Do the Past and Future Have a Place in the Present?

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Living a mindful life is all about being present in each moment. Living in the present is sometimes conflated with pop culture’s obsession to live in the moment; here living in the moment symbolizes a lifestyle where you do whatever you choose impulsively, without any foresight. But when we speak of mindful living, a rather different lifestyle is being described. Mindful living, as the practical application of mindfulness meditation, is about bringing your awareness and attention to the exact moment at hand. Being present for your life means going to your edge, and this often requires discomfort. It is in this discomfort that we begin to grow and change as people.

Setting Aside Time for Mindful Reflection

When the goal is to be fully aware for our lives, the question becomes: Are the past and future important in mindful living? Of course! Mindful living does not remove any conscious reflection of the past and planning for the future. Rather, mindfulness teaches us that these are worthwhile areas that deserve reserved time. Setting aside time for a mindful reflection of the past gives us more space to be present. If we set aside time to reflect on how an activity went, a day went, or a year, then we are able to see the thoughts and emotions which come up, address any that require action, and then move on from them.

"When the goal is to be fully aware for our lives, the question becomes: Are the past and future important in mindful living?"

Once something is reflected upon we have now cleared that space in the mind. We are now more open, and more able to be aware, not only for ourselves but for others. We are not lost in our minds, and we do not succumb to any unhealthy thinking. There is more room between our mind and our thoughts, between our spirit and our emotions, when we give the past the time it deserves. If we do not give the past the time it deserves it may become intrusive in our daily lives, and become a frustrating source of distraction from mindful living.

Skillfully Set Your Intention

To live the next year intently, we must plan active steps for our future. By setting intentions for the future, in a similar way to reflection of the past, we free up space in our mind for the current moment. We are not constantly bombarded by instructive ‘what if’ and worrisome thoughts. We have already given them the time they deserve. If reflecting is bringing the past into the present, then setting an intention is how to bring the future into the present.

"By setting intentions for the future, in a similar way to reflection of the past, we free up space in our mind for the current moment."

This next year, why not try to be skilful and tactful in all we do? Just as in a meditation practice we choose when to engage with our thoughts, and when to let them go, so too can doing this in everyday life be helpful. An example of a daily intention is to connect with your body throughout the day, realizing when your sitting vs standing, hot vs cold, busy vs still. Another example could be taking more time for face-to-face interactions. It is tactful to give yourself time to think about what you want to work towards in the future. In this way, the future has its place in the present moment but it is given this place in a mindful and thoughtful way by you. It does not intrude before it’s time, nor does it distract from the task at hand. You give it a heads up that you’re coming, and then set it aside until that time arrives.

Brooke Petit is the Special Projects Manager at the Connecticut Council for Philanthropy. Having recently graduated from Providence College, she has plans to pursue her career and academic interests of advocacy, data analysis, social change and applied sociology. Brooke loves American handmade crafts, snail mail, and iced green tea. When not working her life is enjoyably filled with electro funk concerts, mindfulness meditation, and yoga. Connect with her on LinkedIn, Instagram, and Twitter.