Upon reading Blaise Pascal's Pensées, I was motivated to ramble with my own thoughts regarding his observation about the present.
We do not rest satisfied with the present. We anticipate the future as too slow in coming, as if in order to hasten its course; or we recall the past, to stop its too rapid flight. So imprudent are we that we wander in the times which are not ours, and do not think of the only one which belongs to us; and so idle are we that we dream of those times which are no more, and thoughtlessly overlook that which alone exists. For the present is generally painful to us. We conceal it from our sight, because it troubles us; and if it be delightful to us, we regret to see it pass away. We try to sustain it by the future, and think of arranging matters which are not in our power, for a time which we have no certainty of reaching. Let each one examine his thoughts, and he will find them all occupied with the past and the future. We scarcely ever think of the present; and if we think of it, it is only to take light from it to arrange the future. The present is never our end. The past and the present are our means; the future alone is our end. So we never live, but we hope to live; and, as we are always preparing to be happy, it is inevitable we should never be so.
Why can't we simply be in the present? I've asked myself this question many times. I'm guilty of nostalgia, and at a cross between feeling despair and hope for the future. All factors considered, it makes a fantastic recipe for apprehension of the present.
At some point, we acknowledge that everything, eventually, has an expiration date. Before that final moment arrives, we wish to understand more about God, life, death, ourselves, and others. We believe a deeper comprehension of these things will bring us peace.
The wise man, however, accepts that it's impossible to know everything. He's humble about his existence. He wants to learn and be taught. He asks questions. He doesn't make any assumptions. He hopes to obtain knowledge of the world while he's in it; thus, he observes the world patiently, and with an open mind.
I cringe when I think about how we "exist" in the world today. We lack humility and willpower. Take for example how we even have trouble sitting still, and quietly, for more than a few minutes. We don't know what to do with ourselves. We're eager to move and speak, but when we finally do, we don't really go anywhere or say anything important. So, why the rush?
A while ago, I read a passage from The Apology of Socrates by Plato, which gave an account of the way humans claim knowledge of things they have absolutely no idea about. In The Apology, Plato writes on behalf of Socrates:
For my part, as I went away, I reasoned with regard to myself: "I am wiser than this human being. For probably neither of us knows anything noble and good, but he supposes he knows something when he does not know, while I, just as I do not know, do not even suppose that I do. I am likely to be a little bit wiser than he in this very thing: that whatever I do not know, I do not even suppose I know."
In this excerpt, Socrates states that he's the wiser man (and he is). Socrates accepts that he is ignorant about the subject, and doesn't say otherwise; while the other man acts as if he knows. Even though, he too, is ignorant. This particular passage is insightful because it describes how we might behave when our thoughts are challenged.
We have difficulty admitting that we don't know as much as we think. When we're wrong, we think conceding to our mistakes weakens us. Pretending to be something, or know something, is easier than seeming vulnerable. In actuality, we're being driven by false pride and ego –all to avoid saying these simple words –I don't know.
Our lack of ability to admit fault, can also be applied as a reason that we grapple with being genuinely happy. We struggle to achieve unconditional peace and happiness because we presume we know what creates it (but we don't). We trust the past, and future, more than the present because we don't want to reform ourselves now. We're stubborn to change and hesitant to forgive. Essentially, we're flawed creatures, and we require a lot of work.
We crave happiness now, but are unwilling to work on ourselves now to attain it in the long run. In fact, we do the opposite. We contradict ourselves by engaging in distractions that are quick and meaningless. But, it's quite clear that we're diverting ourselves in order to avoid facing certain truths. Sometimes, we may not like what we see. As a result, we delay focusing on ourselves.
So far, it probably sounds like I'm resigned, and completely critical, of all humans (including myself). That's not the case. I'm aware of my surroundings, and I pay attention to our imperfect nature, in anticipation of seeing it transition into something better.
Someone told me the other day: "Don't think too much! BE!" They weren't wrong.
At times, I find myself resisting the joy the present brings because reason tells me the feeling is just momentary. Overall, I've been happy and peaceful with life as is –my goal is to learn how to keep it this way.
I don't want to think about the past, or the future, as often as I have. I don't want to look at life as a defeatist. After all –it's pointless to think about things that don't exist anymore, and don't exist yet. (Things that are only a possibility, and may never even exist.)
Take for instance what I'm about to write next: I was happiest when I was a child because I was innocent. Here I am, reflecting on my past, as though it's the only solution to being happy. As though knowledge and age have doomed me for life. As if happiness now is merely an illusion.
All sarcasm aside –we frequently talk about the concept of happiness as conditional and limited. Many of us do this because we think we cannot be happy in the present. However, happiness is only short in supply when we allow it to be. Our form of thought can either free us or imprison us.
Pascal's measurement of man, in relation to the present, reminded me of myself. It made me realize how futile it is to base my happiness thinking about things that are not here.
That being said –I don't have the answers to what will give me, or you, the ultimate happiness in the present. Most of the time all we can be is happy-ish. I trust that being modest, and appreciating life as it happens is a start. I also believe that understanding all things end, accepting the uncertain, and, still living courageously in the world are steps to acquiring long-term happiness. I have faith that if we work on ourselves –even if it takes forever –we can begin to understand our purpose. Not in the past; not in the future: now.