What does the word ‘lifeline’ mean to you? Do you see your life as a continuous line? Or as a series of loosely connected present moments?
Imagine for a moment that you draw a line with chalk over rough surface. It’s a straight(ish) continuous line. Except that it’s not.
Look closer. Image the line magnified so that every tiny undulation in the surface is clearly visible. Look between the peaks. You’ll find little chalk in the valleys.
What appeared at first to be a continuous line is actually a series of dots where the chalk has scraped against the protruding rough parts of the surface.
Your life is a bit like that. We have a tendency to see it in terms of a continuous line since that is how we think we experience it. This idea is further strengthened by our mind’s preoccupation with looking back through memories and forward through our imaginations.
This impression is reinforced by idea that the past determines the present and the present is no more than a link between that past and the future for which we are preparing.
Life is a Series of Present Moments
But life is actually a series of present moments. The past does not exist except in your memory. Most of the time it is no more useful than background noise. You cannot change it.
And the future does not exist except in your imagination. Sure, you can prepare for the future, but you cannot control it. The best preparation is to be ready to accept what is thrown at you.
In their book, The Courage to be Disliked, Ichiro Kishimi and Fumitake Koga compare our tendency to try to live in the past and the future to a performing artist on a dimly lit stage in an auditorium.
If you are standing on such a stage, you will be just about visible against the background scenery. You will certainly not stand out.
You will be able to see the auditorium, albeit a bit unclearly, and may even be able to make out some people or features of the space.
Would you expect that you as an artist would give a good, memorable performance in that auditorium?
After all, the audience will be just about able to see you, they will have little reason to focus on you, and you will be distracted by what you can see around you. You will also have no reason to think you are the centre of attention in your performance.
Step Into the Spotlight of the Present Moment
Compare this now to an artist on stage who stands in a strong spotlight. They are clearly the star of the show. They are unmissable. All eyes are on them. It’s their opportunity to perform and to shine.
For as long as the spotlight stays on them, the audience will pay attention and bend to their wishes. They are invisible to the artist and so are not of great concern. And the scenery behind is of little importance. It’s barely visible.
The scenery behind you is your past. It’s set and unmoving. You cannot change it in any way.
The auditorium is your future. It’s there, it may be discernible to an extent. But it’s unclear, perhaps vague. It’s mostly outside your control although you may be able to influence it by your performance.
The stage is your present moment. Is that where the spotlight is shining? Is there even a spotlight in your life? Or are you so afraid of the spotlight that you will step out of its beam when it appears?
Are you afraid of the present moment? Is that why you ruminate on the past and worry about the future?
And when you do step into the spotlight of the present moment, what do you do then?
Why not live each moment as a dance? A dance has no past and is not a preparation for a future. There is no more purpose than the action itself.
In the words of Kishimi and Koga:
‘When you have danced here and now in earnest and to the full, that is when the meaning of your life will become clear to you. … The life that lies ahead of you is a completely blank page, and there are no tracks that have been laid for you to follow.’