Stop Living in the Future
I’ve been getting a lot of signals from the world lately that I’m living in the future, and that isn’t good. I mean, I am living in the here and now, but my mind keeps straying into the future, and this often creates an anxiety gap.
This is interesting, because I have no problem dealing with (or rather not dealing with) the past. There is no power in the past. It’s done. And I’m acutely aware that if we see and judge the present through the eyes of the past we get a totally distorted view of it, and that this is the cause of all sorts of misery and unhappiness, and even sickness. Years ago I read author and spiritual teacher Eckhart Tolle say, “I have little use for the past and rarely think about it”, and realised that there was great power in this. It’s a daily battle, but I try hard not to simply be a product of my upbringing or my country of birth or my culture, but rather of my moment-to-moment choices. And most of the time I succeed – I no longer need the past to furnish me with an identity, like so many unfortunately seem to.
Both past and the future have no reality of their own. They are both illusory. Mind-made fiction. We have no power to act yesterday or tomorrow, and whenever we project beyond the present in either direction we make ourselves weak because we’re submitting to an illusion.
So much for setting goals then, right? Wrong. The purpose of goal setting isn’t to control the future, it’s actually to improve the quality of the present. If a goal doesn’t improve your present reality, then it’s probably pointless. But if a goal brings greater clarity, focus, and motivation to your life when you think about it, then it’s probably worth keeping. We should set goals for ourselves that make us feel powerful, motivated, and driven when we think about them, well before any final outcome is realised, and avoid setting goals that make us feel powerless, stressed out, or weak. Personal Development author Steve Pavlina says, “Whenever I focus on an inspiring goal, I feel extremely driven and motivated. Material goals always de-motivate me.” That’s interesting, isn’t it. So if you find yourself de-motivated, then you’re probably setting the wrong goals. We all need to set goals that are so inspiring that we can’t wait to get up in the morning and work on them!
But I digress… Chinese philosopher Lao Tzu famously said, “If you are depressed you are living in the past. If you are anxious you are living in the future. If you are at peace you are living in the present.” I know this, and yet I feel anxious… I feel craving for fulfillment and completion in the future… So why is that?
Well, I think I figured it out. I was listening to one of the lectures in my Institute for Integrative Nutrition course, and the lecturer began extolling the virtues of single-pointed focus or, in other words, taking one day at a time. And then it dawned on me – Instead of taking one day at a time, I was spending a great deal of mental energy focusing on trying to control the future (a fruitless exercise, for sure.) I was shifting my focus away from my present reality, and into my imaginings of the future, and it was just as useless as if I’d been lamenting the past (another fruitless exercise, for sure.) I was giving up the beautiful clarity and power of the Now for things in the future that may or may not ever come to exist!
I’m now back to taking one day at a time, to being as present in the moment, every moment, as I can, and to letting the past fall behind me and the future unfold before me as they will. I’ve “re-set” goals that make me feel powerful, motivated, and driven when I think about them, I’m diving deeper into my daily mindfulness meditation, I’m allowing myself to get even better sleep quality, and my anxiety about the future feels like it never even existed. Wow.
So now I’d like to challenge everyone reading this post to join me in 3 areas :
- Re-read Lao Tzu’s quote above and ask yourself if you are living with any depression or any anxiety, and why that might be.
- Look at the goals you’ve set for yourself and ask if they are improving your present reality, then promptly get rid of any that aren’t.
- Try some mindfulness meditation, right now where you sit – Focus on your breath as it touches your nostrils going in and out, and note how wonderfully difficult it is to be anything but fully present in the moment when you do that. 🙂