It has been said that we have only the present. That’s partly correct. Our actions occur in the present, that’s true, but we don’t act on instinct, moment-by-moment. We live very much outside of the present. Perhaps worms moving through the soil live only in the present as they turn right or left on a whim. People, at least most of the time, don’t act as purely spontaneous worms.
We live the future through the magical machines of what might be. We dream of lassoing a passing cloud. We plan for times that have not yet come to pass so we are ready to take a critical action in the optimal moment. We stand poised to hit our mark in time. It’s difficult to describe the future beyond saying that the future seems like the past except with fewer memories.
We live in the past through memories, good or bad. Memories exist in our minds as if they are still happening. The previous second is frozen in the ice of the past. The past is made of fossils and footprints. The past is a series of snapshots, of flowering moments pressed into the mind’s journal.
The mind expands the perception of actionable time through past memories and future planning. The imagination goes further, spanning before birth and after we are gone. It can be a confusing dichotomy, the expansive timelessness of consciousness with only one fluid moment to act upon. Yet past and future lay outside the grasp, beneath the ice, intangible though only by a moment.
The worm living in the moment would laugh at our complicated concerns of past and future as it crawls directly toward the richest soil. Our minds, untethered to the present, try to optimize all frozen moments using the ever-moving window of actionable time as our only tool. We move circuitously toward what we believe will be the richest soil several maneuvers into the future, like a chess game we play with our lives as we wait for the actionable moment to arrive from the future.