Hume: Why I’m choosing to live outside of the present

Jack Hume, Op-Ed Contributor

In the quest for contentment, I find myself, more than anything else, trying to live in the present. I am prone to do otherwise, coping by burying myself in the past or anchoring myself in the future. So as I’ve gotten older, I’ve learned to wall up the wilderness of time and consciousness into something I can handle; I try to view the present as “the only moment that exists” and build my life around it.

On the whole, it’s the logical way to live. The past is dead and the future is nonexistent, and to live in any time other than the present can lead to being enslaved by a history that is unchangeable or disillusionment through the misguided belief that the future is something we have total control over. The present is malleable, the rest is not.

But much to my distress, I’ve found that living in the present introduces its own problems. My world contracts; my depth becomes two-dimensional. Momentary successes and fleeting failures are high highs and low lows, and in the passion of the present’s emotions, knowing which will come next is impossible. Devoid of a frame of reference, I start to drown in the amplified waves of the “right now.”

So I am striving for something else, and the best word I can use to articulate it is “perspective,” both internal and external. The former involves the self — perspective in one’s past and future, remembering and valuing the experiences that have shaped us into who we are, and cognizance of our goals in the future. The latter is about the outside — transparency in our present that lessens the weightiness of our successes and failures in the grand scheme and humbles us in the trials of our neighbors. Combined, the two work in synch in giving us a foundation on which to be in the present without being bound by it.

To elaborate, perspective frees us from two evils. The first, living wholly in the past and in the future, which stretches us like taffy on an infinite scale, wears us thin as we attempt to exist in two polarities, neither of which is tangible. The other, the evil of the present, the one I’m only now beginning to understand, squeezes us to a pinpoint under the gravitational pull of ourselves until we become so finite that we are entirely at the whim of any external force exerted on us. As soon as we recognize the constraints of one, we chase the other. The intersection, the existence of perspective of our past, present and future, gives us room to breathe — it is freedom from the present.

Though inspirational quotes and motivational mantras would have us believe otherwise, whittling life down to the present alone is an exhausting way to live. It’s fine to seize the day, but if you gamble it all on the outcome of each moment, you risk losing everything when any slight failure comes to pass. For those who have never had to work towards this realization — whose balance between past, present and future has come without growing pains — these are banal observations. Yet, we live in a society convinced that happiness lies in achieving a singularity in time, a nirvana of living for the moment. That’s a misconception. At least for me, I’ve learned perspective works better.

Jack Hume is a Weinberg freshman. He can be contacted at [email protected]. If you would like to respond publicly to this op-ed, send a Letter to the Editor to [email protected]. The views expressed in this piece do not necessarily reflect the views of all staff members of The Daily Northwestern.