‘The human biography is a symphony which each individual personally composes.’
Moving through life on earth means moving through time. Each step we take, each moment of growth and understanding we experience, each crossroads we pass take us from the past into the present and towards the future. The way we imagine, experience, and remember these moments is the way in which we create our lives, our biographies. It is the rhythm on which we compose the symphony of our lives.
For many people the future is a scary realm. We can’t see it, can’t truly know it. We are stepping into the unknown — and endeavour that creates some anticipation in the bravest men and women. If we perceive the future as a dark realm out of our control and with many traps set for us to make us stumble, stepping forward every day is a difficult thing to do. People living with such an image of the future often try to hold as much control as possible in the present moment. They put patterns and rhythms in place that are followed strictly. They carefully choose — and often control — the people and events around them. They may attempt to get information about the future with the help of psychics, probability calculations, analytical reports etc. People who are afraid of the future most likely move through life very carefully, basing most of their decisions on the past.
If, on the other hand, the future is seen as a realm of excitement and adventure with new and wonderful things waiting for us around every corner, life is experienced quite differently. People living with an image of the future as a better and more exciting place often try to rush into it, to use it as the place of escape from the doldrums and difficulties of their daily lives. They pay less attention to the present moment, often completely disregard the past and instead focus on future possibilities. They are seen as dreamers and builders of castles-in-the-sky — and often times they are because it is difficult for them to follow through and truly take a hold of the opportunities and possibilities that are presenting themselves. People who view the future as the better place to be most likely move through life at a very fast pace — often missing the moment because they are already way ahead of themselves.
Then there is a third way of looking at life in time, mentioned in a quote by Taisen Deshimaru “Time is not a line, but a series of now points.” This often is the view that we are told is the most balanced and spiritual. However, if this is how we are looking at life, we disregard the past and the future and moving forward becomes a flow without our own will or determination being a part of it. We live life flowing along, reacting more than acting, following whatever presents. People who truly live by this idea are bound to come up against the same situations over and again. They likely won’t be leaders and they may even have difficulties taking full responsibility for their lives. They may also find themselves slightly disconnected from life and people because living fully by this idea can be somewhat equal to “out of sight, out of mind”. Nonetheless, people living this idea of time often feel content and happy since each moment is new and fresh.
For most of us, life and time are experienced somewhere in between these paradigms: we try to live in the moment, know that we are influenced by the past — consciously or not, and hope and dream of a better future. Never is this more apparent then when we find ourselves at some crossroads in life.
If you have ever stood at a crossing of the roads without a map or a clear idea as to where to go, you likely have done as many before you: you stood for a moment, looked ahead on one path, then on the other, turned around to look back, and then just stood and looked at what was immediately around you, hoping for clues or an inspiration as to which path to choose. Perhaps, when the grass and trees around you didn’t offer immediate and clear direction, you then closed your eyes and just stood for a moment longer, listening inside yourself for any subtle ‘feeling’ before finally opening your eyes and making a choice. Perhaps, after walking on the chosen path for a minute or two, you started to feel uneasy or ‘not right’ and so you turned around, back to the intersection, to choose the other path. Or perhaps you just simply couldn’t decide, felt uneasy with either choice, and finally decided to turn back and try again later.
Standing at the emotional and active crossroads on our lives paths is very similar to standing there in the woods during our hiking expeditions. And yet, more often than not when it comes to these inner crossroads we get stuck or turn back without really giving either new path a chance. We base our decisions for the future on our memories of past events or we anticipate a loss as payment for whatever gain we hope to have from moving forward. We are afraid of the unknown that lies ahead and so we get stuck in the past and the present.
The German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche said “The future influences the present just as much as the past.” This is true. However, we need to allow that influence to take a hold of us in order to use it for our forward movement. Maybe this is the true meaning of the idea of time as a series of now-points: the point as the place in time and space where two lines intersect. If we feel ourselves too firmly planted on the timelines of the past, this now-point indeed becomes a past-to-now-line. If we are mainly focused on future possibilities the now-point becomes a now-to-future-line. Standing there at the crossroads, eyes closed, listening inside means standing in the now-point and listening to both, the stream of the past with all its experience and knowledge and the stream of the future with its promises and wisdom.
How do you know if you are hearing the melody of the future-stream or a fancy of your imagination? Pay attention to the feeling that this melody engenders in you: do you feel calm, solid, grounded, not matter what the melody sings to you? If you are truly hearing the future stream sing, it simply is the truth of this path you are hearing. You don’t need to be afraid or in pain. You know that this is a choice and you can or cannot take it. It also will include subtle undertones of gifts and possibilities hidden within the path.
Any melody that presents only dire circumstances or glorious opportunities has to be heard with suspicion because life doesn’t usually present us with black-and-white choices. So when you stand there, at the next crossroads of your life, and you don’t know where to move next, try this: take a paper and draw the path you are on. Then draw the paths before you, the paths of the choices you see right now — and then add one path for the choice you haven’t seen yet. If you feel like it, draw the environments of the paths: does one feel like it has a steeper learning curve than the others; is one set with more traps and downfalls; does one seem like smooth sailing?
When all this is done, look at your drawing, take a deep breath, and close your eyes. Find yourself standing there, at the crossroads you just drew. See, smell, and feel the things you just put on paper — and then stand and listen inside. Hear the melody of each path (including that of the path you have walked to get here) and let it find its harmony with your body and soul. Which path draws you more? Which one scares you more? Which one of them fits better into the rhythm of your life right now.
If you wish, you can imagine yourself walking down any one of the paths. Should you decide to do this, pay attention to how you feel as you walk, not only to what you see. You may be surprised to find that your body has a pretty good feeling for what fits with it and your life and what doesn’t.
Finally, as you walk ahead, be aware that everything you have learned about life is with you, right there, in your metaphorical backpack. All your skills, your experiences, and your curiosity are with you; and they are adaptable. Life teaches us in a very flexible manner: nothing is learned for only one occasion. What you learned about your anger when dealing with a relationship issue is true, too, when you encounter anger in different situations and disguises. Your awareness of grief helps you deal with and understand the grief of others. And your ability to play as a child allows you to also see the playfulness and joy in the things around you.
Moving through life in this manner isn’t always easy. Fear is a powerful adversary and even the bravest men and women encounter fear at the threshold of the unknown. Our future is always unknown and so fear is never far when we step forward. But remembering that we don’t need to rush, that we can stop and breathe and listen, and that we have been in this place before many-a-time can help us face the fear. The future is always there, no matter what — and it is always in flux. As long as we stop, listen, and question, we are standing at the now-point of our lives, perfectly grounded and firmly connected to both, the stream of our past and the stream of our future.
‘Learn from yesterday, live for today, hope for tomorrow. The important thing is to not stop questioning.‘