Past. Present. Future. Where does your mind live?
Our body can only be in the present, while our thoughts can be years away. But our wandering mind can get us into trouble. It can cause us pain and anxiety. In The Power of Now, Eckhart Tolle argues that we should strive to remain present as much as possible.
In this article, we’ll go over the problems inherent in focusing too much on the past and the future. We’ll also go over why it’s important to accept the present (no matter what it holds).
The Past — Our Sense of Identity
Who are you?
It can be a difficult question to answer.
We often use the past as the foundation of our identity. You went to that school. You worked in those jobs. You had past relationships.
However, relying on your past to define who you are can be problematic. Humans are creatures of habit. We often look (consciously or unconsciously) to our past to help inform our current decisions.
We are afraid of uncertainty, so we re-create what we’re used to, even if we are used to pain. Let’s say you have a history of working long hours at the expense of your health and happiness. When you leave your job to find a new one, you might be more likely to find another job working crazy hours. It’s what you’re used to.
The same thing can happen to people who have unhealthy eating habits, toxic relationships, or negative self-talk. You’re used to it, and the mind doesn’t like change.
When you focus too much on the pain of our past, the pain becomes your identity. When this happens, it’s tough to break free.
For many years I based part of my identity on actions that I regretted in my past. I was ashamed. My past became my present, as I got caught in the habit of acting negatively because it was what I was used to.
Once you realize you don’t have to define yourself by your past, you are free to move forward on your own terms. You can break away from who you used to be. It doesn’t matter. It already happened.
Release yourself from the aspects of your past that no longer serve you. You aren’t that person anymore. You don’t have to base your identity on things you can no longer change.
The Future — The False Hope For Eventual Fulfillment
The future is a completely different beast. While many people ruminate and become depressed about the past, the future is the home of anxiety.
Humans are frequently unfulfilled in the present moment. We think that some event in the future can bring us happiness. Perhaps we’ll be fulfilled when we get a new house, a new job, or a new partner.
Of course, when you get what you thought you want, it often doesn’t fulfill you. It may offer a rush of excitement or pride, but eventually you’re back to normal.
When you depend on the future for happiness, you miss out on the present. This is a problem because the present is all you get.
It can be nice to hope for happiness in the future. And you can certainly set goals and work hard to accomplish them. But you shouldn’t sell your current well-being for the promise of potentially getting a reward in the future.
“Are you so busy getting to the future that the present is reduced to a means of getting there?”
— Eckhart Tolle
So many people spend years of their lives working towards a promise of future fulfillment. I certainly did. I spent years thinking that the end was just around the corner. But new corners kept popping up.
Basing your happiness on future events is a dangerous game. Your wish might not come true. And even more troubling… what if your wish comes true and it’s not enough? The key is to become content with what you have in the present.
The Present — Accepting What Is
So we can’t base our identity on the past. We can’t condition our happiness on the future. That leaves the present.
The key to being present is to stop resisting your current circumstances. Surrender to what is. This doesn’t mean you have to be passive and let people walk all over you. It simply means that you don’t label everything as good or bad. You don’t constantly judge.
“ The real cause of problems is not life itself. It’s the commotion the mind makes about life that really causes problems. “
— Michael Singer, The Untethered Soul
Our troubles come from putting up resistance. We don’t have to resist. If something “bad” happens to you, don’t despair. Perhaps it will end up being a gift in the long run.
For example, suppose your significant other breaks up with you. It would be easy to label this is as bad. But perhaps because you are now single, you go to an event you wouldn’t have normally gone to and meet the love of your life. Was it bad that your significant other broke up with you?
Or maybe you got fired from your job. You lost your security. But you eventually realize you weren’t passionate about your old career anyways. You start to learn a new craft and become more fulfilled. Perhaps being fired wasn’t so bad after all.
A year and a half ago, the eye doctor told me I have a disease called Retinitis Pigmentosa. Basically, my peripheral vision is going to be eaten away over the next few decades. With this news, I decided I better go out and see the world as soon as possible.
I completely changed my life and. I am now living in Colombia and am the happiest I’ve ever been. I’m better than before. Something that seemed negative turned out to be a gift.
“Accept — then act. Whatever the present moment contains, accept it as if you had chosen it. Always work with it, not against it.”
— Eckhart Tolle
We shouldn’t resist what can’t be changed. It’s possible to find happiness, growth, and wisdom in every situation. Try not to judge a situation-it might turn out better than you think.
You Have Everything You Need to Be Happy
The past is gone. Don’t waste your energy worrying about it. We’ve all made mistakes-big mistakes-but tying your identity to past failures doesn’t serve anyone (especially yourself).
The future isn’t here yet. It’s possible you might find what you’re looking for, but it’s equally possible you won’t. And even if you do achieve your goal, perhaps it won’t actually fulfill you.
The only time is now. All you can do is take the step that’s right in front of you.
“You don’t need to go anywhere else to find what you are seeking”
– Baba Ram Dass, Be Here Now
When you stop resisting life, everything becomes easier. If you don’t label things as good or bad, you can open yourself up to a world of possibilities and opportunities you might never have considered. Stay present. See the beauty of the everyday. Live in the now.