I’ve thought a lot about the future. Mostly about what community and belonging look like in the future. Thank you to our OPM Collective fans for sharing your thoughts with me about community in 2030. Some of you had very futuristic ideas. Some of you had ideas grounded in lessons learned from the past. And a few of you shared insight around staying in the present moment.
Speaking of staying in the present moment...It’s hard. I’ve been meditating every day for the past five years of my life. What have I learned? That each day it is STILL hard to stay in the present moment. Research shows that being present (achieved through mindfulness meditation) mitigates anxiety and depression and is correlated with a happier life (Crego, et. al, 2021). Ok, so if I work even harder at staying present then I will be happier? Kind of. But not really.
I have a new theory. A theory that suggests that time as we’ve been taught to know it, doesn’t exist. It is a social construct. (I borrowed that one from my spiritual guides and I’m not going to use research here because there isn’t any. My spiritual beliefs are not founded in science and I am totally ok with that.) A construct that serves us well when it comes to productivity and performance, but that doesn’t serve us too well when it comes to life’s greater questions like why am I here and what is my purpose. My theory also suggests that we humans have the power to control time, instead of letting time control us.
Time is a funny thing. How many messages do we receive that sound like this: “Time is running out. Act now.” “Your biological clock is ticking. When will you have children?” “Your greatest commodity is time.” “Don’t waste your time.” And one from Benjamin Franklin himself- “Time is money”- which makes me just as confused about money as I am confused about time.
Yes, our bodies have an expiration date (that being death), but I’m pretty sure that the majority of the human population, whether we liked it or not, revisited this concept of time during the pandemic. What we originally thought would be a three week quarantine turned into 16 months of staying at home. We blinked and we are here- reopening businesses, getting on planes again, going back to the office. Or maybe it didn’t feel like a blink at all. Maybe it felt like the longest prison sentence ever. Or maybe it felt like both. The point being that no matter the months that were counted, we felt some way about it, and our feelings were largely driven by our thoughts, and our thoughts are often constructed by the media we are fed, the people we are surrounded by, and the previous experiences we have had.
Which brings me back to the concept of time. The PAST specifically. I’m currently taking an online course about trauma. What have I learned? Humans are constantly acting in ways that mimic the things that have happened to them in the past. So the past contains a lot of information about how we will act in the present and how we will continue to act in the future, unless we decide to do something about it. The past is very useful data. And so we need it to survive and perhaps we need it to survive better (that is, with a little more ease).
If the past is data, then the PRESENT is inner peace. I’ve studied several scientific models of well-being and one item that rarely (if ever) gets included is inner peace. What is inner peace? It is contentment. It is neither happy nor sad. It is neither stuck nor striving. It is still. It is ok. It is day after day after day of quarantine. Not waiting for change but accepting things as is. And so, we also need the present to survive. Without this exact moment in time- what we call now- we would cease to exist on all levels, physically, mentally, and spiritually. And without inner peace about this exact moment in time- however painful or joyful it may be- we can become quite anxious or depressed or ill, all of which make surviving quite the struggle to do.
And if the past is data and the present is inner peace, then the FUTURE is...well, whatever you want it to be. Let us not forget that we get to create our future. And I don’t mean everything is in our control. Aside from time, I think most things are not in our control. (Here is my spiritual side talking again.) Shit happens. Sometimes some very serious shit happens. The kind of shit where it’s really not helpful to say Shit happens. Sometimes it’s easier to say things like This is God’s plan or Everything happens for a reason. It doesn't matter what we say; it matters how we respond. And some of what helps us to respond is planning ahead of time. And some of what helps us to plan is doing whatever we can now to create the future we want. And so, we need the future to thrive- to go beyond mere surviving and toward joy, optimism, and hope. And not in a desperate and “time running out” kind of way. More often than not, you don’t get to see (in your lifetime) the future you work hard to create. But hopefully the next generation does. And that makes it all worth it.
So if the past is data and the present is inner peace (and both of those enable you to survive), and the future is hope (and that enables you to thrive) then all together TIME - not the time that counts hours and days and months and years, but the time that lives in our stories and in our breath and in our plans- makes for a life well lived.
And so, we must do our better than our previous best, in pandemic times and in post-pandemic times, to use the data we gather from our past, to work hard to stay in the present moment and to maintain inner peace, and to build a better future for ourselves and for generations to come.
But what is the future you want? For me personally, I want a future where I get to design circles and clothing and experiences for my family and for my friends. And for the world, I want a future where community and belonging for others matters as much as it does for me. And as I work on those things, I’ll continue to learn about my past (I will be returning to my great-grandparents’ village in Greece in another week to uncover more family stories) and about my country’s past (I’ve become obsessed with learning about slavery and racism in America), and I’ll continue to meditate every day. All of these behaviors are my way of not letting time dictate my life, but of leveraging time to live my life.
Crego, A., Yela, J. R., Gomez-Martinez, M. A., Riesco-Matias, P., Petisco-Rodriguez, C. (2021). Relationships between mindfulness, purpose in life, happiness, anxiety, and depression: Testing a mediation model in a sample of women. Int J Environ Res Public Health.18(3):925. doi: 10.3390/ijerph18030925