Some people spend their lives looking ahead, hoping for a better future. Some people live their lives fearing the past. Both states are quite pointless; the now is all we ever have.
Living in the future or in the past leads to inaction. You can’t change what was and you can’t anticipate what will be so living that way is unproductive and stressful.
I lost decades living for the future. Waiting for plans to come to fruition, waiting for life to be the way it was “supposed” to be, waiting for me to be right. Once the magical future arrived, I’d be able to embrace life.
I missed a lot of now.
But living in anticipation of what’s coming next is easy to do. How often do we promise things will be different when. When this happens or that does. When our life is how we want it to be. When all our ducks are in a row. When we look a certain way, when we reach a certain weight, when we achieve a planned-on success. The life begins. How awful to get to your last day and still be waiting for your life to begin.
You also lose “now” by staying mired in the past. You gain nothing from compulsive revisiting. You can’t rewrite the past or undo what’s been done. There’s a benefit to addressing problematic memories, but only if you’re living and functioning in the present. In those cases, it’s a controlled descent; a directed aberration not a semi-permanent destination.
Repeatedly agonizing over things that cannot be changed without a productive purpose in mind is a waste of time.
I had a difficult time in university. I never felt like I fit in. I was always out of step, out of sync. I’m sure the extremely active eating disorder had everything to do with it. University life ended, of course. But for years afterward, I couldn’t let the experiences go. I’d think about the time I didn’t stand up for myself, or the time I made a fool of myself, or the time I embarrassed myself, or the times I got hurt. I’d think about the bad times ad nauseum but instead of reconciling and learning to let go, I’d simply revisit and relive the misery. Unproductive in the extreme and harmful to boot.
Almost all the philosophy, all the religion, all the books and blogs; everything I’ve encountered on dealing with mental illness and recovering from an eating disorder emphasizes living in the now. They emphasize being present, inhabiting the moment, inhabiting the body.
There is only the now. We only have this moment. The present is the only thing in our control – and even there our control there is somewhat limited.
We’re admonished to live in the now incessantly, in various ways. Sages. Our parents. Feel-good movies. Books and song lyrics. They all emphasize the point.
I will not waste my days
Making up all kinds of ways
To worry about all the things
That will not happen to me
So, I just let go of what I know I don’t know
And I know I only do this by
Living in the moment… (Jason Mraz, Living in the Moment)
So many people trying so hard to get us to see the truth. The now is all we have.
If you do the best you can to live a good life in the moment, to make good and reasoned choices, to live well, then odds are the future, when you look back at it as the past, will be one you’re well satisfied with.
Related post: If today was your last day.