Mindfulness. It’s trendy, or so I hear. You have to live in the moment to be truly content and mindfulness lets you do that. Or, more eloquently:
“If you are depressed, you are living in the past. If you are anxious, you are living in the future. If you are at peace, you are living in the present.” (Anonymous, often wrongly attributed to Lao Tzu, correctly spelled Laozi, real name Li Er – now I’m tired!)
Now, I don’t know a massive amount about mindfulness, but I’ve had my fights with the black dog and my fair share of panic. I’ve had moments where the future looks bleak and it’s made me depressed, past experiences have left me anxious and, sometimes, the present moment has been a depressing anxiety filled place to be. I’ve also been able to look back at my past and smile and imagine a future where I’m happy.
The Ghost of Happiness Past
Memories can be a wonderful thing, especially when they come to you at random. I like to think we’ve all sighed when that song has come on in a bar or the scent of a bouquet takes you back to a beautiful day. In the end, life becomes a series of memories, some bad, some good. There will be regrets, mistakes, lessons and pain, but there will also be smiles, places, people and moments that will make the rest of it worth it.
Nostalgia can be a dangerous thing, and yearning for a life that you used to have and cannot have again could drive you to breaking point. But experience, learning from what you have been through and knowing that you have learned from it, makes you better prepared for what is to come.
The Ghost of Happiness Present
As I said, I don’t know a lot about mindfulness, though I have been told that the “mindfulness” that is sold to 21st century folk is not the mindfulness that has been practised for thousands of years, but rather a sort of quick fix solution. I remember it being described to me as completely living in the moment, and never focusing on an irrevocably lost past or future fantasy. Even if you are only washing up, you should concentrate entirely on the temperature of the water, the feel of the pots in your hands, the way the dried on porridge feels when it dissolves into slime and gets stuck underneath your fingernails… OK the last bit I made up, but the rest of it is completely true.
So, great, yeah. Live in the moment. Appreciate what you have in the here and now. Don’t depress yourself by either wishing for what has gone or what is to come. Be content. On the surface it sounds like pretty sound advice. I do both conscious breathing and grounding to help with my anxiety, which I guess is along the same lines and it’s definitely beneficial to pause at least once a day and appreciate where you are and what you have.
But, surely to fully appreciate the present, you need to also appreciate how the past brought you to that moment and what is going to come in the future?
The Ghost of Happiness Yet To Come
For a lot of people the scariest place of all is the future. What if things don’t work out how you want them to? What if something terrible is around the corner? What if there is no tomorrow?
For other people the future can’t come soon enough. The things they will do, the success they will have, how happy they will be.
Worrying about a future that might not happen is pointless – I know this and I do it anyway, but I’m working on it. Living in a fantasy world and taking no action towards it is equally pointless – you cannot enjoy success in any area if you’re not willing to put in the hard work to get there. But letting your mind wander where it will may help you notice a risk that you hadn’t noticed before or a solution to a problem that you never thought of. People often “sleep on it” when they have an important decision to make. This comes from letting your unconscious mind deal with something rather than overthinking it consciously.
Although I am biased when it comes to mind wandering, as most of my writing is done that way.
Your brain is the most powerful computer in the world. It has the ability to store memories, interpret everything you’re sensing into a coherent present that you can see, smell, hear, touch and taste, and plan and strategise for what is to come. Yes it may put a rose tint on your memories to protect you from pain, it may warp your view of the present by interfering with memories, foreboding or hope, and it may lose all control at times and lead you to panic or blindly hope for things that will never happen, but your mind has the ability to live in the past, the present and the future simultaneously.
Perhaps we would all be better off by appreciating the good and bad in all three by loving and learning from our experience, appreciating and enjoying the moment and looking towards the future with hope.
Copyright, D M Day, 2017