The weight of the past: Break out of your own story

How we look at time is such a flexible thing.
What does it mean to have our picture of time that we have in our minds? Of course, we’ve all heard the standard statement that nothing really exists but the present, and the past and the future are only in our imagination.
To go to the past, we reconstruct these memories, and to the future, we imagine what might happen.
But both of those are imaginary, and it’s only in the present that we actually exist, that we actually have experience and consciousness.
The rest is all this kind of reconstructed and imagined picture.
So the way that we picture the past and the present can completely change how we look at life and how we experience life.
Now, the most innocent, and the most basic, and, in many ways, the best approach is to simply be entirely in the present, to simply have no concern with the past and the future.
That can be a very powerful state, where we are awakened to the present moment, without always comparing what’s going on to the past and the future.
But of course, it’s not practical to do this all the time, not as far as I know.
It doesn’t seem to be practical.
As much as it’s an ideal of this kind of living in the present, this kind of mindfulness, consciousness, this is an ideal, and yet it seems like we do have to use the past in the future to help guide our lives.
But it seems like the problem is that we take it too far.
It’s very useful to build up a picture of the past, so that we have some idea of where we come from, what things have been like before, and that helps to predict the future.
I mean, even down to a simple thing like, you could say, gravity.
Gravity is always a great example to use when you just want this purely physical example of just like an absolute law that you have to learn it and there’s no escape from it, and you just simply learn to live within this law, that okay, if I throw something up into the air, it will come down.
How do I know it will come down? Well, it’s kind of like a memory.
We have memories of things falling, and so, through that, we can sort of figure out this idea that there is gravity, and then this is something that will happen again.
And you can send that to the things in our personal lives, our personal histories, you could say, where we make certain decisions and then find out what the result is, and then decide whether to do it again or not.
So it may be like someone could say “Don’t drink a dozen drinks on an empty stomach”, but then you might just take that as yet another piece of advice.
Because everybody’s giving advice.
But if you actually did it, you might certainly, very reasonably, come to the conclusion that it’s not something to do again.
And because that was in history, that was in your personal history, in your past, as you reconstruct it, as you imagine it, you have this memory, and the memory helps to guide the future.
So these are the extreme examples of, you know, don’t jump off a building, and don’t drink a dozen drinks on an empty stomach.
But this applies to everything.
We help to guide our decisions through our experience in the past.
And for the future, our idea of what the future can be can also help us to guide our actions.
If we want to avoid certain future outcomes, being prematurely killed, or imprisoned, or causing pain to people, and all these kind of things we want to avoid, and that’s sort of an imagined a possible future that we avoid.
And then we could have futures that we want to move towards.
That can be like our life goals, and a vision of the life that we want to live, and then we can take steps to move towards it.
So all of these things make for very useful tools in guiding our actions.
But where it goes too far is that we really build the story of the past and future into this whole history.
It becomes this whole kind of series of events, just like a story, a narrative for our lives.
And the mistake is really then to continue to treat the present like it is simply another chapter in that story.
Because, of course, it makes sense.
Everything you’re doing now in the present, by tomorrow, it will all be in your past.
and so it will be another page in your personal history.
So everything that’s living in the present right now will very soon be history.
And everything that is history now, at one point it was the present for you.
So of course, it’s understandable to just see the present as being, you know, I wake up today, okay, here’s the new page in my history, in my story.
But the problem is that all the past that we bring to today, we can use it as a tool to help us make decisions, but it also is something that can weigh very heavily on the present.
It’s like seeing today as the next page in the book, even the next chapter, or just another page in the chapter, as the book of life continues. […]

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