Mindfulness practice reminds us not to fritter our mental energy away in trips to the past and future, but to keep returning to this very place, to rest in what is happening in this very time.
It is unfortunate that we can learn to do tasks skillfully. It is unfortunate that this skill enables us to go unconscious as we do them. It is unfortunate because when we go unconscious, we are missing out on large parts of our life. When we “check out”, our mind tends to go to one of three places: the past, the future, or the fantasy realm. These three places have no reality outside our imagination. Right here where we are, is the only place, and right now is the only time where we are actually alive.
The capacity of the human mind to recall the past is a unique gift. It helps us learn from our errors and change an unhealthy life direction. However, when the mind doubles back to the past, it often begins to ruminate endlessly on our past mistakes. “If only I’d said this…, then she would have said that….” Unfortunately, the mind seems to think we are very stupid. It calls up the errors of our past over and over, blaming and criticizing us repeatedly. We wouldn’t remind a child two hundred and fifty times of a small mistake he or she made, but somehow we allow our mind to continue to call up the past and to inflict anger and shame upon our own inner small being.
Unfortunately, the mind, in its anxiety for us, tries to make plans for a huge number of possible futures, most of which will never arrive. This constant leapfrogging into the future is a waste of our mental and emotional energy. The most important way we can prepare for the unknown-to-come is to make a reasonable plan and then to pay attention to what is happening right now. Then we can greet what flows toward us with a clear, flexible mind and an open heart, ready and able to modify our plan accordingly to the reality of the moment.
© Jan Chozen Bays (2011)