Macbeth’s ‘Tomorrow’ Complex
Of all Shakespeare’s tragic protagonists, Macbeth is perhaps my favorite. He is the everlasting example of a good person tempted to act on his more sinister impulses because of the promise of tomorrow. For Macbeth, tomorrow is a recurring disappointment. In it there is an expectation of greatness that is never experienced in the present moment. Before succumbing to his fatal destiny, he reflects on his own fruitless, monotonous tomorrows:
— To-morrow, and to-morrow, and to-morrow,
Creeps in this petty pace from day to day,
And all our yesterdays have lighted fools
The way to dusty death. Out, out, brief candle!
Life’s but a walking shadow, a poor player
That struts and frets his hour upon the stage
And then is heard no more. It is a tale
Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury
— Macbeth (Act 5, Scene 5, lines 17-28)
While many have trouble sympathizing with Macbeth at this point in the play, every time I read this passage, I feel sorry for him because he is a man driven by everything but the present moment. He views his life as a monotonous leapfrog between past and future that leads only towards his inevitable death, and manages to neglect the beauty of the present moment (which there were many opportunities for him to do) in the process.
I know that for me, it’s easy to get stuck in the mindset of tomorrows and forget about the present-mindedness of today, that two to three seconds of presentness that just passed by. When at work I’m always pushing towards a deadline: 10 minutes to finish a powerpoint before my next class; 30 minutes of grading time before lunch; 2 hours of curriculum planning before I leave and do it all again tomorrow. And then I get home and it’s often similar: 10 minutes to make my lunch before heading to my gym class; 30 minutes to eat dinner before I take a shower and start working on graduate school homework; 2 hours of reading responses before I go to bed and do it all again tomorrow. Wake. Work. Sleep. Repeat. Stuck in a routine of upcoming events, the time in between often gets lost.
But I’m trying to do better. I’m trying to be present in all my activities.
O Brave New World, that has such People in it!
Self-awareness is easiest for me on a bike. When biking up a mountain pass, the present moment is blaringly real, impossible to escape and, in a sense, rejuvenating. When I saw a bear jump out of the bushes and sprint away from me on my last mountain bike trip, I could feel the present moment grab a hold of my heart and shake it into alertness. When I see a riding partner struggling along with me on a series of switchbacks, I become aware of the power of relationship and the bond we share.
It is on the bike that I am most aware of the power of presence.
Hello Feet and Fingernails, and Thank You Eyeballs! The Power of Presence
But I’m trying to be self-aware in other aspects of my life as well. Appreciating the preparation, consumption, and clean-up of a meal, for instance, as three separate but enjoyable acts; being immersed in the process of creating a powerpoint for class; noticing the different parts of my body as I work out at the gym. Presence, zen, mindfulness, noticing, self-awareness; it’s easy when in the midst of a two-mile hike-a-bike, where every step is intentional lest I twist an ankle, lose my balance, drop my heavy bike, or partake in some other minor catastrophe.
It’s the other tasks that are part of my daily routine that take a bit more work, but I’m finding ways to be present with them as well. Noticing my breathing, emotions, and senses has been the springboard. These noticings also have been a way for me to more closely attach myself to the life I live. As the poet and mystic John O’donohue says, “The secret of your identity lies not in the time that you have lost, nor in the time that lies ahead of you. The secret and substance of your identity is hidden in the time you have here and now.” I think that this is a good reminder for intentional living. It doesn’t mean that I forget what I have done or neglect to intentionally plan what I will do, but that I dwell in the present, in what I am doing, who I am doing it with, why I am doing it, the emotions, senses, and sensations I am experiencing as I do it; the list goes on.
I don’t want to just be another Macbeth, neglecting the present and comparing my yesterdays and tomorrows to the life of an actor because that’s too easy. It’s easy to go through the motions of life as if we are merely actors, and the world really is a stage for an invisible audience, watching as we live out our lives as mindless automatons and then are surprised when our bodies have reached their expiration dates and we truly are heard from no more.
Being mindful is a great way to enjoy the moments we are experiencing in the now, and I would like to continue to explore this state of being and see how it can further enrich my life. It started on the bike. Now I hope to see it cultivated throughout my life.