We've been taught to believe that life is linear. In many ways it feels like it should be. But it's not. Reality is a messy, chaotic, and rather arbitrary experience.
The Myth of The Linear: Beginning, Middle, End
This belief in linearity is a product of systems that we build as humans to forge productive meaning in the world. It helps us build a sense of identity and purpose around our one directional pursuits. But it's a trap, full of unhelpful beliefs, judgement, and anxiety, because it takes us away from our messy truth.
Everything Is Breath
Time is represented by clocks, seasons, and years. These are repeating cycles with rhythmic patterns, expansions, and contractions.
Everything is breath. Inhale and exhale.
Space is represented by atlases and maps. They give us a picture of how and where the material world is positioned around us. Everything exists in temporal space relative to everything else. Things are formed. They expand, contract, degrade, and re-form into something new.
Everything is breath.
We keep the myth going. We pass milestones, judged by time. For example, we use age as a symbolic representation of who we are. And yet it says nothing intrinsically meaningful about a person.
We know that it means nothing. Just think of your response to the question "how does it feel to be 10?" or "how does it feel to be 50?" It feels no different at all. Why? Because the joy of life is not found in a linear experience of it. Joy, flow, and creativity all transcend the boxes, labels, and identities we try to squeeze life into.
Palliative care nurse, Bronnie Ware, recorded the thoughts of patients in the final 12 weeks of their lives. “When questioned about any regrets they had or anything they would do differently,” she says that “common themes surfaced again and again.”
All 5 of the biggest regrets are underpinned by drift. And a belief in the myth of life as a linear process. When we fall for this myth we engage in a pursuit of the unattainable object.
We get close to this in moments of existential angst. Maybe you've had such experiences yourself, where you think, "I've done this and I've done that, and yet I'm still not where I'm supposed to be."
Supposed To (Linear Mirages)
We are encouraged to keep our eyes on "supposed to" mirages. They're always just a little further down the road, attached to things like happiness, wholeness, and enough. Once we GET THERE, we will be OK. But when we arrive we discover they were an illusion. Until another one appears a little further along. "Maybe that's the answer", we say to ourselves as we pursue the next shimmering promise.
But what if there is no "there"? What freedom might that give us right "here" instead? To come back to the messy playful chaos around us in this moment. Only when we break with "supposed to" will we begin to feel the possibilities for growing life from the inside out instead.
The present moment is our canvas. And that canvas is all we truly have.
Our understanding of life is not linear. Memories aren't on a chronological conveyor belt. Sometimes our old experiences can feel completely present; and when we think of them it's like no time has passed. It's like those relationships with people when there is a fold in the timeline between meetings. It doesn't matter how long it's been, you just pick up exactly where you left off.
What if we were to picture life with this same awareness? To see our story, not as a timeline, but as a map. Where everything is connected, and we can reach anywhere we want within the landscapes of who we are. Because that's how life IS.
We can step off the linear conveyor belt. It's just a myth.
We can start to release the anxiety of not yet being, and the shame of not having been. And draw the canvas of our present from the inside. Living from a position of nowness, gratitude, and acceptance instead of supposed-to, will-when, and if only.