Where is the break with our past most apparent?

by Antonio Dias

“Forever.”

When I read this simple word no matter where, it gives me pause. There was a time when forever had a tangible solid ring. Today? No more.

There are countless assumptions that were once seemingly reasonable, that ring hollow today. It is a symptom of the end of an era.

In this situation the change in a reasonable expectation of forever, looking either backwards or forwards, stands out from the rest.

Forever appears to be about the future. It is equally about the past. And, a certain attitude towards the term seems to be a boundary between what was seen as a firm foundation not so long ago, to what has become a sign of clueless-ness today.

We use forever in a variety of contexts.

“I will love you forever.”

“Its been raining forever!”

“This will, or won’t, last forever.”

What underlies them all is not only an assumption about the duration of time. It is a statement of how we expect to carry certainty across time.

Brandishing forever, in any of its guises, we claim, not only, that what must be a limited duration is as good as eternal. We insist it is possible, helpful, meaningful; to have such an opinion and to “stand by it.”

These attitudes are transparent to us most of the time. And, not “in a good way.” As with other obsolete assumptions this one hides in plain sight.

This, perhaps invisibility is a better term for it. This blind spot is one of a horde of, not so much invisible as ignored, connections coming home to roost all about us. This is a problem. We are saturated and fatigued by the constant assailing of what we have taken for a complete view of “reality” that is more and more clearly nothing of the kind.

This strikes us daily. We have assented to a series of fictions of solidarity. Or, if that is too strong, at least a certain distant benevolence, wrapping us in an embrace promising security. From paternal deities to “friendly” brands, or civil or civic leaders, or servants of the public good.

We do all brandish a shell of superficial cynicism, but when our beliefs in external benevolence are directly challenged; our reactions; an instinctive anger and distrust of any messenger of bad news, show that we would just rather not know.

And, this does not only apply to established religious traditions. It is most virulent – maybe even for the most staunchly “fundamentalist” sects, as much as with the avowedly secular among us – when it is directed at our civic religion of Progress.

The most mundane expression of the obvious, something directed at the way things are not getting “better,” but that maybe, for example, places like Detroit, or upstate New York, are not “backward.” They are harbingers of a condition awaiting us all on a descent from whatever level of progress we might have at one time held….

This example is U. S. centric. Substitute favela, or refuge camp, or occupied territory; and get a sense of what is just a little further along this road we’re racing down.

There is a good chance you’re not taking in what follows a declaration like that. The white haze is closing in. The resistance and its assurances that none of this can possibly be true – strangely co-existing peacefully with an expectation of a quick flash of culminating apocalypse as the only possible alternative to everything always getting better, forever.

Even if you aren’t in the throes of such a reaction, I do suspect that you know what this feels like. We cannot escape this stage of resistance as we pass from the old ways into whatever is coming along.

This reaction is useful. If, we can manage to witness its acrobatics and not just allow it to deliver us, exhausted and a bit too comfortable in our rankled and disturbed state back into our ragged cocoon.

What happens when we do this? Letting the tide wash over us and waiting patiently for it to subside, is a new form of peace.

We are exposed to a relief we can not achieve any other way. We have not been carried away. Into this little space of calm, other assurances arise. We don’t need to defend the indefensible. We have not exploded at the mere mention of a chink in our armor of external security. Even a sense of relief might arise. We are at the point of discovering joyful disillusionment. The hooks of those who, trapped in their own panic, insist and expect to profit by trafficking on our anxiety, have been dislodged. Maybe just a little bit. But the feeling….

You see, that’s one of the biggest prices we pay for supporting this religion, atheists and fanatic believers alike. The loss of an ability to feel. Consumed by anxiety over how a lack of “security” makes us feel, we lose any ability to feel anything at all, but the shocks and jolts of falsified terror and ersatz amusement someone has decreed to be profitably marketable.

