Practice mindfulness of the present:
Does it mean not thinking about past or future?

Hugo is a psychological counselor from Guangdong. He shared something with our friends at IMG (International Meditation Group) of Dharma Drum Mountain.

Many of my clients have raised questions about mindfulness, one of which as follows, "Practice being present or living on the moment, does it mean that we should not think about the past or future?" This is a very tricky question. The Chinese character of “Nian” (念) as in the word “mindfulness” is divided into two parts, “Jin” (今) as in now or present, and “Xin” (心) as in mind or heart. In this sense, we should not even think about the past or future. Is that true?

During the continuous discussion, I gradually found that some of their feelings, thoughts and behaviors had brought about great inspiration to me. Although they are troubled by many problems, there is wisdom to be drawn from these problems. In summary, let’s just say, the past, the present and the future are only part of a natural process that reflects the passing of time. It is very important here to return to our spiritual selves, to understand how we see the past and future from the present moment.

What one considers as the past is actually a wrap-up of all the events or experiences taking place throughout time. They are collected and restored as messages in the nervous system in the form of words, images, or sounds. Have you ever wondered what kind of role these messages or clues play while relating to the present moment?

The thing about recollection is that one tends to blow up, slim down, prejudice, neglect, or even subconsciously alter our own minds. The dysfunction could be found both with the positive memory, such as your outstanding performance of a lifetime, and the negative one, such as failure. It could result in one clinging to or craving for more positive moments, or immersing oneself in the painful memory for a long time. The thinking process cannot be blamed, however. Studies in evolutionary psychology also show that even the memory of negative experiences is significant. Besides, one cannot just forget the experience altogether. So, the question is: what can we do about it? An alternative might be downsizing the by-products arising from the “recalling”, like false beliefs or negative emotions. As we allow the remembrances to surface from time to time, we could also bring it into a practice as “not going after it with great gusto.” With this mindfulness, one may transit from the past to the present moment, which is exactly a manifestation of “living in the moment.”

Regarding the future, the human race has undergone and learned much during the revolution since ancient times. It cultivates a deep root of believing in being well prepared for anything to come. It justifies itself. However, one dark side about the preparation inclination is that one might be under the pressure, anxiety, or distress to a great extent, in anticipation of something unlikely to occur. It could be aggregated if one is longing for prompt promotions in a workplace, unexpected wealth, unrealistic fantasy, etc.

Even when the worst worries have come true, they are not necessarily happening in the way we predict them to, depending on the causes of their external environment, previous event and the reason they occur. The mindset of “If I had known beforehand…” resembles that of the lottery psychology: Those who win the lottery are those who don’t know beforehand while those who lose are often pounding out the remorse for just one number difference on the lottery ticket! Well, as the future is up in the air for everybody, the difference is more than just one number in lottery. It runs the spectrum of percentages from null to 100!

Let’s take a closer look at the case of future preparation. For instance, if the sky becomes suddenly overcast with clouds, we should hop up and collect the hanging laundry outside as fast as possible. Why? Because we get the clues in the present moment, such as the overcast clouds, the birds flying low, the intense moisture, etc. or, you might be able to smell the oncoming rain. The make-hay reaction is out of our past experiences which are well stored in our brain. With the advancement of technology, it’s uncertain how it will change our senses in the future. Nevertheless, it’s perfectly natural to prepare for the unknown. Just on one condition: ground it in the present!

Back to mindfulness, a better way to put it is “no gripping for what is gone, no lusting for what to come.” In return, as you become aware of the occurring moments, it would provide you with the necessary clues to think and act upon it more smartly and forcefully, without having to miss out on anything!

Texts: Hugo
Translation: Hugo & Chen, Amanda
Editor: Huang, Christine (Canada)

Photos with copyright from the owner, pleased contact writer for any use or copy.

References provided by the writer:
Master Sheng-yen (1999). In the Spirit of Ch'an,

Master Sheng-yen (1999). The Sword of Wisdom,

Buss, D. M. (2008). Evolutionary psychology: The new science of the mind (3rd ed.), Boston, MA: Allyn & Bacon.

Anderson, J. R. (2007). How can the human mind occur in the physical universe? New York: Oxford University Press. ISBN 978-0195398953.

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