the people I write for. Those of us that have deeply felt the absurdity of it all. This is not something you can explain or convince someone of, much like faith, proselytizing to the nonbelievers is typically futile and it requires the same “knowing as a feeling” as opposed to rational thinking, in a world where rational thought is governed by that which you perceive as part and parcel of the absurdity.
So, I don’t spend too much time recalling the past or gazing toward an uncertain future, a terrible person to ask to write a “year in review” piece. But not the worst person to provide some trite rehashed “New Year’s Wisdom” you can discard with your new gym membership in a few months? Perhaps. We’re going to give ’er a go regardless.
Living purely in the moment is a nice notion, suitable for monks and bong-smoking couch dwellers. One can disappear into such existence if one chooses a devoutly ascetic life. Most of us are not conditioned to such a lifestyle however and, illusion or not, must actively participate in time. Appointments are made, meetings scheduled, future KPIs, goals and objectives are set. We are flooded with past data, asked to recall and recollect, urged to review past earnings and performance. It is easy to lose that “infinitesimal hairline” of reality when one actively participates in the absurdity. But actively participate we should and often must!
Where then do we find the time for the present, for the moment, for the now? Remember in school when you were told not to daydream? They lied to you.
As our good friend Albert Camus counters:
“Imagination offers people consolation for what they cannot be and humor for what they actually are.”
Imagination allows us to escape Lao Tzu’s “anxiety” and “depression” of time. It places us in the creative now and, contrary again to what we have been taught, creativity requires no great technique beyond the ability to daydream. The institutional ideas and standards for creativity are housed in systems and techniques (music, photography, oil painting, sculpture, etc.…) that one must train and develop. To connect to the present moment, many people and organizations preach the need for meditation or “mindfulness” never confessing the difficulty or even discord some may find in the practice, especially initially. But the pay off for creativity needs no marble statue or voluminous published works, one can be the crafter of epic works in their mind, the benefit of the imagination, of the exercising of creativity is the same, regardless of tactile outcomes. And connecting to the present moment does not require the quiet undisturbed still-mindedness of a Zen master.
The mind can be allowed to wander, to question and create on its own, the need to silence it is overstated. Discovering the mind is just like your lungs, and one can actively think as they actively breath or leave both the breathing and thinking to natural impulses we don’t directly control, or understand, is the real secret to “mindfulness”. By understanding your thinking is not you and letting it flow rather than trying to cling to thoughts, one can develop a contemplative imaginative creativity that has no technique beyond the manifestations of one’s own mind and use that to manifest profound change in their lives. Getting lost in imagination, creating in your mind the things you want to see, hear, do, be; whether they are works that have associated technique or not, (this is your imagination after all and no systems or techniques are required), is a powerful place to be. In that place, a place all of us knew the directions to when we were young, lies the current moment, and as close as we get to “reality”. Love and peace are only found in this moment, there is no past or future love and peace that is real, only the love and peace of the “now” is felt. This is why they condition imagination out of us and attempt to place it behind a wall of institutionally approved techniques.
This year I hope you are all able to shift your focus and avoid the depression of misremembered pasts and anxiety of speculative futures to find that “infinitesimal hairline” and spend some time there each day, whether in mindfulness or imagination. The more time you spend there, and one of the reasons you were encouraged not to, the more likely you are to find that other “knowing as a feeling” that lingers around in the inner quiet creative moments of the here and now, what Charles Bukowski knew and felt when writing The Laughing Heart, and what I will share as my “rehashed wisdom” and wish for you in this New Year:
The Laughing Heart
your life is your life
don’t let it be clubbed into dank submission.
be on the watch.
there are ways out.
there is a light somewhere.
it may not be much light but
it beats the darkness.
be on the watch.
the gods will offer you chances.
you can’t beat death but
you can beat death in life, sometimes.
and the more often you learn to do it,
the more light there will be.
your life is your life.
know it while you have it.
you are marvelous
the gods wait to delight
Charles Bukowski – The Laughing Heart