Tuesday 27 January
Renmark, South Australian
Day Four of my Adventures in Sobriety series, in which I make an oxymoron of myself by applauding “vision” in a post where i “accidentally” conduct a tirade against time.
I can’t sleep. I haven’t tried, but i know. I’m in that state where my body is exhausted but my mind is inexplicably energised.
For the last two days i’ve been wracked by hangover symptoms (headache, nausea, mysterious aches and pains) and i joked with someone about how it doesn’t seem fair that i should suffer thus for not taking drugs.
But obviously i’m detoxing. And these are the consequences of a heavy month-long binge, and actually i’m more interested in seeing this suffering through than i am in seeing (as an experiment, of course) whether a small joint would alleviate the symptoms—thereby confirming that these are withdrawals. Now there’s an addict’s reasoning par excellence.
But it’s not the symptoms alone that are keeping me awake: it’s also the sudden influx of motivation, mental activity, hope, pride, self-respect and vision.
One of the most saddening things about bingeing on a drug like marijuana is how it kills my vision – my capacity for imagining how my present might lead to the future i desire. That’s where the depression begins to seep in, because unless you’re some enlightened master who has dispensed with past and future,
ordinary human beings require a sense of narrative in our lives to help us feel there is any real meaning or purpose in our present:
if our present doesn’t appear to be getting us anywhere, it can seem as if there is no point being here, let alone striving to improve yourself or contribute to anything outside the miserable little shelter we create around ourselves (and within ourselves) in these despondent states.
Describing this state as inner shelter is not quite right, and detracts from the idea of inner sanctuary i valued so much in Herman Hesse’s Siddhartha. When I’m stoned like I was, what is created inside is more like a wall—between myself and myself. No doubt this is where the vision gets blocked, because that part of ourselves we block ourselves from … it might be the painful part, which is why drugs like these are so insidiously appealing … but it’s also the part of us that is made of such beautiful light it would displace that pain a million times over if we hadn’t cauterised it along with the pain. So by dulling the pain we also dull our vision, which is not an acceptable trade-off.
Part of what makes that light healing is it illuminates the connection between our present and our future. We can see that our present IS our future, and therefore we are more able to change our present so that it manifests our future.
Our present is all we have and therefore what we imagine to be our future is actually just an extension of our present, like a telescope.
When you extend a telescope you see further, but not because you have actually moved closer to the object—you’re still using the same telescope, standing in the same position, but you have altered the telescope’s properties by extending it.
If we can see our future as merely an expression of our present, we can see that we don’t need to rush forward into the future – we can just change the properties of our present, which brings our future into sharper focus.
We can extend our imagination far into the future of retirement friends [editorial note: i was thinking ‘funds’ but wrote ‘friends’—that’s nice] or we can extend it to tomorrow’s breakfast,
and also we can collapse that whole telescopic imagination down to view only the present itself – BAM, pure consciousness.
At least, that’s what i’m told—by gurus and the spiritually inclined among my friends. I’m speculating here, although I have had moments in my spiritual practice where I’ve been totally zen about whatever’s happening in the present, whether it be lifting a tea cup to my face or weathering some insult or another.
So I’m relying on direct experience to some extent, but also i believe it somehow—i believe we do have the capacity to live entirely in the present without neglecting our future. A way of approaching this is described well by Eckhart Tolle:
Learn to use time in the practical aspects of your life — we may call this “clock time” — but immediately return to present-moment awareness when those practical matters have been dealt with. In this way, there will be no buildup of “psychological time,” which is identification with the past and continuous compulsive projection into the future.
Clock time helps us bother with things like tying our shoes and getting to work, but if we live in this realm for too long we accumulate a psychological attachment to time and start to get it into our head that having tied shoes (and a job) is the most important thing ever.
But it’s not like some mystical light switch – one minute we’re all obsessed with being on time, the next minute we’re chill about smelling the flowers on the way to meet a friend. We’ve been living among clock time since … when? Who (or which early culture/society) decided to quantify our experience in terms of patterns they had observed in the rotation of the skies and the seasons of Earth?
Before then, i don’t know, maybe everyone was far more zen before Greenwich Mean Time. Probably not – I am sufficiently aware of history these days to know there was probably never such a golden age.
