On the Subject of Time!
Where as ye know not what shall be on the morrow.
For what is your life? It is even a vapor that appeareth for a little
time, and then vanisheth away.
-- James Chapter 4; Verse 14
Wow! That's what the Bible says about life. Not much to build on there you would think. 'Life is just a vapor which comes, stays for a little time and then vanishes again'. But wait, the New Oxford Dictionary of English defines time as "the indefinite continued progress of existence and events in the past, present and future, regarded as a whole." So there you have it, the indefinite continued progress of existence. That's more like it. That sounds a lot longer than the Bible has it.
But, the Bible is talking about a man's (or woman's) life; your life; my life. The traditional three score years and ten, or for us in the western world, now more like three score years and twenty. But go back to the Bible reference, 'Whereas ye know not what shall be on the morrow.' We can all relate to that, how many of us have lost friends early in life when they thought that they had many years in front of them. I am now at that age where friends retire from a lifetime of working to establish a comfortable financial position, then before they can enjoy that retirement which they have looked forward to for so long, they die. No fruitful retirement, no doing all the things that they had promised themselves during those long working years; no long days in the garden, no finally writing that book, no relaxing on a cruise. It happens time and time again.
'You do not know what will happen tomorrow'; the reality of this statement was brought home to me some years ago, when at the age of fifty seven, I was diagnosed with a cancer which had the potential to kill me. There were so many things that I hadn't done, so many things that I had hoped to do, so many things which, suddenly, I may now not get the chance to do. The positive thing about finding oneself in such a situation, the only positive thing you might say, is that it gives you the opportunity to re-evaluate your life, to take a fresh look at what your priorities have been; to determine what your priorities should be if you survive. I have had the good fortune to survive and to, in effect, take a second shot at life and all that it has to offer. Now I am like the reformed smoker, I am an impassioned advocate of the removal of procrastination from the language of life, I am an enthusiast for the can-do mentality, and if you can do it, then you should do it, not tomorrow, but today.
For most of us, our lives are lived through our minds. Next time you catch yourself thinking idly, try to watch the thoughts that flow through your mind. What are they? Are you trying to relive the past? Maybe you are reassessing past behavior or events? Most of us think about the past all the time, about what has happened to us, about who has pleased us or who has upset us. About what we did, how we reacted and perhaps how we could or should have reacted.
If we are honest in analyzing our thoughts, for most of us it is always the past which dominates. We allow the past to captivate us and in so doing, it is the past which influences our behavior; and for so many of us, it is the past which comes to determine our future. We become locked into a continual recreation of the events of the past and our thinking is colored not by our aspirations but by our past. How many times have you heard people saying 'Oh, I am never lucky' or 'It could never happen to me' or 'I could never do that!'
We are usually unaware of the process of thinking that is going on in us. We think the same thoughts and we allow them to establish themselves as a matter of habit. They come and we do not resist them. We welcome them even if they are unpleasant. In this way we become accustomed to our thoughts and habits even if we do not admit it; as a result, they become stronger and more powerful. As we continually re-create the past, we find that the present and future becomes a perpetual mirror of the past. We become locked into a cycle of repetitive failure and hurt, anticipating a future happiness which never seems to materialize. The power of the mind can predispose any potential future success to disappointment simply by the failures of the past.
And yet the reality of life is quite different and quite simple - nothing exists outside this present moment. Look around you; nothing is real except for this present moment. What happened yesterday is nothing but a memory; what will happen tomorrow, know one knows. But that is a very different way of thinking than I for one, was used to. I had always thought of my lifetime as a line from birth to death with the present moment as a point on that line. Surely the past was the part of the line behind that point and the future was the part ahead of it. But after reading a little book of my wife's, The Power of Now, by Eckhart Tolle, I stopped thinking of my life in this way and I finally understood how disempowering this view of my life had been.
The Power of Now taught me that there is no line segment. The point (the present) is all there is. The past and the future are just illusions. They only exist to the degree that we focus our attention on them right now. We are creating the past and the future by imagining them now, in the present. The reality is that there is no existence outside the now!
