If you took a random sample of my inner life, it would most likely reveal my constantly shifting from past to present to future on repeat. I am always considering how my personal past has got me to my present moment, and how the past and present are going to proceed into the future. in an endless loop.
Next week I am moving, by myself, to Philadelphia. This will be the first time I will be travelling five hours on my own, let alone staying in an unfamiliar place indefinitely. Even though this is something I’m excited about and have been actively considering since February 2017, I also occasionally experience moments of terror and alienation when I think about it. I have a bias towards reflection over action, (i.e. every time I make a judgment I spend the next 24 hours overturning it, wondering if I’ve made a mistake, considering how I can get myself out of it, etc.). So even though I can think of plenty of reasons why this is a good decision, I can also think of the myriad of ways in which it could entail disaster. This is partly because I’m not walking away from a place I’m eager to leave. My current living situation also involves friends that I value and would love to keep in my everyday life. even though I like the idea of expanding my worldview, I realize that it also comes with parting ways from people and places I love. The idea of walking away from a situation that feels advantageous evokes the fear that I am walking away from good things for reasons I’ll eventually regret. For example, I met a person over the last few months who I find attractive and interesting on a few different dimensions, and every time I think about previous fun we’ve had together I experience something resembling homesickness and alienation. Even if we remain friends, it’s likely that the structure of our lives will look radically different, and that by moving I’m leaving behind the current conditions of our relationship. I can imagine how that could be a good thing, yet I can’t help but mourn the loss of something I appreciate. Also, one of my dearest friends since age 14 lives here and leaving also likely means the end of an era. It’s not obvious that we will ever again live in the same place, and besides for occasional visits, moving essentially means, as far as the realities of day-to-day life are concerned, relegating the friendship to the past. Getting what I want on one level means being deprived of what I want on another.
However, I realize I am constantly projecting the fears of the present moment into what I conceive of as “The Future,” but in the present, how much do I really know about the future? Do I know enough to make educated inferences about how I will feel three weeks from now? It feels like paradigms shift constantly (cough, this website is called exiting a paradigm). Yes, I can look at set of conjectures about what it is likely to be, considering where I will be living and where I’ll be directing my attention, but when the future becomes an experiential fact, I will have been altered by events that in this present moment I have no concept for. Even though four months ago I could have sketched out guesses about what my life would be like today, I couldn’t have accounted for the qualitative character of my experience in the present no matter the accuracy of my assumptions about the concrete details of my projected life situation.
It’s possible that my concerns about leaving the people I care about exist right now because I am not certain that I will be moving into a welcoming environment. Or maybe I’m torn because acquaintances have been reminding me, since May, that I am leaving, (“oh, I thought you already left”). It’s like people are accounting for their lives without my presence before I can account for my life without theirs, since I don’t know who will be in my daily life this time next year. Even though I’ve previously been friends with a person who was moving, and I remember projecting this sense of superiority onto his experience (he could be moving into anything! how exciting!) now I know that leaving doesn’t provide any more security than staying. Or maybe it’s that excitement and security can’t exist simultaneously, (i.e. pick one) and excitement and nervousness exist within each other, kicking each other out of the forefront depending on the moment. But here is the thing (and the center point of this blog post)– I am projecting loneliness and alienation into my future without acknowledging I am experiencing it in the present! I am concerned about leaving my friends because the self I am in this moment, with my current knowledge and interests, flows nicely with these people. However, as the future approaches and I experience it as the present, the complexion of my mind is going to shift along with new knowledge and experience. It is possible that the experiences of the future will render these concerns irrelevant, not because I’ll stop caring about these people, but because my personality will expand in a way that will help me accommodate for the change in a way I currently cannot.
The idea that the concerns of the present masquerade as concerns of the future made me wonder if this logic could be extended into other dimensions. Whenever we worry about the future or the past, we are essentially concerned about the present, because the past and future depend on the conditions of the present. we remember our past and imagine our future based on the nature of our minds in the moment. Terrence McKenna said that that worry is essentially hubris. We assume that we have complete knowledge about the future and then we worry. If we were able to account for emerging possibilities to the same degree that we fear repeating the negative aspects of the past (or avoiding the worst case scenarios of the future) would we still worry?
Well, [clearing throat] Jordan Peterson recently said that discipline is a matter of being terrified about the right things. The moment in which you dodge a car accident, there is this flurry of panic and tension that emerges, even after you know you’ve avoided an accident. Of course, this experience is the subjective side of a flood of cortisol, but I am wondering if the anxiety in response to an obvious threat in the immediate environment is just an emergent property of a past event but a warning about the present, in the same way that my fear of being lonely in an unfamiliar place reflects my alienation in the place I’ve been intending to leave since I arrived. The stress response after avoiding the accident is the body’s way of reminding us of our fragility, of the need to watch ourselves more closely, and to realize the game can come to a halt at any moment, and just because you made it out alive this time doesn’t mean you’re guaranteed a future. The present is just as threatening as the dangerous past or future. I am afraid I will be socially isolated in the place I’m planning to spend at least the next two years because I’m currently in a place where my friends are accounting for my leaving, where there is very little opportunity to play the role in society that I want, a place that I never planned on being anyway. Perhaps the fear is natural.