Meanwhile we’re stuck with this conditioning. No, not stuck—but for many generations at least, we have been dividing our experience into measurable moments called seconds, minutes, weeks, years, etc.
I wonder if those early clockmakers considered the consequences of creating what they no doubt thought would be immensely useful—another technological convenience that has interrupted our natural connection with Earth’s rhythms.
Now, thanks to clock time, we see such neurotic developments as working-class Australia fighting the gummint for a regulated eight-hour workday (because the employers of our sterling nation evidently can’t be trusted to consider the wellbeing of our employees on the same level as profit), an idea which itself has gone out the window.
If we used some other way of measuring the worth of our contribution to whatever project we’re selling our time to, we wouldn’t have to squabble over when we clocked in or whether we skive too much,
and we could go back to a more harmonious relationship with the present, content with knowing that we are doing the best we can with each passing moment, allowing for natural and inevitable downtime and downturns in productivity, which would be balanced and matched with upturns.
I can’t quite imagine what sort of economy would develop in a world where the present was valued more than profit projections and margins, but i’m sure it’s discussed at length in debates between Gross Domestic Product and Gross National Happiness.
How did i get here?, to this.
Oh yes: time v. present.
There is much talk (and, paradoxically, much aspiration), among spiritual folk, about the importance of living in the present instead of aspiring to some future. And i buy it from a logical and a spiritual point of view: at the height of my practice i have felt the sort of peace and calm of presence; and i have never been to the future, so why would i aspire to something if i cannot know it exists? (Well, for the same reason i might aspire to nirvana, but that’s a whole other tangent. For now, please forgive me: i’m a paradoxical “aspirational”.)
I mean, i’ve never been to Canada either, but my friends have, and they assure me it’s there. But how many people other than Michael J Fox have been to the future? And doesn’t he have dementia now?
The future doesn’t exist anymore than a unicorn or a mermaid exists—in our imagination.
So i get that—i really do …
… or actually, maybe i understand it only nominally,
and anyway, meanwhile, we continue to exist on what appears to be a horizontal linear plane, a progression from the past on our left, through the present and off into the future, our heart and soul withering in the dust of our exponentially stupid progress deeper into the hole we’re digging ourselves on Earth to the right. (Yes, that was an accidental cheeky dig at the conservative right-wing fuckholes who cherish the delusion of infinite economic growth on a finite planet.)
Meanwhile, for now, for the moment, for the present, for the time being, for those of us who have discussed the importance of presence without having actually experienced it, and even if we have experienced it briefly, we still have to get out in the world with all its over-priced watches and statuesque clock towers.
(Why do we have those anyway? Why do we idolise something that, ultimately, causes so much grief—a man-made intellectual construct that keeps us separated from the natural rhythm of ourselves.
It seems like someone said, “I know: let’s fabricate a system and impose it on the natural order, but we’ll make it really ornate or expensive, so people assume it’s valueable or laudable and don’t tear the whole thing down when they realise it’s oppressing them.”)
I really hadn’t intended to get into this when i set out to write tonight, and now that i have gone and made myself an enemy of time i still have to use the ever-escaping midnight hours to drag myself back to the point, which is simply that i’m glad i have my vision back, even though the very concept of ‘vision’ might be dependent on clock time, which may or may not be counter-productive in the pursuit of presence …
… counter-productive in the pursuit of presence? What does that even mean? Isn’t that an oxymoron?
But more than that i’m glad my vision is again reconnected to the present: as each moment passes and my sobriety feels like it might stick, i am feeling the return of that calm sense that comes from accepting the present as all we’ve got—
the future is just some amorphous, ever-changing mass of imagination that needn’t have any huge bearing on how we feel about the present anyway.
If the present is good, so will the future be—if the present is not good, worrying about the future will not make it so.
This is why narrative comes in handy—memories of the past, hopes for the future, and our sense of continuity through the present. While we remain mere mortals, we can extract meaning and purpose from remembering that we’ve done great things, and that we have the capacity to do even greater things in the present to come.
That’s actually not a bad way to think of the future—as the present to come. Quick, write that down!
The ongoing present, or ongoing presence … yes, this is the future.
This is post #004 in a series called Adventures in Sobriety—i am writing daily as i try, again, to kick some drug habits that have plagued me for some fifteen years … half of my short life. I will post them here when i am able. Post #003 is here.