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Monday, March 30, 2009

(past) present (future)

I've been thinking lately about Spinoza's advice: Put aside hope. Concentrate upon joy. One of the things he's addressing in this remark is the error of thinking that we have a future, therefore that it makes sense to hope for this or that to come about. What we call "past" and "future" are in fact memory and imagination. All we ever actually have is the present. "Hope" is the act of projecting what we imagine into the future. The more elaborate our "plans" for this imaginary future, the more "certain" we imagine it to be. But it never is certain; it's not even necessary. Yet this illusion about the future is not the worst feature of hoping. What's worse is the toll it takes on the present. Joy, by contrast, is always about the present. Even remembered joys restore me to the moment, for I experience them now and can revel in having arrived at this point. Hope thus robs one's life of the joy of the moment. Here's one of my favorite of Blake's quatrains:

            Who seeks to bind to themselves a joy,
Does that winged life destroy;
      Who simply kisses joy as it flies,
Lives in eternity's sunrise...

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