“We have to continually be jumping off cliffs and developing our wings on the way down.” – Kurt Vonnegut
At a family get together in an apartment building in Denver just after the Christmas holiday I stood on the outdoor patio ten stories above the ground and looked west, towards the skyline of the Rocky Mountains which are visible from just about anywhere in Denver. The sun had already gone down, indeed much of the sky was already black, but the sky behind the mountains still shone bright yellow, perfectly outlining the long, semi-jagged line of peaks stretching from Pikes Peak far to the south, Mount Evans in the middle directly above Denver, to the obvious pyramid of Longs Peak to the north. A long line of black bumps on a skyline, it reminded me of something…
Recently on a long drive home to Colorado from spending a couple weeks in California I was listening to a book on tape to make the hours pass more rapidly. The book was “Slaughterhouse-Five” by Kurt Vonnegut. In it the main character, named Billy, is kidnapped by aliens from another world – specifically the planet of Tralfamador. The Tralfamadorians had mastered the art and physics of long distance space travel and took Billy to their planet where they put him on display in a zoo. To the Tralfamadorians, the most interesting thing about humans was that they could only view time in a linear fashion. They themselves were capable of seeing time all at once: they could view everything that would happen during a person’s lifetime just by looking at them. When Billy tried to warn them about the dangerous attitudes and tendencies of humans, they were unfazed, as they claimed to already know how the universe would end – they would destroy it. Anyway, the way that Vonnegut chose to describe it, when a Tralfamadorian looked at a person, they saw its entire life stretched out as a timeline, like looking at a “long ridge-line of mountain peaks.” And so staring at the long line of mountain peaks still faintly illuminated above Denver, I thought about Time.
Theoretical physicists and highly-realized Himalayan yogis tell us that there is no such thing as the past or the future, that all of time is transpiring all at once, there is only the ever-present Now. Vonnegut describes the Tralfamadorians as understanding and being able to literally see this – instead of seeing a person in the current moment, they would see the person in every moment that they ever had or ever would live, as in, people exist all at once, not over the course of a long period. And I have to wonder if perhaps humans might have this same ability, or at least can learn to have this ability. We often have premonitions of the future. A common expression in our English lexicon is, “I just knew that was going to happen.” I recently read an account which described how each of these famous luminaries of the 20th century who were assassinated – Gandhi, Martin Luther King Jr., and John Lennon – all spoke to loved ones in the moments before their death as if they knew they were about to die. It seems to me that future events do in fact make themselves present in our consciousness from time to time, and for some people perhaps more than others.
I believe in free will, but perhaps a little bit differently than most people. I don’t currently believe that everything which happens to us in our lives is random, as in we randomly got hit by a car while riding our bike, we randomly caught a disease, we randomly ran into the person we would spend our whole lives with. Instead I believe that everything happens to us for a reason, both good and bad events, and that we are supposed to learn from everything which happens to us and everyone we meet. And so if everything happens to us with some sort of cosmic intent, then it stands to reason that we are not in control of every little detail of our lives, rather there is something else in control. Those who might question this idea need only look at recent events in their own lives and ask themselves honestly whether they had any control over whether it happened. It should be easy to see that we don’t. Those people who commonly experience synchronicity, coincidence, or things which seem too-good-to-be-true in their lives will probably agree with me that perhaps there is some sort of design behind it all… The way I see it, free will comes into play in how we choose to react to the things which happen to us. How we perceive an event and our attitude towards it and how we react to it is how we affect the direction of our own path in life, and to some degree ends up dictating what kind of events will continue to happen to us.
And yet, I can’t deny that we choose to DO things all the time, which certainly does seem like free will. However, as I recalled in my mind that yellow backlit skyline a few days later while writing in my journal, I started to wonder if perhaps many of our current thoughts and ideas are our future projected back upon us in the Now. To understand this, pretend for a minute that in six days you are going to meet a person who will change your life forever. This person is someone who will have such a strong impact on your life moving forward that after the fact you can’t imagine having not met them, a person whom it feels you were destined to meet. Now, if you are truly destined to meet this person, then circumstances are going to have to enable this to happen, the cosmos is going to have to start pulling some strings to bring about this rendezvous. Or maybe the You in the moment of the meeting has to plant some ideas in the past You’s mind in order to get you to DO some things, like go to the place where you will eventually meet. Essentially what I’m saying is that so many things must line up for a destined event to happen, is it really out of the question that the ideas which you have today, which “seem to come out of nowhere,” as all ideas do, are implanted there by either your future self, or the cosmos, or destiny, or whatever you want to call it, in order to make you act the way you need to for things to happen as they should? We humans seem to understand how our past effects our present, but we also take it for granted that we cannot know our future, and that the future most definitely does not effect the present. But are we wrong?
So these are the thoughts I was puzzling over when the old year ended and 2014 began. Suddenly it seemed to me that I should not be trying to decide what I WANT to happen in the next year. Instead I should be trying to know what WILL happen. If my own future is acting on the present me right now in order to make that future manifest into reality, then in theory I should be able to KNOW what that future entails, right? I look back on 2013 and there were some really crazy and unexpected things which happened, things which at the time seemed to completely blindside me, or were shocking in their serendipity. But with hindsight I would really be lying if I said that there weren’t significant amounts of hints and clues that these things were going to happen. Most of the time I just wasn’t perceptive enough at the time to SEE those futures…
But I have to admit that as of this moment I don’t KNOW what is going to happen to me this year. Or do I? I think that we CAN see our own future, like the fictional Tralfamadorians; it’s simply a matter of learning how. In the past couple days, contemplating my own future, I have easily been able to imagine events happening to me, and even had mental images of what could be future events. Perhaps these really are visions and premonitions of my own future. How will I know?
My only ideas are to continue trying to see into the future as much as possible, while also paying really close attention to premonitions that I do have. I think that meditation could be very effective in helping this quest, so I will have to be more diligent about meditating this year. And I will need to continue to keep detailed daily journals where I write down these ideas and premonitions, so I have some sort of record that I can compare them to and see if they end up being correct. So there you have it, I guess I have some New Years Resolutions made up for myself after all!
Finally, as I type these words, watching the clouds turn orange with the sunset above another long line of mountain peaks forming the skyline above Zihuatanejo, Mexico, I also wonder how it would change one’s life to know their own future? I guess the best answer I can think of right now is this Vonnegut line from Slaughterhouse-Five: “Everything was beautiful and nothing hurt.”
Happy New Year!