Stuck in the Eternal Now
I have always had a problem with the whole “there is only now” concept. It sounds spiritual, but it always seemed, to put it as kindly as I can, just plain stupid. The now of today includes consequences from the past. Treating each situation as a brand-new one, never before experienced, seems like a good definition of mental retardation. No learning. No growth. Re-inventing the wheel on a daily basis. Exhausting.
Quoting Epstein’s masterpiece The Trauma of Everyday Life, pages 148-149:
“Trauma takes us out of time. There is no past or future when one is overtaken by it. It is as if it were happening now [emphasis in Epstein]. ‘Experiences of trauma become freeze-framed into an eternal present in which one remains forever trapped, or to which one is condemned to be perpetually returned through the portkeys supplied by life’s slings and arrows,’ [Stolorow] says….The traumatized individual lives outside time, in his or her own separate reality, unable to relate to the consensual reality of others. The remembering quality of mindfulness counters this tendency. It allows the experiences of trauma to come out of the their frozen states and back into the warmth of time.”
That sense of being frozen is the horror with which I have lived my whole life. Shame hits and I am frozen in some pre-verbal trauma where I am paralyzed by some run-of-the-mill rejection like it is the end of my world.
This is why I rebel against the “eternal now” concept. If you are happy, you want the moment to last forever. If you are frozen in shame and self-hatred, nothing could be more horrifying. The only reassurance I have ever had in life is that, no matter how bad things are, they are temporary.
My other problem with the “eternal now” is how there is no learning. Ever. If every situation is new, then you will not recognize that this is the 523rd time you have been down this exact same road. My favorite preacher when I was a Christian was always Joyce Meyer. Her message is always full of common sense. Just how many times you are going to go around the same mountain depends on how long it takes you to learn the lesson. Life is patient. If you don’t learn your lesson this time, you can just take another trip around the exact same mountain. Wisdom is not making the same mistakes over and over. Wisdom takes time. Wisdom requires that we recognize the umpteenth time we are in the exact same situation all over again and to repent or fix our behavior or whatever.
I look around and see people panicking and rejoicing at the political shenanigans occurring all around us. But here’s a news flash: Things will change. I guarantee it. If you are holding on to the way things are now, you are officially screwed. He who marries the spirit of an age is soon a widower. But if you can imagine a better future, you just might be able to create one for yourself while others are panicking that the sky is falling.
Creating a better future requires that you not be thumb-tacked to the eternal now. You need a linear concept of time. The choices we make now have consequences for our future nows. Actions have consequences, but seldom right away. To be unable to see beyond this moment is a good definition of brain damage in my mind. In my life, I have seen people defend their “right to party” and end up with cirrhosis. I just look them in the eye and say, “Good luck with that.” I desperately try not to keep making the same mistakes and that means not justifying my bad choices. I screw up and, if I am not overcome by bullshit shameful feelings, try a different potential solution. But pretending that a situation is brand new is a guarantee of never learning anything.