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History of Future Men
ForestIt might have always been a tree. For a time the lodgepole stood in Montana, tall but unremarkable, among a forest of others, dressing the green mountain grade near the Wyoming border. Everyday, the tree reached towards the sun, a silent and lifelong trajectory set at seed to be fulfilled as course; a whole life, decided and unchanging. A tree’s pious life. In time, it might have leafed a canopy over its domain and accomplished all a tree’s noble little deeds. It might have always been a tree. And yet, that one tree found its place beyond the forest. That tree accomplished its lasting form, defying all the years it took to grow and leaf and root; a natural object sculpted into the full spirit of itself. Its history could not keep it from becoming a remarkable art that retains all the wonder of nature. A tree became a masterpiece. And now, for all time, men look upon that tree and hold silent, pious, sensing for themselves the forest around them and the roots that keep them from their own wonders.
WoodA man is a bread baker. He has always been a bread baker. He apprenticed under a master and honed his craft until he was able to make his living. He neither loves nor hates a warm rye, but knows it well and thus a path for his life is made. But when he is alone in his thoughts, he dreams of being an engineer. He dreams of Africa. He sees himself designing and constructing bridges, water filtration and pumping systems, schools, and hospitals. He sees a man affecting the world. The bread, or specifically the identity calcified by years of baking bread, roots him and keeps the self he imagines always imagined.
Who we were yesterday wields the power over who we are today. At least that is what we instinctively believe. You may know a banker, a vegan, a basketball player, a cook, a pessimist, a writer–the things they’ve done determine who they are. They believe it. Even you. Our history sets the mark for our present identity. We are who we’ve been even if we dream of being something different. What is it about our history, or our individual past, that keeps us from changing?
We seem to accept the trajectory of our lives as a meteor arching across the sky, identified by the glowing trail in its wake more than the burning, spinning, changing matter at its core.
Each of us carries an idea of ourselves, a master version of who we want to be. A leader, a saint, a mother, a business owner, a world traveler…a version we feel is our full selves. For most of us, that master work is unformed, a illusory concept we can’t quite see. To us, our imagined self isn’t real enough to trust. Our history, however, is solid; a mountain against the horizon. We trust it as a clear marker, fully formed in our mind, and use it means of direction whether it leads us true or astray. When you dream of becoming that master work inside you, it is a narrowed perspective on our history that keeps the work untended. Such is the trap of retrospect. You may have been a bread backer yesterday and a hundred yesterdays before, but that does not mean you must be a bread baker today. Your history does not define who you are nor who you can become any more than a web makes a spider. There is so much more to you than yesterday. To realize your imagined self, start with visualizing your future self without the lens of past deeds. It’s there. Form it in your thoughts as a sculptor sees his art in a patch of woods. Imagining your future self shapes it into existence and provides the archetype for your designed identity. This is the start. From there, the work begins.
ChiselWe can defy the consistency of our past through present ceremony. A bread baker seeking to engineer world change must first step in the direction of his aspirations. Purposeful change is the hardest work one can do in a lifetime.
Every day is an opportunity to move closer to that masterpiece in your mind. You must have intention in your actions as it is to that the future appeals. Each day, each moment, each genuine action is a projection forward that lives and breathes. The only way to begin being is by doing. Act. This is the ceremony, the hard art, in chiseling a masterful self. Ceremony is the counterbalance of history. If you wish to play at Carnegie hall, play your instrument each day with that image of Carnegie as your guide. If you wish to write a timeless novel, write each day knowing that the result you see is not a dream, but clairvoyance. Present ceremony trains us to realize ourselves in the now. Each waking day offers its own alchemy; a stroke of intention today or a notion of epiphany tomorrow contributes to the transformation forthcoming. Men do not learn virtue in a day, nor brilliance, nor art. The magic of these merits live in the acts—the doing, bit by bit, until a thing is done. Take yourself seriously and have no fear of mistakes or failure, as the lone result of error is future resolve. Change. Evolve. Defy. There are no demons in a man’s past, only stones. It is their shadows dancing in our light that at times frightens and paralyzes us. As it is, our past can never change or do us any harm. So, go forth like mad and with intention. Chisel, because tomorrow you will be more than you are today. Know this:
As such, the only sin when in pursuit of one’s aspiration, of creating the masterpiece of the self, is not failure, but low aim.
a man can be governed but not ruled, and if so, it is by his own concession. A man can be persuaded, but not decided for. The quiet truth of our lives is that a man determined cannot be kept from what he desires.
There is a tree growing near the edges of Montana. It has always been a tree. In time, it will be uprooted, travel the world, and find itself among the greatest art in history. People will lean piously towards it and, from it, draw inspiration that will change the trajectory of their lives.
But, it might have always been a tree.