Short Stories and Creative Nonfiction Essays

Saturday, October 31, 2020


The Value of Past and Future


            At the age of twenty, for my first Creative Writing class in junior college, I wrote a short story titled La Gare, about a train station. In it, two strangers, each waiting for a respective train, hold a conversation. It turns out the woman, the man’s senior, is traveling to a high school reunion in hopes of recapturing something from youth that has gone missing. The younger man’s destination is a new town where a romantic opportunity and a promising livelihood await. On arriving, he’s sure, life will be fulfilling. It’s a parable, of course—both characters miss the charm of the train station itself, and a surreal twist that leaves the reader to wonder if it exists at all. It’s a parable, of course.

            I’ve always been fascinated by time. I’ve been baffled by the illusion of ‘linear time’ that is said to but a construct of man, haunted by the ineffable concept of eternity, and inspired by the people, places and things that seem to defy time altogether. The stories that have resonated with me throughout life are those, like ‘Great Expectations,’ ‘Wuthering Heights ‘and ‘The Scarlett Letter’ that speak of the interconnectedness of every moment—a seed planted here or there that comes to fruition decades or even centuries later.

            I suspect the fascination is somewhat universal; like most things, it allures or repels. Those inspired by time cultivate a fixation with it and those who fear it dismiss it altogether, relegating past and future to the dusty, cobweb-laden corner of their minds in which so many inconvenient things reside—the annals of existential terror. My hunch that I am not alone in my fascination with time is confirmed by language itself—it is fraught with idioms, colloquialisms and figurative expressions on the matter: we love time when it heals all wounds, and we lament it when it marches on. We embrace the notion when it is on our side, and resent it when we run out of, are in a race against it, or have none to lose. Some sayings are contradictory: There’s no time like the present, and yet hindsight is 20/20! We waste time and never have enough of it, and yet time abounds when there is plenty of time for something. At its worst, time destroys all and all good things come to an end in time. You get the idea.

            In the late -90s, popular culture embraced—even touted—the value of being ‘in the moment.’ Entire books like Eckhart Tolle ‘s ‘The Power of Now’ entreated us to stop ruminating on the past or worrying about the future as this moment is all that truly exists. All else is an illusion; a cobbling together of neural circuits relegated to former sensory impressions. Worry about the future is no different; low-level anxiety is known to be more destructive to our health than acute stress. In that way, another popular sentiment seems prudent: change what you can and accept what you can’t. Surrender. Or conversely, take the bull by the horns and profit from every moment. Every moment is a universe unto itself that can be transformed.

            I subscribe one hundred percent to the above. I am acutely aware that many find themselves trapped in past narratives, beating old drums that do little more than justify the less-than-desirable circumstances and conditions known as their present. I see families that insist on holding members to old ‘roles,’ limiting their freedom to grow and transform; the challenge is universal. As an artist, I have had the good fortune of indulging a lifetime of meditation while plein aire painting or even singing. When engaged in the creative process, the mental chatter subsides, yielding to gamma waves; the equivalent of meditation or chanting. I also keep a regular regime of the aforementioned, but when I can’t, I remind myself that performing Ave Maria at the steering wheel of my car serves the same purpose: that of stripping away mind and ego. And not just for the embarrassment that arises when caught belting it out at a stoplight. Every painter knows that appreciating a dapple of light, or the play of light on a leaf as it refracts its hues into the particles of the atmosphere is a form of love. Appreciation—gratitude—is the ultimate in platonic love. In short, I am a big fan of the moment.

            And yet, another quality I would count among those that make me an artist is my nostalgic streak. My love and appreciation for history—for style and its evolution, for the dialectic of our human evolution. My fond memories, and even those with darker edges, are one hundred percent what I draw on in my writing. The reservoir of archetypes that live in me, infused with the authentic charge of a lived experience, is where the universality lies. I would not trade this love of the past for the world. The bonds I share with family and loved ones was forged (yes, chemically) by shared experiences and time spent together, whether tangible or not! Love requires a past. Indeed, so does the future. The word quierer, in Spanish, is used for to love. But literally, it means to want. In my experience, desire, another word for love, is the wanting of more. It’s a projection of hope and aspiration on an imagined future. All creation comes from envisioning what is not yet manifest but will be in the imaginary future.

