The Past, The Future, and The Now

Anxiety and depression deprive humanity of the present moment. For depression, one’s mind is captivated by the past, but for anxiety, one’s mind is consumed by the future. We are distracted by the past and the future, and we overlook the simple pleasures that are there in front of us. We miss being alive, and time flies by in the blink of an eye.

Perhaps the past is a safe haven for those who are absorbed by nostalgia and thus spend time in their memory box. The bittersweet emotion of longing for a time when things appeared to be better and easier. For some, it may simply be a trip down memory lane, but for others, it may be a historical type of nostalgia triggered by dissatisfaction with the present. Perhaps the future holds promise for some, so they keep track of their thoughts in anticipation—which isn’t necessarily a negative thing, but it can absorb the present moments if not managed properly. For example, some people believe that they will be happy in the future only if they have accomplished something, or if they meet someone, or if they move to that new house or get married or have a child.

The mind is programmed to associate cause and effect with contentment. It’s like happiness is a waiting game, where you’re hoping to be happy “if only,” “when only.” Perhaps you can be happy right now, you know. It’s about the journey, not the destination because when you get there, you’re only happy for a moment and then you’re back to the normal state-what you nurtured as your baseline for happiness. According to the hedonic treadmill theory, no matter what happens to people, their levels of happiness will eventually return to their baselines. As a result, the doing is more important than the result—It’s like a delicate balance of doing and being, of planning and letting go, of accepting what is while striving to improve what could be.

According to the hedonic treadmill theory, no matter what happens to people, their levels of happiness will eventually return to their baselines.

If I had to compare time to anything, I would say it is a deity. It is deeply embedded in our minds and governs every part of our lives. When our minds are constrained by the past and future—Time does not appear to be psychologically pleasant. It is torturous and makes life seem unbearable. For instance, imagine waking up late for work or anything else, and your entire day devolves into shambles because of a single thought—”omg, I’m late.” The exhilaration that comes with a racing heartbeat, as if time will stand still for you. The rage that emerges during traffic, as if everyone else awoke in the same situation as you. At normal speeds, the effect of time slowing down is minimal, but it becomes highly noticeable as speeds near those of light. To put it another way, the rate at which time passes is determined by your point of view. That is the great physicist Albert Einstein’s theory of special relativity– that time is an illusion that moves relative to an observer. An observer traveling near the speed of light will experience time and all of its aftereffects (boredom, aging, etc.) much more slowly than a resting observer.

“People don’t realize that now is all there ever is; there is no past or future except as memory or anticipation in your mind.”

– Eckhart Tolle

It’s more like we sleep, wake up for a moment, and then sleep again. When we fully awaken, we frequently wonder, “What have I been doing all along?” In anticipation of how much time has passed, it can be a frightening moment of realization. Time, on the other hand, is a social construct. It only governs our minds psychologically and is not fundamentally real. “Time isn’t precious at all, because it is an illusion,” says Echart Tolle. What you value is not time, but the one point that exists outside of time: the Now. That is truly priceless. The more you focus on time—past and future—the more you miss the Now, which is the most valuable thing there is.

What you value is not time, but the one point that exists outside of time: the Now.

Perhaps we can cheat time, or maybe time can be subconsciously altered. Perhaps if we pay close attention to the present moment- The Now… waking up to noticing the birds sing. Paying attention to our breath, spending time in nature- sit still for a while, examine our surroundings, and fill what is. Coming to terms with the current dimension, letting go of affiliation with the mind, and realizing that you are more truly yourself without thought. Perhaps the thoughts that are stolen from us by time, those that travel to the past and future, can be transcended and accessed only when needed, making us more powerful, effective, and creative.