One common theme I see in Circlers and spiritual seekers is a focus on living in the present moment. I want to share what maybe a controversial perspective in this community: the past and future are important! Don’t ignore them! A proper attention on the past and future adds to every aspect of life. The key here is in the word “proper”.
Most people give improper attention to the past and the future. They dwell on the past. They fantasize about the future. They dread the future. They relive the past. They do this over and over, obsessively, unendingly, in excruciating detail. The present moment is nearly completely ignored. All sorts of problems arise from this. Among the problems are lack of true authentic connection between the people not aware of the present moment.
When one’s attention is so obsessively on “the past” or “the future”, what’s really going on is that one’s attention is on one’s own thoughts. This is because the past and the future only exist in one’s mind. Once the future arrives it is no longer the future, it is the present. Before then it is just an imagine in one’s mind – a thought of sorts. After the present moment has left into the past it only remains as a memory – another thought of sorts. We can sort of hypnotize ourselves with our thoughts and get lost in them. This kind of losing of one’s self in thought about the past or future also comes with a disconnection with one’s perceptions of the world around them – including their feelings, physical sensations, other people, sounds, smells, objects, etc..
Many spiritual teachers have talked about this and helped many people get back in touch with the present moment – i.e., their feelings, physical sensations, other people, sounds smells, objects, etc.. There are many practices that help do this. There’s just one problem. They all almost unilaterally focus on anything but thoughts and remove all focus from thoughts – which also means all focus is removed from past and future.
This is fine as a start. As the pendulum swings the other way, the mind is strengthened in practicing presence. Then this thing called “spiritual bypassing” shows up. What’s that? Well, now that someone is so good at focusing on only present moment things and removing focus from thoughts (including past and future), one can – conveniently – forget about past and future. This next part feels so icky to me when I say it, but I feel I must say it. An expert at being present has the added ability to ignore the consequences of their actions (or lack of) because they can simply focus on present moment experience and ignore thoughts about the future and take no responsibility. Say one roommate gets upset at another for not doing the dishes. The other can continue to not do the dishes, be in the present moment, let their roommate be upset, ignoring all thoughts about it. Ick!
The reality is that we have thoughts about the future and the past. Those thoughts inform us of what may come and sometimes they are very much correct! Thoughts about the past help us learn about the future and present moment and sometimes they are also very much correct! Other times these thoughts aren’t correct and require some “rewiring” or some kind of work to dissolve or change. What makes any of these thoughts correct is their potential impact on the present moment. Now there’s an interesting statement. Somehow the past and future as created by our thoughts is connected to the present moment through these potentialities of being correct… or incorrect.
In this sense, our thoughts are informing us of the field of potential realities in which we live. This is a very real, if not material, reality. The problem is… it is only part of reality… not all. These thoughts are imbuing us with feelings and physical sensations. They form an essential part of each person’s individual experience in the moment and of the world because it is part of the lens of potential realities through which the individual is seeing the world.
When circling, we can benefit by seeing that lens. That is, we can benefit by hearing the thoughts!
It can also be a trap! We may easily revert back to our less conscious selves where we are hypnotized by those thoughts and lulled out of feeling and perceiving the reality of the current moment.
In this way we must practice. Instead of being hypnotized by the past and future, instead of giving the past and future all our attention, we must find that balance, we must remain conscious, we must learn to talk about the past and future while being in the present, we must aim for Past and Future… Perfect.