            And so, I am torn. I strive to remain unhindered by the past, unshackled by narratives, mantras and counterproductive thought forms; after all, beliefs about the world are really just familiar neural circuits—the thoughts we keep thinking. At the same time, I value my memories and the collective annals of human history on the macro level. Memories of the past keep us warm on cold nights, and visions of the future inspire us to rise another day. To add to the value of past and future, consider the familiar conventional wisdom: we must remember history lest it repeat itself.  Communities and ethnic groups who have been marginalized, ostracized or even subjected to genocide very much honor this sentiment.

            I do not have all the answers, nor do I wish to impose my own values on others—simply to engage in the conversation and contribute to transformation. I would offer that, as always, balance is where it’s at! I have read and live by Tolle’s The Power of Now—have made a concerted effort to resist defining myself by the past in perpetuating it—to resist ruminating, perseverating or reciting the obsolete mantras that are a laundry list of excuses for so many. Simply put, my violins are firmly under lock and key. Similarly, I look for satisfaction and fulfillment now, rather than always attaching it to some future accomplishment or milestone. I strive to smell the flowers along the way, unlike those characters in the train station unaware of their surroundings. Even so, I cannot help but notice that those who take the dismissal of the past to the extreme—who seemingly haven’t a sentimental or nostalgic bone in their bodies, seem to be missing out. In fact, their memories appear to be stilted, repressed, unavailable. Victims of abuse, trauma, or even the horrors of war cannot be judged for keeping painful memories at bay. But within reason, I find the popular speaking out against the value of the past of late a form of overcompensation. A form of confirmation bias that justifies one’s own inclinations and asserts or imposes on others. To counter such, I am gently offering that there is value to past and future, as long as one observes balance. As in all things. I am constantly inspired by luminaries like Jane Fonda, Hillary Clinton and Gloria Steinem, who insist on remaining relevant. Rather than taking us dinosaurs out to pasture or to the glue factory, society might benefit from the wisdom that comes with age. These legacies, war stories, fond remembrances and tributes are the means by which we continue to transform and evolve! The theory of Relativity suggests that time is but a construct of man, that it is relative, and though it’s hard to wrap one’s brain around, that all times exist simultaneously in the space time continuum. It is my contention that many of our prophets—visionary Creatives—recognize this fact and often predict phenomena science or quantum mechanics has yet to explain. 

            As Mentalism, the Law of Attraction, Manifestation and other concepts often lumped into the New Age category of the bookstore capture popular imagination, the idea of heightened awareness, or consciousness, is more and more a cultural value. Many strive to navigate life ‘fully conscious’ or aligned. Far from the concept of enlightenment, stripping away mind and ego to one’s core consciousness is said to yield platonic qualities like love, compassion, joy, equanimity, creativity, and higher vision. I would add gratitude, compassion, empathy and pure appreciation to that list. In that spirit, the state of pure appreciation and gratitude that comes with stillness—with a heightened awareness of the most subtle stirring of a leaf or a dapple of light, is synonymous with being ‘in the moment.’ But perhaps it’s also being conscious—or aware—of all moments. J


           The Moment as Alignment

     During this seemingly unprecedented moment of isolation, our interconnectedness as humans, ironically, could not be more apparent. There has been much talk of the fear often at the core of our divisiveness. My own attention has turned to healing that divisiveness, dissolving those illusions that we are separate, isolate beings. In practice, many have had the experience of stumbling into states of higher consciousness, those characterized by platonic values like compassion, gratitude, unconditional love or agape, personal liberty and pure appreciation. It is in this pure state of awareness that we are most attuned to our kinship with all of creation as the physical manifestations of a single life force. When admiring, adoring or appreciating a perfect rose, an infant, or even a puppy, we discover the place where inner peace, stillness and well-being reside, beyond the constant mental chatter that normally dominates. Very few, however, have a conceptual understanding of how and when this state occurs. Ironically, the state is one completely independent of the conceptual mind. For this reason, I have always found books on how to align spiritually or reach a state of higher consciousness a contradiction in terms. But there is no way around it. The ideal would seem to be digesting concepts presented in a book, finding their resonance within based on past experience and imagination, and applying those principles moving forward.


