The idea of progress is so deeply built into our culture that most of us are conditioned always, and only, to look ahead. Our difficulties will be resolved, we tell ourselves, if only we work harder, or get clearer about what we want, if we can accumulate more, manage our time better, finish this project, get that job, win that customer. It seems so obvious, this idea that everything that human life and work is about is more, better, faster, and that we will only really live when we arrive in the future that it will bring.
The difference between what we imagine is supposed to happen and what often does can leave us feeling lifeless, depleted, shallow, resentful. And so we push harder, go faster, blame ourselves and others for our situation, because we believe we ought to be able to get just what we want. We become people with only an ahead, and we forget what is behind us. We become beings with no history to speak of, always judging life on where we have yet to get to, and excluding where we have been.
But it’s only one way of telling the story of a single life, or of a society, and it leaves so much out. For one thing, the world often doesn’t respond straightforwardly to our efforts in the way the story would have us believe should happen. How many countless hours of your effort leave the world just as it was before you started? For another, the story does not account for the events that were already in motion before we each arrived on the planet, out of which we were born and into which our lives are always unfolding, which are much bigger than each of us alone is able to see, let alone control.
Can you see the progress story acting in your own life, and what it brings? Can you imagine taking on a different story in which behind you and around you are as significant as ahead? A story in which you are an expression of, and always part of, something much bigger than you are that began long before you? And could you find a way of being fully, vibrantly present in your life even if it turned out that today – whatever it is like – is as good as it gets?