Archive for November 5th, 2021

Past, Present, Future and Beyond- GC Myers 2021

“To live on a day-to-day basis is insufficient for human beings; we need to transcend, transport, escape; we need meaning, understanding, and explanation; we need to see over-all patterns in our lives. We need hope, the sense of a future. And we need freedom (or, at least, the illusion of freedom) to get beyond ourselves, whether with telescopes and microscopes and our ever-burgeoning technology, or in states of mind that allow us to travel to other worlds, to rise above our immediate surroundings.

We may seek, too, a relaxing of inhibitions that makes it easier to bond with each other, or transports that make our consciousness of time and mortality easier to bear. We seek a holiday from our inner and outer restrictions, a more intense sense of the here and now, the beauty and value of the world we live in.”

― Oliver Sacks, The New Yorker, August 27, 2012

I read this passage from a 2012 Oliver Sacks article and attached it in my mind to this new painting, a 10″ by 20″ canvas that I am calling Past, Present, Future, and Beyond. The meaning I pull from this piece is that we are ensnared in the three known phases of time– the past, present and future.

And none are totally satisfying. We have a need to move beyond our states of being.

The past has an appeal for some. It seems complete, set in stone, so it must be easy to comprehend and place our own roots and existence in the context of our past. But it is anything but solid. It is subject to the whims, desires, and prejudices of whoever looks back on it. Exaggerations, mischaracterizations, and pure fictionalization make history malleable as soft clay. It is and will always be shaped to fit some narrative for those in present or future times.

As for the future, it is subject to all sorts of factors from a a variety of sources.  It can only be predicted which makes it as pliable as the past though at least with the past we know the general outcome. The future is a big and broad question mark which makes it terrifying for many. However, there are some who believe there is hope in the future but it is largely a mystery due to the things yet unknown to us– people, circumstances, scientific advancements, and specific monumental events.

H.G. Wells made a speech in 1902, The Discovery of the Future, where he stated that while individual futures were not predictable, the general future could foretold, that we could take the knowledge gleaned from science and history and accurately predict what might be in store for us as a species. Though he speaks briefly about what might be in store for this world after humanity has departed, his speech was an optimistic take on his belief in the greatness of our  human destiny. I don’t know that he would say the same today.

This was, after all, 1902. It came before two world wars, before two modern pandemics, before popular fascist movements, and before nuclear weaponry. Hell, it was before tanks, mustard gas and automatic weapons. They were still fighting with swords and horses at times.

The future will always be nebulous, always a moving target that is just beyond us despite our desires to meet it. Or avoid it.

The present is, as it should be, the most important phase in this web of time. It is the only one of the three that we can physically change or effect. The only one in which our reactions and responses are genuine and not yet edited. The only one that we can experience. People, myself included, are always saying that we have to live for the present. But the trick is being able to do that, to block out the echoes of the past and ignore the ominous storm clouds — or the beautiful cleansing sunlight for those more optimistic among you out there– of the future.

How do we get beyond the three phases of time? Maybe the question should be can we?

If you’ve read my blog for any time at all, you know I don’t have any answers. The Buddha spoke of the empty mind, one freed from human desire, as the way to a higher state of being. That sounds pretty good to me but I suspect though my head is fairly empty, it will take a lot of practice to shake out all the stuff that inhabits that space.

And even then, I don’t know. The anticipation of what it might be like with the timeless existence of an organic particle might in itself be a stumbling block to ever reaching that state of being.

But who knows? All I know is that my second cup of coffee is getting pretty cold and I’ve went on way too long about something that you might not even see for yourself in this new painting. Whatever the case, I like this piece and it makes me think and that makes me feel as though I am human and alive.

And somedays even a simple reminder like that is enough to meet the new day…

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