Sunday, August 12, 2012

Zhuangzi and the Past

     Lately I've been thinking a lot about the past.  I find myself, involuntarily, turning back the clock to things I cannot change.  I can here Zhuangzi say, "Well, if you can change the past, and it would make you feel better, do it."  What does this mean?  Well, the past is not just the past; it is an interpretation, a perception.  When the events of the past occured in the first place, it was a matter of interpretation.  Our whole perception of ourselves is constructed after the fact as though there were some coherent story behind it.  This story is what gives our lives meaning, and also traps us within its confines.

     There are plenty of things I could resent about my past, plenty of people I could be angry at -- especially myself.  I've done many things I wish I hadn't.  I have limitations I wish I didn't have. But the things I've done I had no choice in doing, just like objects have no choice but to fall.  It's the same with everyone else I could get mad at.

     As I've gotten older, my desire to achieve has been replaced by a desire for relaxation and pleasure.  What else can I want?  It turns out that most of the things I enjoy are remarkably wholesome: being at home with my wife and dog(who is currently trying to bury a toy under me), teaching and reading history.  Desiring achievement is, for me, an invitation to frustration.  I am giving up competition.  It is my past, my failures in competition, that haunt me, whether the competition was intellectual or moral.  Some competitions are necessary to achieve a certain lifestyle, which I do enjoy, so I can't begrudge the time and struggle of the past.  I'm just glad it's in the past, and that's where I want that impulse to stay.  I'm not meant to compete; I'm just meant to hang out and take it easy.

     As for death, I'm frankly glad it's coming.  Life itself is tiring.  I feel I could die at any time.  I don't fear it or dread it.  In the meantime I'll hang out. 

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