This new space has a different relationship to duration. Instead of the rush of a future hurtling towards us in a fury of religious frenzy, carrying the promise of “singularity” or the horrors of apocalypse. This duration is not pushed as if by the white-hot rush of fossil fuels or nuclear decay. Duration has been unchained from the chariot of Progress. And, we begin to notice this is – not theoretically, or ideally, but distinctly, physically feeling like – an improvement.

We wonder at how we never noticed before. How it could be so well hidden from view. Until we acknowledge how deeply ingrained the habits of resistance to any such realization are. How much energy, physical and emotional, is spent on fighting any glimmer of its appearance.

What we are seeing is the seismic shift in our relationship to forever.

The attitude behind our current assumptions regarding forever are caught within our anxious relationship with duration as it is dramatized in our conception of security.

When security is abstracted from its place as a temporary and passing concern – of total commitment and absorption at a distinct moment of danger – and becomes a value held as an absolute above all other considerations, it brings about the opposite of what it purports to want to achieve. This impulse to control, to resist the necessity for change, becomes a biophobia, a fear of life itself. No wonder that everything we attempt while under its thrall is destructive and ends up in our dealing mega-death and meta-death, annihilation and extinction.

Duration and the pressure of the passing of every phase into another. In a helix of change and near return moving inexorably some-where-else, some-time-other-than-now, becomes a burden. We exhaust our selves striving to resist. The more we burn out, the more frantic we become in our insistence that duration and change be conquered. In this panic we oscillate between the imagined delights of Progress and the torments of apocalypse.

You see, it hardly matters which we achieve. In either case we have “overcome” duration and change. We have come to rest, which in our confusion we mistake for peace.

Feeling has to go! Feeling is an insistent pressure challenging our convictions that everything must die so we can achieve our goal. Life has to be throttled and, even within our organisms, held at the lowest possible level of vitality, leaving just enough for the work at hand. To accomplish the destruction we are committed to achieving we cannot allow so much vitality that our own life-force would be able to rebel against the chains of ideology and belief that hold us to this course.

So, back to forever. Our assumptions surrounding forever act as a gauge. As we begin to see where we are in relation to our assumptions about duration and change, we begin to gauge our relation to this prison surrounding us.

Here is the hard part.

Urgency. Something that otherwise might seem an appropriate reaction to a dangerous situation. Remember where it comes into play, say when confronted with a direct act of violence or accident. It is a life-saver. It’s just that here, in this state of chronic anxiety we have been reduced to, urgency is just another trigger to cycle us back into our accustomed and, at this point, a totally pathological pattern.

There is a difference. Although it is hard to tell them apart without direct experience of the two situations. The urgency that arises out of contact with an immediate danger is centering. It is calming. It focuses and directs us.

The urgency we have been trained into does none of these. It decouples us from our direct experience. It makes it impossible for us to focus. It leaves us floundering. It has no potential benefit of any kind. No matter how frantic we may become in its defense.

It is frightening to recognize how so many – most – of the potential guides and ancestral role models we might want to consult have failed at this test. It is sobering to see how lonely it is on this side of this epochal change.

There is a consolation. If we could turn to many role models with a healthy attitude regarding forever and we were still in the situation we find our selves in, then, how much more hopeless our situation?

Breaks from the past require changes in momentum. People don’t change much. But the way we organize our thoughts. How we come to believe what we believe. These things – as with everything else – evolve over time.

“Evolve” is not code for “getting constantly better just because time has passed” as it has come to mean in the religion of Progress. To evolve is to change, with the possibility that an internal change might find traction with changing circumstances and lead to a new stability.

A transient, ever changing, and never static stability. A far cry from our insistence on security at all costs. Culminating in the security of the dead on a dying and diminished world.

Losing the false haven of forever, we have no promises to comfort us as we face the consequences of so much error. So much confusion masquerading as certainty. So much destruction done in the name of security.

Is it possible to recognize that living without such promises is actually more…, like living?

We can only find out if we manage to let go of forever.