¨. . . The more attention you give to the past, the more you energize it, and the more likely you are to make a ´self´ out of it. Don´t misunderstand. Attention is essential but not to the past as past. . . .¨
–Eckhart Tolle, The Power of Now
The good life whose exhilaration is now a thing of the past. . . .
A tragic event that has caused a deep scar in one´s psyche. . . .
Then time has stood still and what lies ahead is a dark abyss. One´s reality has suddenly changed on the spur of the moment and the drive to move on sputters and quits. And ¨the deep silence of the heart¨ creeps in and reigns. The sense of the present—much less that of the future—is lost as one floats forlorn in the sea of the past which has swallowed the very expanse of time itself. The past is able to capture and imprison a grieving heart and a soul in anguish. The past has the power to prevent the sorrowful to stand before the noontime sun of the present, much more before the sunset that promises a dawn filled with new hopes and opportunities.
The sense of the past is truly a category within our mental framework and we ought to see the past objectively as it is. As far as our temporal existences are concerned, we are participants of the present, spectators of the past, and conjurers of the future. The past indubitably teaches us a myriad of lessons that give credence to George Santayana words, ¨Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.¨ The past serves its epistemic and cognitive purposes for us as its lessons allow us to better understand the whys and wherefores of the present.
However, present participation in the past is not only a blunder but a grave delusion because the past is final and irrevocable and we only view it in hindsight. Time travel remains a fantasy and there is no way that we can ever locate ourselves in the past at this point in time for such is a distortion of the logic of time—a contradiction in terms. We are always located in the present and the past from the point of view of the present is a matter of memory.
In view of this, we say that, on the one hand, the human condition precludes the present´s participation in the past. But, on the other hand, we acknowledge the fact that the past´s participation in the present is a reality. In the words of Rupert Sheldrake—which is also the title of his major treatise—there is ¨the presence of the past¨ in every conscious species on earth. We who are in the present are in a lot of ways consequences of our respective biological and psycho-social programming—an aspect of the past that constantly remains in our human constitution. In this sense, the past present in us is a natural reality of which no one can totally get rid.
Nevertheless, this reality is not a circumstance that holds us back from treading the progressive path towards the delight of new experiences and the promises of new possibilities which make life worth living. The past present in us as an inherent actuality of our existence may even be portrayed as a leading factor that points us to new and refreshing insights and discoveries to inspire not only our own ascent to higher and more refined intensity of being but even those of others´ and even those of the coming generations´. In other words, the intrinsic process that possibilizes the presence of the past in us is not in any way an impediment but a dynamic that defines where an individual person is and where s/he is not, as well. The boundaries of our personhood which owe their reality to the past present in us is in a significant way facilitative of how we ought to face present realities and conjure up future possibilities in a purely realistic way. The past present in us at this point in time is therefore not an impediment.
The past becomes an impediment in the context of a delusion wherein one makes her/his present—i.e., her/his ¨here and now¨—present in the past. In this event, a human individual dwells in a past which has irrationally made her/him a powerless captive either of an extremely delightful phantasm of a bygone experience exclusively persistent in the landscape of her/his own imagination or of a tragic circumstance that has shattered every fibre of her/his sanity and no ray of hope is seen over the horizon for even the horizon itself is nowhere found and there is only a dark abyss.
It is one thing for the past to be present in the present and another for the present to be present in the past. The former doesn´t constitute the past as an impediment but the latter does for the former is a spontaneous reality while the latter is an empirical absurdity. It is not difficult to find the past in one´s ¨here and now¨ but for one to locate her/himself in the past at this point of time is an impossibility. When memory operates, it is not a case of putting oneself in the past but rather an instance of appropriating the past into the present. It cannot be the case that there is meaningfulness in the present being pushed towards the past; meaningfulness is magnified when the past is pulled towards the present. The latter´s highest point of achievement is called history, whether it is one of an individual or of a nation.
The truth of the matter is we cannot live in the past and to attempt to do so in an absolutely illusory manner is an impediment to the natural course of human (as distinguished by Pierre Teilhard de Chardin in his The Human Phenomenon from biological) evolution. On the one hand, we see the normal world marching onward to higher levels of achievements with the optimism of an undaunted warrior. On the other hand, we find the ¨romanticizers¨ of a bygone era who are left behind embracing the petrified relics of a glorified past that will never be revivified, as well as the ¨low-spirited cynics¨ whose lives have been mired by past tragedies and thus failed to see and much less beat a clear path towards a promising future.
As co-creators of this evolving world, we know that the past is truly final and irrevocable. However, it is not quite accurate to think that being final and irrevocable, the past cannot be changed. We as self-conscious, creative individuals are endowed with the power to signify the past for our purposes and such signification we call ¨history¨. It is the lessons of history that enlighten us to better understand the present and to more intelligently approach the challenges of the future which we ourselves are likewise tasked to create. The great Lebanese sage, Kahlil Gibran, remarks: ¨The consequences that cause sorrow and rapture are the seeds that the past has sown in the field of the soul, and by which the future shall profit.¨ (¨On Wisdom¨ in The Vision . . . http://4umi.com/gibran/vision/10 )
History as a matter of signification is therefore an interpretation as well as a re-interpretation of the past. To be relevant to the state of affairs of every generation, the past as history needs to face the challenge of continual re-interpretation for the purpose of drawing inspiration from it amidst contemporary challenges. This is ¨being in control¨ of the past; this is ¨changing the past¨. This is a defiance of the past as an impediment to growth and progress both personal and social.
© Ruel F. Pepa, 27 November 2013