Past, Present, Future
For the last 8 years or so, one of my favorite (nearly) weekly experiences has been listening to the latest episode of Roderick on the Line, a podcast in which John Roderick and Merlin Mann record a conversation for all of us to listen in on. There are a lot of reasons that this podcast floats toward the top of my favorite things, one of which is the way that John is able to articulate his perspective and experience in the world. Over the course of the 360 episodes, one of the standouts for me has been his description of “Past John” and “Future John”, and how they both impact “Present John.”
It can look like this: Past John booked a show for Future John to play. Why wouldn’t he? He doesn’t have to do anything about it, and it sounds like maybe it’ll be fun. Of course, the day of the show comes along and who has to play it? Present John, of course. And he has no interest in playing the show. This take on the way we think about our lives really resonates with me.
It came to mind as I wrestled with why it is that I’m having some trouble making some changes to my day-to-day. I’d like to eat a bit differently, and to get some practices up and running. As I was thinking about this recently, it hit me: Present me believes that Future me will be better, more capable! Present me doesn’t see himself as someone who can make the change — he’s weak, and easily succumbs to the desire. But he believes that Future me will have the strength, will make different choices.
The problem, of course, is that these changes are always in the present. There is no other me to pass them off to. One of the primary fallacies of punting for Future me is that by doing so, I can skip over the difficult, uncomfortable part of the process. But this is the most important part of the process. And it can only happen for Present me.
From this point of view, the past and the future collapse. All there is is now. Just like the world’s great spiritual teachers have been telling us.