As a young person thinking about my life, I feel like I must make a choice between the two big ideas that society has given to me.
1. Live for today: life is meant to be lived to the fullest and we should do big and exciting things – or modest and nice things – as long as we’re happy today.
2. Live for tomorrow: everyone must pay their dues, good things come to those who put in the effort and are patient. The grass may appear greener on the other side but in reality, the grass is greenest where you water it.
Both pieces of advice come from a wealth of wisdom and experience that society has inherited, lived to prove itself true to itself, and then passed on again to the next generation. Such is the continuation of society, culture and humanity as a species.
As sceptical newcomers to society, sometimes we try to attack these two ideas with ‘what ifs’:
– What if I die tomorrow?
– What if one day of unhappiness can mean many days of happiness?
– What if I don’t know what I want to do?
– What if there is an afterlife of some kind?
– What if there’s a way to fulfil both?
– What if other people are working whilst I’m resting?
The ‘what ifs’ that come along with this are all met with the same criticism – that no matter how many ‘what ifs’, the wisdom of the crowd speaks for itself and whether you’re willing to listen or not, you will understand in time. This seemingly cop-out of an answer leads to many young people (including myself) not listening. With time, however, we’ll come around to the ideas of our ancestors before us.. Maybe.
Reframe the Question
First rule in problem solving is to assess things from different angles. So how do we do that? Reframe the question.
Should I spend my current ‘now’ trying to make my future ‘now’ better than my current ‘now’?
Looking at the question like this reveals a great big hole. Everything we ever experience is happening in our ‘now’. Even in the future – it will be ‘now’ that we experience. So does this give us our answer to the question? Not at all. It just shows us the relationship between today and tomorrow.
Future and present are essentially two sides of the same coin. They co-interdepend or “mutually arise”, and one cannot exist without the other. They are what the Chinese would call “自然“(Zìrán), often translated as ‘nature/natural’, 自然 actually means “that, in and of itself”. Because there is present, so there is future, and vice versa.
Put the Question’s Main Assumptions Into Perspective
With the hole of “now” now exposed, the idea of being able to make an actual choice between ‘future’ and ‘present’ as being two seperate things doesn’t quite make sense.
So let’s take a look at who we are to even be in a position to make this decision. Building on the “mutually arising” nature of present and future, the fact that we are able to even consider this choice and elaborate our thinking is proof to the concept of mutual arisal.
It’s an unusual idea for Westerners to get our heads around. Our perception of ‘nature’ is of something inherently external to ourselves, something which we can observe and learn about from the perspective of an outsider. Nature is something to be tamed and controlled, something with which we as a species exist in a constant contest with. To be noted, this contest has, in recent decades, been spectacularly one-sided due to advances in science and technology. The result is our further distancing ‘from’ nature.
We as biological creatures, exist in a 自然 relationship with nature in that we grow ‘out’ of this world as opposed to being born ‘into it’.
Question the Question
As an either/or type question, proposing for people to choose between either living for today or tomorrows gives the illusion that it is actually a choice. As if by just making a conscious decision, we could actually change our biology. This is the arrogance of humanity, to believe that consciousness is something that separates us from the rest of nature and that we are exceptional and unique.
We forget that we, like trees, elephants and sea turtles, all grow out of the same thing. Our game is just different to theirs, like theirs is different to each other. Sea turtles go their entire lives without meeting their parents or having to ask fellow sea turtles how to be a sea turtle, but did you ever see one that was doing it wrong?
Same thing for us. We can’t teach people to colour their eyes, grow their hair or laugh at something funny – so why do we think people can be taught how to live, how to think and how to be people? It’s not an actual conscious choice we can make, let alone something to be chose one way or another.
Answer the Question
The very existence of this question as a question puts forth an image of the world as being socially constructed and governed more by autonomous will than biology. Regardless of how we see the world, we cannot afford to understate the importance of nature in forming us, our societies and our beliefs. These things are inseparable, they are two sides of the same coin and as noted earlier, mutually arise – one does not exist without the other.
So to answer the question – silence.
It’s not a real question, it’s just designed to help people legitimise today’s sufferings in pursuit of a greater objective.
So for people who spend their time doing things they don’t like in order to earn money to sustain their life which is spent doing things they don’t like – thinking about a happy future can help. It’s a shame for many, this future will always be a future and never a ‘now’ to be experienced…
Ever wonder why the laughing Buddha’s belly is so large? It contains all the contradictions in the world.