If you have read some of my previous articles you will know I am a fan of mindfulness, not least because it can help us live in the present.
This article was first published in Affinity magazine but I think it may be useful for readers of my website.
For those of you are wondering who on earth Lao Tzu is, he was an ancient Chinese philosopher and writer and founder of Taoism. Some of his other quotes I have included here and you will see that while he may have lived hundreds of years ago he has an uncanny knack of addressing very current problems.
But to get back to the quote above – I started to have a few discussions with people about it because it seem to be such a bold statement – surely there are also sorts of causes for depression and anxiety and that is correct however a lot of those can also be linked to the practice we all have of not living in the present.
Clearly the past is important. Firstly most of us will have some lovely memories of happy times we have had, times with family and friends, previous lovers or partners, our children’s childhoods, holidays and experiences and generally whilst some of those may be bitter sweet it would be a stretch for many to say that thinking of such things causes depressions. So to for some of the things in the past that may not have been so good – mistakes we may have made things we regret but they too are an important part of life and looking back and reflecting on such times sometimes means we can learn from our mistakes and do things differently – in essence it’s our past that often allows us to grow and develop.
Then if we turn to thinking about the future surely it is good to plan ahead, to have goals and ambitions and it definitely is and I have written the very same myself in previous articles. In fact I would reinforce as often as possible the need to have clear idea of success and visualise this in order to get to where you want to go and live the life of your dreams. I could even argue that a little bit of anxiety can be a good thing it often helps us to perform well. And from things I have written about the subconscious what we really want at a subconscious level we will work to create. So thinking about the future is also important
What some of you might have noticed is that I didn’t use the word ‘live’ in the paragraph above and therein lies the key. Thinking about the past, reflecting on what has happened IS important. Considering and planning for the future, even visualising the future we desire is also important.
The problem comes when we start to live in either the future or the past.
Most of us would have a working definition of where we live as our base, the place we go back to ‘I live in Bedford’, it’s also rooted in time ‘they lived in the Victorian era’ and there are also elements of inclination and desire ‘I live for my work’ for example. It’s similar to the word dwell and also implies spending time in a place – not only physically but in our thoughts – where we may dwell on all sorts of things that are unhelpful.
The key issue about the past is that however much we may dwell there or live in it we can’t actually change it. Maybe we are sad because we have lost a loved one, we can celebrate the fact they lived that we knew them but no amount of dwelling in the past can ever bring them back. We may worry about the future and there are clearly some things we can plan for and aim towards but often there is little we can do to control things – I have many experiences of careful planning that has gone awry because of disruption to travel caused by the weather, which we would probably all acknowledge we have no control over.
So the problem lies not in thinking about the past or the future but in ‘living’ there. When I think about many of the clients I have worked with who have experienced depression it often stems from or started at a particular point or event in the past. Indeed post-traumatic stress disorder is well recognised as a problem stemming from traumatic past event that impact us in the present. People who suffer from severe anxiety, panic attacks or conditions like agoraphobia, are beset by fears essentially about what might or could happen in the future.
IN our society we live busy lives and it is worth taking a moment to ask yourself how present you have been, in the last hour, in the here and now. Even when you are doing things you enjoy you may be worrying about the future to going over things you are unhappy about in the past. The only true peace we can experience is when we are actually living in the present – but that is often a lot harder than it seems.
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