Most of our daily lives we live in a mental construct, totally identified with the mind. We dwell in the past, replaying old grievances or negative experiences: I cannot believe she said that yesterday, I’ll never forgive him, why didn’t she text me back? He betrayed me. Or we project into the future, creating enormous anxiety: My life has no hope, how can I pay the bills, I’ll never find love, my body is breaking down. It doesn’t even have to be that dramatic, as it can be thinking about an important meeting tomorrow or replaying a conversation from yesterday or what to have for dinner. But it begs the question of why we have such a poor relationship with the NOW, the only moment that really matters!
We toggle back ‘n forth all day between the past and the future, very rarely being present in the moment. We have a constant mental commentary with this compulsive thinking which robs us of so much joy and causes so much suffering. The past is over and the future has yet to arrive, so why do we literally spend all our mental energy on this? Is this not some sort of insane dysfunctionality?
The irony is that all we have is the present moment. The past has passed and the future only exists as a thought in our mind. Any future event can only arrive in the present moment! How many times have we stressed out about a future event that never materializes? This causes enormous, unnecessary suffering. We have all agonized over some future event, often ruining our day, that then never happens. We waste so much mental energy. For example: you have relatives planning to visit you over the holidays. Your mind goes bananas, playing and replaying all the things that will go wrong. You cannot believe they will impose on you like this, you’re imagining all the fights at dinner, all the headaches. Your mind whirls and swirls for days, perhaps weeks, consumed about this. Then, out of the blue, they cancel the trip. You’re so relieved as you decompress, but….do you realize all the unnecessary agony and mind activity you put yourself through? All the issues that will now never happen that only existed in your head? How much better would your mental health be if you had just stayed in the moment all those days and let the future event unfold into the present moment? Believe me when I say it would be exponentially better.
And the massive irony is that, generally, you don’t have any problems at this present moment. The vast majority of our pain and suffering is our mental commentary, not any particular issue you are facing NOW. The problems surface when you remind yourself of past experiences or what you are expecting in the future. If you don’t believe me, pause and ask yourself what is wrong at this moment. Well you may say: I have to pay the rent end of month, I have to see a doctor about my back pain, I hate my job, my girl/boyfriend is crazy. The ongoing narrative we build around these issues, these stories we create, is what causes the overwhelming majority of our anxiety and suffering. We worry, dwell, and build an identity around these problems, feeding a harmful story about ourselves. I’m broken, nothing ever good happens to me, I don’t deserve this, I’m jinxed, I’ll never get out of this mess, I’ll never be happy. This ongoing mental commentary creates chronic drama as we build these stories and narratives about our life situations, many of which are not true.
The past is indeed….Over. Yes, of course, you have memories and experiences – many of them lovely and treasured and should be remembered. But there are so many negative experiences that we disproportionately keep alive and carry into this present moment with habitual, compulsive thinking. We replay them over and over, big and small. A bitter divorce, loss of money, a friend who betrayed you, the job you didn’t get, the guy that dumped you. We build an entire narrative around it and this story becomes your life and ultimately your identity.
Just as we constantly dwell in the past, we always project into the future. Why do we devalue the present moment so much and overvalue the future? We have zero patience for the present moment, always fantasizing about the future. When I get married I’ll finally be happy, when I go to Hawaii I’ll finally relax. But it’s even the incremental next step that we always look forward to When I finish this email I’ll get a coffee, when I finish this coffee I’ll go run that errand, when I finally run the errand I can grab lunch. You finally sit down for lunch and wonder who ate your sandwich as the whole time while eating you were thinking about your afternoon appointment. It goes on & on, never satisfied, always projecting out toward the next step without fully enjoying the current step.
We live in an inner mental world of Over and Next, robbing us of so much joy in the present moment. Try being present, even with the most mundane events, with a heightened state of alertness, and observe how your quality of life improves exponentially and your stress levels go down dramatically. Live in the NOW, after all, it’s all we have!