The other day, my internet Pen Pal Steve shared a post with me from Derek Sivers about keeping a daily journal – something I have scattered experience with.

Here’s a portion of my response to Steve’s initial email:

I have, for many years, kept a conventional paper/pen journal. I have lapses where I haven’t entered anything for months, and other periods that are relatively prolific. My current stint is pretty much daily for a few months now. They are usually pretty boring, but I do go back and read old ones once in-awhile. They are scattered in 10-12 different journals as well as I would fill one and start or get a new one and start in that one. Some of them start in one year and then end maybe 5 years later with spans of the time in between either missing or in other journals. 

Thinking about these journals got me started thinking about my past in general. As I said above I don’t read these old entries too much and when I do I’m often struck by a sense of reading something by another person. They are often times embarrassing – “geez, what an idiot I was then” or “I was so freaking out about what eventually turned out to be nothing” – as well as all kinds of other cringe-worthy moments that can only occur when we read things written by a past self. It’s very hard to view them with anything other than a “hindsight is 20/20”-type of mentality. I realize I was – and possibly still am – far more likely to write about bad things, or when things weren’t going right – I made a mistake, was worried about something (invariably that was out of my control anyway), etc. Of course they are often packed full of complaints and general discontent. Very rarely did I crack a book and jot down, “Damn, everything is unicorns and rainbows today!” As such the journals often seem characterized by a general malaise. Perhaps something I should work on – or not. There’s no rules to these things – unless you want there to be. Mr. Sivers certainly applies more structure to his process than I ever have – or intend to.

We Carry Our Pasts Like Baggage

But those bags are empty – there’s nothing in them. I can’t go back and find any of those moments from the past anywhere. They’re gone. The I that was me then is gone too. As are the people I interacted with. They’re no longer the same people – even if I still see them everyday.

“We can only truly live in the present moment… so we should be sincere, in our conduct at the present moment.”

Gudo Wufu Nishijima

Obviously events of the past have led to where I am today and some of the effects of my actions – and the actions of others – may still be felt, but most likely they’ve dissipated, changed, or I don’t even remember correctly how or what happened. Statistically speaking, our memories are biased, flawed – in many cases flat out terrible – and in addition entirely unique to us as individuals. Everyone else remembers the same thing entirely differently from me.

I am not a product of my past and the person that I was during all that time no longer exists. That time, those moments, no longer exist – they are gone, no matter how real they seem to me in my mind or how often I choose to dredge them up and revisit them.

I am a product of my thoughts and actions in this moment – and only this moment. And then the moment ends and I am a product of the next one. This is a liberating realization. The only thing that is real and that I have even a modicum of control over is my conduct in this moment – therefore that is all I need to focus on.

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