The present doesn’t have to be everything: Putting the present moment in context

I’m thinking about the perspective on the timeline.
We look at past, present and future.
Now, of course, we don’t even need to think of it as a timeline at all.
That’s just one way of looking at it.
But if we imagine how we picture ourselves in the time dimension, past, present, future: now, the usual advice is that if you are too focused on the past, that will tend to lead to kind of a depressed state of not being able to really appreciate the present or work towards the future, because you’re constantly hitting against things that you can’t change, since the past is completely unchangeable.
And on the other hand, it’s also generally agreed that it’s not so great to be too focused on the future, because then that would just be anxiety where we’re trying to prepare for every possible thing that might happen or might go wrong, or we’re anticipating something, and both of these conditions would lead to less appreciation of the present, less ability to really be aware of the present, which is of course the only time when we can actually do anything.
So both these kind of past and future focuses, living too much in past and future, is like living in some kind of a fantasy world, where you’re imagining things that aren’t real, since only the present is actually real.
So standard advice, and it seems to be generally a good idea, that it’s really better to keep our attention in the present most the time and not get too lost in past or future.
So I think this is generally the right idea.
I also think that it’s possible perhaps to take it too far, in becoming too absorbed in the present.
Now sometimes it seems this is great, just to really feel the present and just be in it with no concern for past and future.
In many ways that seems like the ideal state to be in.
But what about those times when the present does not feel good, where the present is full of a negative state of mind? Should we then be absorbed in the present? Well, the argument could be made, and has been, that if you have this negative state of mind, it isn’t really coming out of the present.
It’s coming from some notion that you have about the past or the future and kind of analyzing the present in those terms.
And if we can really eliminate past and future, then we won’t have to have that negative feeling, because we’re only in the present, and without this kind of extra layer of analysis, of you know, what does this present feeling mean, it is just a feeling in the present, and it’s not going to lead us into those rabbit holes of remembering the past or anticipating the future.
But still, on the other hand, it’s almost taking it too far to be absorbed in the present at all times, because there’s an effect of kind of narrowing things down.
If we’re feeling bad in the present, and the present is the only thing that exists in our consciousness, it’s like “My entire existence sucks, because I feel bad now.” It seems like it’s possible to, without getting absorbed in past or future, to kind of zoom out a little bit and feel like “OK, this present moment that I’m in is part of a bigger picture.
And I may be feeling bad at the moment, but I know that in the bigger picture, I don’t feel bad about the bigger picture, because there’s a lot more going on, and sometimes I feel bad, sometimes I feel good, but it’s part of this bigger picture, past and future.” Sort of seeing this as one spot on the timeline, maybe a dark little dip in the timeline, that will be recovered, that will end.
Remembering that however we’re feeling in the moment, whether good or bad, that this will end.
It seems like this can be a valuable perspective as well.
So as much as mindfulness and being absorbed in the present may certainly be the ideal state of mind, it seems like sometimes we just have to step back and say “This is just one step along the way.”

#timeperspective #presentmoment #wholelife

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