If you are depressed, you are living in the past.
If you are anxious, you are living in the future.
Well, I suppose that makes me a bloody time traveller. But in all seriousness, before we can finish this quote we need some understanding about transience. Sometime referred to as impermanence or change. This idea of transience is one of the fundamental questions in philosophy and has been tackled in the East and West alike.
One of the first philosophers to write about transience in the West was the Greek philosopher HERICLITUS 500BC. He’s notable for having the word clit in his name which is hilarious if you come to think of it. Hericlitus was known to have created only one work in his lifetime so knowledge about him comes from what others have written about him. Including that public wanker Diogenes and Plato. Though Hericlitus provides a rich account of the nature of the world, his famous idea both then and now is that of UNIVERSAL FLUX or TRANSIENCE.
For Hericlitus, the most fundamental characteristic of the universe is change. It is the idea about his famous quote, – No man ever steps in the same river twice -. The river might have the same appearance from the banks travelling along the same path across the land but it is changing as it flows from the mountains while the particles that make up the water are shifting in their position and so the water will be different from the one you stepped in with your first step.
Hericlitus saw the world as a stage for opposing forces which battled in mutual rivalry. The fundamental stuff that made the world was not so much material matter but was characterised by change. At the bottom of everything was not things but processes. The river is not an object but the flow of water. A tree is not a thing but a totality of all the life processes in it which need I not mention. All of nature is defined by process, activity and change.
This metaphor of the river can be implied into the rest of our lives as well. We learn to think that the universe is immutable and fixed but this could not be more incorrect. If we introspect in our minds is not concrete in itself but a stream of ideas and thoughts and sensations. If you hold your minds hand and allow it to wander, its amazing how many times it can leap from one thought to another, from one moment to the next. There seems to be no fixed state into which the mind can rest. Likewise for the body which appears like a stable entity with a concrete reality but in fact the atoms that constitute you are in a constant state of flux and shifting their positions and conditions almost constantly. That explains feelings in short. Both physical and emotional. Every 7-10years the body replaces all its cells with neww ones. So there’s really no basis which you can call your body the same one which was a decade ago. Just take a look at your picture a decade ago. The infamous cliché denoted Tbt.
On the atomic level there is not quite any difference between your atoms and the atoms that make up the rest of the world. You are continuous with nature and and just as changeable as Hericlitus river. And the same goes for the people around us. We like to think that our loved ones will stay and be around us forever. But unfortunately that’s not the case. People come into and out of the world all the time and at some point we’ll all have to bid farewell to some of our friends and family as they dissappear from this world into whatever comes next.
Humans are no more permanent than a sunrise in the morning or lightning in a thunderstorm and, that can really hurt sometimes. If lose is like a choir then our feelings of lose is like a cathedral where the sound echoes and reverberates off the walls until it builds into something almost unbearable. How difficult it is to live in a universe knowing that all the things that we learned and all the things we love will sometime be taken away.
Even as we move away from the earth, transience affects the rest of the universe too. We used to think that stars are immutable and unchanging and that all of them were fixed to a massive celestial sphere in the heavens. Can we really blame our ancestors for thinking that? Within the span of a human life, the stars indeed appear to be fixed in their position. How the more we learned about them and their motions, we found out that this wasn’t true. Each of them is traveling in their own orbit through the milky way at incredible speeds but their extreme distances make them impossible to detect. If the stars could see, they would be able to see our entire history unfold. And with it the birth and death of each human being that whatever was. Even in their unimaginable stretch of time from the time of homosapiens and now, their positions would have shifted only a little.
However even the stars will die in a predestined time in the future in a massive explosion that will outshine the entire galaxy called a supernova that can last for days, months or years but these ones too we shall refer to them as transience astronomical events. When compared to the timeline of the universe, these supernovas are barely even worth mentioning. They just serve to remind us that nothing in the universe lasts forever.
The universe itself will also die at sometime in the future when it succumbs to heat death or whatever theory of the death of the universe is correct. From a small and insignificant scale of human life to the grand structures like the universe itself, everything will at sometime come to an end.
The totality of existence can be referred in terms of transience and lose. And despite of however much we want to avoid the tragedies of existence, nothing can be done to prevent it.
This idea of universal flux or transience was something well-known in the East especially to the Buddha where transience is one mark of sentient existence along with suffering and non-self. Ignorance about these three characteristics in the course of our lives and interactions with the environment will lead us to think as individual beings. In reality, that’s not the case. This appropriation will then lead to the formation of attachments, where we desire to obtain certain things and to get rid of certain others. This cycle then repeats and strengthens our initial ignorance about the true nature of sentient existence and the three characteristics that comprise it. It is a never ending cycle that compounds our suffering until it becomes unbearable.
However there is a way in which one can escape from the cycle. Buddhists say the key to this escape is to realise the truth of our sentient existence that is characterised by first and foremost by transience, suffering and non-self. This realisation is not an easy task and all appropriations about our lives that are far formed habits that are deeply entrenched in the mind. So the Buddhist teach that we must rethink the way we live and train ourselves to replace these habits that help us to see nature as it really exists. For example meditation can be helpful to arrive at greater understanding of our minds and psychological states and help us to realise the transience of being. Fundamentally there’s no such a thing as self that underpins our experiences and acceptance of what will allow us to free ourselves from the attachments we made. Once this is achieved there’ll be no such thing as desire or aversion that destructs us to fall back into our bad habits. We must follow the middle path and seek to achieve enlightenment as entrenched in Buddhist teachings. This doesn’t mean that I am a Buddhist but that I draw inferences from it.
So whatever it is that is getting you down, if there’s something you can do about it, then there’s no need to worry, if there’s nothing you can do about it, then there’s no need to worry either.
The knowledge that nothing lasts forever can hurt and life likes to remind us that sometimes actually a lot of the time. But it can still bring a lot of comfort to whatever is afflicting you will not last forever. The quicker we realise this, the quicker we can release ourselves from the iron columns that keep us tied to the ground and we can live free.
To finish the quote by Lao Tsu at the beginning of this narrative…
If you are depressed, you are living in the past
If you are anxious, you are living in the future
If you are at peace, you are living in the present.
Peace ✌ and love 💘