Does Our Past Necessarily Predict Our Futures?

A friend of mine once wrote on his Facebook status: “(Unfortunately) Nothing so greatly affects one’s future as one’s past.” The statement hit me sort of hard. It wasn’t a condemnation of my life or my future. It was something to evaluate—something to ponder, “Is this true of me?” And it was something to consider the implications if true.
I’ve been feeling an urgency lately to get moving on something—to build something, do something, to be something a bit more than what I’ve been in these last 33 years. It’s not as though I feel the years have been for naught. But I, like many of my age, suffer from the notion that time is limitless and that a perfect storm of circumstances will someday descend upon me, indicating when and where to go with my life.
I’m pretty sure time is drawing nigh. I’m pretty sure there will never be a better time than now. Circumstances won’t get better (they may well get worse actually). My health probably won’t get a heck of a lot better. So why the delay?
And therein lies the predictive quality of history. It’s not causal. My history need not dictate my future. But it’s probable. I’ve developed habits—psychological and physiological—that occasionally seem intractable. I know and have experienced the opposite: I’ve seen devastating handicaps like addiction removed from me. But a lot of other things—career, relationships, health—have been a long evolutionary slog, where the future seems like the spitting image of the past (or at least a very close relative.
So how does one unbind himself from his or her history? Or, perhaps just as important, should I work with this phenomenon or against it? In other words, might there be some freedom in being bound by my past? Might there be liberation in surrendering to a certain amount of preordination?
This is not to conflate surrender to one’s past as defeat or stagnation. Personally, I’ve seen great emotion and even physical evolution in my history; this in spite of many points of dissatisfaction: I can’t haven’t made any money in a long time, my relations with women are still highly dubious, I waste time watching DVD’s, surfing the web, I have trouble committing to people and projects. There are a bunch of other sundry items that elicit self-critique.
So what if my past was the best predictor of my future? What if I acted as though that were true? What if I surrendered to my past?
For one, I wouldn’t be worried about achieving great levels of success, because I’ve never really shown great ambition before. I’ve had a few stabs at success via gaining the approval of others, but as my approval rating has never been that high, my stabs were never fatal. I’ve definitely never given a shit about money. I enjoy having it, but have never drawn a connection between it and my wellbeing. As a consequence, I’ve never thrown much attention in a pecuniary direction.
I wouldn’t care about healthy relationships, because the past has shown that this is not a big issue for me. I can’t say I’m happy with messed up relationships, but what if I were to relinquish my expectation of my next relationship being a great one? Perhaps I could unburden my partner with unrealistic expectations.
If the past predicted my future, I might let go of expectations of being free from time-killing behaviors like surfing the web, overeating, self-pity, laziness, no discipline, staying up late, watching marathon session of “The Wire,” and a bunch of other objectionables. I would stop worrying about it because has been foretold.
On the other hand, what might the past foretell that might not paint such a bleak landscape?
Well, I’d keep getting happier. It’s a personal fact, over the last 10 or so years, things just seem to keep getting better and better. Over the last year in particular, I’ve experience a substantial increase in my ability to handle life. I don’t freak out about what people think about me. I handle unattended parties, rejected overtures and diminishing bank accounts with a level of self-mastery unthinkable 10 or 15 years ago.
Even though in the meta sense, my body is deteriorating in the way bodies do with age, my relative health is great. I’m thin as I’ve ever been and have a decent amount of muscle. I’m meditating daily and generally experience a good deal of physiological relaxation. So the future would say that I will keep getting healthier (age-induced entropy notwithstanding).
And though I complain about my romantic and sexual areas of discontent, my overall relationships have been getting better. With time and effort, I’ve managed to draw a number of wonderful people into my life. Okay, I’m not close to all people all the time, but there’s been substantial improvement in my level of intimacy and depth with my relationships. I have people I can call in times of need. There are people who check up on me.
So whether or not the past predicts the future relates back to yesterday’s conversation. The past is no more real than the future. Neither can be located. Neither exists aside from their observers and the observation throws the whole thing off. But the past as an aggregation of probabilistic occurrences in space and time might exist. And it might serve us to play the odds accordingly, using the past as reference point. It’s like an encyclopedia: informative, but not definitive.

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