When I was 15 years old, the thing I wanted more than anything was a Trans Am. They were everywhere, with their big golden birds painted across the hood. I promised myself I would buy a Trans Am one day because I knew it was the only car I would ever want. Back then I knew nothing of model years and the design changes they inevitably bring. The Trans Am was without a doubt my ideal car.
Fast forward to 1990, I’ve just graduated college and I’m buying my first car. It’s the biggest purchase I’ve ever made. I’m even committing to a car payment. Scary! I’ve got to make sure I get to work every day. Even scarier! So what did I buy? A two-year old Toyota Tercel. Truth be told, the whole Trans Am thing didn’t even come up as a thought or desire in the process. It was a few years later when I recalled my previous infatuation with the Trans Am, all of which by then were rusty, loud and burned more gas than I wanted to pay for. What gives? A Trans Am? No thanks.
A recent article in the New York Times may have finally illuminated the foundations of this mystery. It’s called “end of history illusion”. Basically, what this theory states is that people can much more easily perceive how they have changed in the past than how they may change in the future. Further, we may actively deny that future change in our preferences and manner of thinking will occur at all. From adolescence through adulthood we convince ourselves on a daily basis that we have reached the highest expression of ourselves. Ha ha!
Perhaps the fear and subsequent denial of future change in our personalities is most blatant in the teen years, but I believe these feelings remain with us throughout our lives. After all, our thoughts and preferences and view of the world is what makes up our fundamental selves, right? We can’t lose that, right? If we lose that, we lose our whole being, right? Yet this is exactly what Buddhism encourages us to accept.
Our thoughts, perceptions and views are only a part of the Aggregates we confuse with our fundamental selves in our unenlightened state. The work of not only accepting that change in these regards will occur, but leaning into these changes is part of the fundamental work of Buddhist practice.
So, I happen to be buying a new car again…Trans Am? Naw. Mazda 3. Still no bird, but it does have an iPod input. I never would have thought to value that back in 1984. I wonder what my new self will prefer when I’m back in the market again around 2024? We shall see!