            Many schools of thought distinguish between mind and ego, and one’s core essence or baseline state of awareness. There are many ways of putting it, but the consensus is that this state is synonymous with life. The conceptual function of our brains arguably evolved over time and became synonymous with language. And yet, as humans, we have come to identify 100% with that voice in our head that never pipes down. Plato called the realm of concepts, nearly always tied to a word equivalent, the realm of ideal forms. As a less than perfect example, the definitive statement, ‘this is an apple’ can be disproven if enough questions are asked. The truth is, what we call an apple is simply a collection of particles that is in process, subject to flux: that is, time, circumstance, and perspective. That collection of particles was once a seed, now appears to be what we call an apple, and will one day be in complete decay, its particles dispersing and returning to the collective. Deepak Choprah speaks of the body not as a ‘thing’ but a ‘process;’ the body one lives in today is not the body one lived in as an infant, or a toddler, or even yesterday. To compound the fallibility of labeling matter via language, both the apple and the human body we call ‘me’ or ‘I’ is 99.9999999 percent comprised of energy. In that way, ‘Apple’ (with a capital ‘A,’) is but a concept. There is plenty in existence that we simply can’t find the words for; we call that which defies language and cannot be approximated in words ineffable. The real problem is, those words that symbolize concepts are subject to context and laden with cultural relativity, connotation, and other baggage like intonation, intent and nonverbal communication.

            Mentalist schools of thought like the Law of Attraction and manifestation speak of the mechanics by which we create our own realities. To have a hand in it, we are encouraged to maintain an awareness of our narratives, world views and beliefs—which in the end, are just thought we keep thinking. Familiar neural circuits. Went on auto pilot, most of us are so seamlessly identified with the thoughts in our heads that we simply take them for granted. And yet we are still manifesting, all day every day—creating by default. Conversely, there are said to be moments of alignment during which one is stripped of mind and ego. In these moments, the mental chatter is quieted and we have access to pure state of consciousness. This heightened state of awareness severs identification with our conceptual minds. That is, we experience the true nature of things rather than the label or concept that language has attached to it. In this way, we disidentify with mind and ego.

            So, what is left? According to many, a pure state of being. The baseline essence of consciousness, unfettered by mind and ego.  In addition to yielding the higher platonic values mentioned earlier, I would venture to say that wellbeing and inner peace characterize this state of gamma waves, absent interference. During meditation, or when deeply engaged in the creative process, we tap into a field of pure potential that explains the metahuman feats of athletes at peak performance and the masterpieces of artists and musicians who seem to have a direct line to the transcendent. This is no small thing, as the field of pure potential is where all transformation begins—on the individual level and the societal. The wellbeing and health—physical, mental and spiritual—of an individual, is innate in this state. The forces that erode it, like low-level anxiety and chronic stress, are born in the conceptual realm; if one worries about the future, he or she may experience the physiological panic of a fight-or-flight response to something that merely exists as an idea in the mind.

            The benefits of reaching this state of detachment from what I’m calling the ‘conceptual’ realm—whether through meditation, prayer, chanting, creative endeavor or simple stillness—go far beyond the prospect of simply manifesting one’s desires. I would venture to say that doing so is integral to our evolution on a macrocosmic level, especially that of our ethics and morals. It should be clear that transcending the limiting thought forms of our social conditioning is what allows us to send rockets into space—we must envision what lies beyond current paradigms. And all inspiration, all imagination, lies in this field of pure potential. But the most prescient fringe benefit in my view, especially at this moment of acute upheaval and social strife, is the altruistic instinct that may just be our salvation. Only by recognizing our shared humanity—the consciousness we all share, can we choose compassion over judgment, grace and mercy over vengeance.  When we quiet our minds, we experience the true essence of things. Once one we dissolve the illusion that dominates much of daily functioning, can we appreciate a tree as just another physical manifestation of the consciousness shared by all of creation. We can see the shared humanity in the eyes of our fellow man. We can access the true power of love in the appreciation of a gentle breeze, a fluttering leaf, or the dapple of light dancing thereupon!