If I had a blog, today I would write about living in the present.
As a seeker of spiritual growth, I have spent a lot of time considering the value of living only in the present moment. A lot of energy has surrounded this idea lately and I admit it has its values, to be sure. If you stay in the present, you can’t worry about the future or get lost in regrets of the past; you drink deeply from the world around you in the present; and time itself seems to slow down when you are focused only on the moment in which you live. Living in the present is one of the basic tenets of Buddhism, a philosophy I greatly admire, but after careful consideration, I’ve come to the conclusion that not only do we need an awareness of the past and the future to be whole, learning to balance life in three separate “time zones” is one of humanity’s great spiritual tasks, one of the reasons The Universe gave us knowledge of time.
Humans have a unique relationship with time compared to other species: Not only are we aware of the past and future, we can recall the past and imagine the future in great detail, then use them as springboards to aspire to better things. Humans were telling stories of their ancestors well before written language came into being and the preservation of such memoirs inspired us to develop a more permanent way to preserve our histories for generations to come. If no one thought about the past, the written word might not exist. Our sense of the future inspired our species to invent, create, and navigate towards what we believed were better lives. It is the motivation to make a better future that caused our ancestors to ask, “What lies beyond those mountains?” and the pull of the years ahead drew us from our African roots into every corner of the world.
Philosophers are right when they warn us of the dangers of yon and yore, but cutting ourselves off from our beginning and end is not the answer. The answer lies in learning to manage the pitfalls of remembering the past and knowing we have a future. It is like having a chronic illness (like my insulin-dependent diabetes): You can’t make it go away, but you can live well if you learn how to manage your condition. We must learn to let go of the regrets of the past and move forward, then resist the temptation of living only for an imaginary future. Finding the balance is the challenge laid before us when we were placed here at our birth.
Oddly enough, I have found the validation for my argument in a favorite Christmas tale. We may be months away from reindeer and sleigh bells, but Charles Dickens’ prose keeps coming to mind: At the end of Ebeneezer Scrooge’s night with the spirits, he makes a vow to “Honor Christmas in my heart and keep it throughout the year. I will live in the Past, the Present, and the Future. The Spirits of all Three shall strive within me. I will not shut out the lessons that they teach.” Our challenge, then, is to live in all three realities, gleaning the best of past, present, and future as we move through our lives. When we make the most of the days that are past, the day we are now alive, and of all the days yet to be, we will have the resources we need to face whatever things may come.