Toeing the line between past and future (Walden 18)

More about yesterday’s entry, specifically the phrase “to stand on the meeting of two eternities, the past and future.”

You hear a lot of talk about ‘living in the moment,’ but what I appreciate about Thoreau’s words is that he is not only in the moment, but he is there with an awareness of the place of that moment within the span of time, to the extent that he can comprehend it. Eternity future and eternity past, and here you stand, toeing that paper-thin margin where there former becomes the latter.

Again, it’s sometimes said that all you really have is the present moment. True enough. You can ruminate on the troubles of the past, or worry about the future, and that’s where focus on the present moment can help.

But would you want to lose your past? Did you ever see the movie Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (starring Jim Carrey and Kate Winslet)? The premise is that there’s a business that will erase the painful memories from your brain. A strangely beautiful film, much of which takes place inside Carrey’s brain during the procedure as he changes his mind and tries to keep the memory of a relationship that started out well and went wrong. The tragedy is that he realizes too late that the past was worth keeping, and we watch as it is erased detail by detail.

Eternal Sunshine movie poster

In the same way, would we want to lose our ability to imagine the future? Think of the worry we’d avoid! But with it we’d also lose our ability to anticipate good things, or to improve our lot by anticipating and avoiding problems.

With no memory and no anticipation, we’d be in the moment all right, but at terrible cost.

So it’s a balancing act — to live fully in the moment, toeing that line at the meeting of past and future, aware of both but not dominated by either.

(About  “A Year in Walden”)


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