How pleasant it is, at the end of the day,
No follies to have to repent;
But reflect on the past, and be able to say,
That my time has been properly spent.
-- Ann and Jane Taylor
Living in the Now
The basic principle of The Power of Now is quite simple; however, it is something that can take a considerable amount of time and mental effort to actually put into practice. It is very difficult to change that attitude to life which has determined how you live your life to this point. It is totally about the right attitude. When that attitude towards events and life is positive, and the present moment is used to the utmost, life becomes a happy and enjoyable trip. Living in the present means concentrating on what is happening now, enjoying it and making the most of it. Do you know how many opportunities are missed, simply because of dwelling on the past instead of seeing and being conscious of what is happening at the present moment? Do you realize how many opportunities are rejected simply on the basis of past experiences? Discover for yourself, how living in and for the present means being able to react to people, events and circumstances without preconceptions; without any of your reactions being predetermined by your experiences in the past. Living in the present means concentrating on what is happening now, on what we are doing immediately; freeing us of unnecessary, burdensome and unpleasant thoughts.
For me, this radical change in thinking produced a significant shift in my priorities. I began focusing more of my energy on improving the quality of my present reality, instead of projecting all those improvements into the realm of someday. I felt confident enough to put aside much of what occupied my thoughts, the resurrection of past experiences, the rejections, the failures which I felt that I had experienced. I had to learn to live my life for today, for what I could enjoy today, for what I could achieve today. The plan of hopefully achieving nirvana in the distant future was changed to achieving it now.
So are you ready to live in the present? Are you ready to accept that nothing beyond the NOW is important or real? Are you ready to break the old pattern of present-moment denial and present-moment resistance? Make it your practice to withdraw attention from past and future whenever they are not needed. Step out of the time dimension as much as possible in everyday life. If you find it hard to enter the Now directly, you can start by observing the habitual tendency of your mind to want to escape from the Now. You will observe that the future is usually imagined as either better or worse than the present. If the imagined future is better, it gives you hope or pleasurable anticipation. If it is worse, it creates anxiety. Both of these states of mind are illusory; they keep you in a state of un-reality. As you practice self-observation, more presence comes into your life automatically.
Start by asking yourself 'How is my life at the moment?' Are you completely satisfied with who you are, where you are and where you're going? Or do you find yourself stuck in the same static situation, sacrificing your present happiness for the hope of a better tomorrow? How is your life strategy working for you? Are you becoming significantly happier and more fulfilled with each passing year? Or are you just running on a treadmill while trying to convince yourself that someday, things will be better.
Accept this truth; there is no someday! There is only right NOW. If your current life path isn't a joyful one, turn it around right now and take a different path. Other people will probably whine about your decision; after all, no one on the treadmill of unhappiness likes being reminded that it's possible to get off at any time!
- Watch your thoughts; notice how often your attention is in the past or future.
- Be at least as interested in your reactions as in the situation or person that causes you to react.
- Do not concentrate on what 'may be' in 'some future time'; focus on getting your NOW as good as you can get it. You will find that what you used to think of as the 'future' will look after itself.
Living for Now is life enhancing. It is no longer necessary or advantageous to spend time looking back to those embarrassments which you thought were important, no going over imagined slights, no resenting the good news someone else enjoyed. Now all you have to do is to make today the best that it can be. Look around you now at what life can offer; the sunshine on your face, the wind in your hair. Imagine how much enjoyment you would get out of just simple things like that if you knew for a fact that you would never get the chance to experience them again. If the next cup of coffee that you had was going to be the last cup of coffee that you would ever taste, how much more would you savor the flavor of that drink? Live each day as if it was to be your last! Just think about how powerful that makes you.
This is not to say that you cannot look back to enjoy again the emotions and experiences which have shaped you. Enjoy your recollection of that first kiss, enjoy again time spent with family and friends, these are positive experiences and can be positive again. Just be sufficiently aware of your thoughts to guard against that tendency which we all have to think mostly of the negative things.
Life should be enjoyed by us all; try to ensure that you make the very best of each single day starting with this one. Once you are successfully concentrating your attention on today you will quickly find that the past becomes less significant and the future will be enhanced by your life focus.