Self is a story. A narrative about the past and the future that has a narrative coherence. As long as the story makes sense, we maintain the semblance of normal life. We don’t recognize that all we have is the present moment. We’re constantly analyzing the past to fit into the story we want, the story that would make sense, and in some ways it is important, to recognize where we are at this moment. To track the journey to the present moment, we continuously interpret the past into a version of a story we can understand.
In a similar vein, we keep planning our future to make sure our story continues the way we want it to. We make goals and have aspirations as per the story we want for ourselves. It is at least true for me. I’ve always planned goals based on what I envision my story to be, especially in terms of work. I couldn’t bear it that my story would be that of a “normal” life, an “insignificant” life, so I couldn’t choose the easy path. I had to constantly make harder choices for my future self, even while my present self was enjoying life, leaving the hard work for the future self. Because I never really knew whether I liked doing the work or not, I just knew what I wanted my story to be. This seems like a good way to live life. This seems like the only way I’ve ever learned how to live life. I set up goals for myself based on what I envision for my future, and I’m constantly learning how to create tangible action items in the present to reach those goals, complete with the understanding that changing my environment is more effective than motivation. But, now I’m starting to wonder whether I should continue to live life this way. What has this life been, but every moment spent analyzing “imperfections”? Each moment spent analyzing the past for lessons that can be learnt? Constant struggle and frustration? And disappointment that is largely driven by my story not ending up as I had envisioned it. That’s the sole reason age terrifies me, because age brings a narrowing of the future paths my stories can take, and it scares me that for all my grand plans, the choices I’ve made in each moment have led me down a path which is gonna end up in a “normal” or “insignificant” life. The reasons for this fear are a story for another time. They have to do with the past, and how my story reached here.
The main point I want to capture in this write up is this – should we stop pretending that we have a self based on the poorly remembered past and a vague dreamy future? Should we stop making goals for the future and try to live in the moment? That seems like a more terrifying thought. What ever do I want to do in the present, I have no idea. Wouldn’t that make me a slave to my animal impulses, driven by whatever fancy my mind caught at any particular moment? And that’s impractical, because my future “story” would probably end in poverty and extreme discomfort.
Ah! What a life. Lived constantly to prevent discomfort. Ensuring comfort and availability for the fulfillment of our base desires, while constantly denying ourselves these desires, and feeling guilty for enjoying them. Or is this life? Living in stories to steal some moments of indulging our base desires.