I admit it—I see the value of “being in the moment” or “being mindful,” but today I had a completely different take on the subject.
Being mindful doesn’t mean that your thoughts always have to remain in the present moment, I realized. We have much to gain from visiting the past as well as the future. These “mind travels” can be equally valid and beneficial.
Visiting the Past
History repeats itself. If we don’t look back on our mistakes, as a global society and as individuals, we have a good chance of repeating them. Presently mankind finds itself repeating past human rights atrocities, coming dangerously close to repeating even more horrific manifestations of ignorance. We must collectively look back on cautionary examples before we can move onward and elicit change:
Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it. – George Santayana
Fellow citizens, we cannot escape history. – Abraham Lincoln
To correct and advance our characters, we can also reflect on our personal mistakes, holding ourselves accountable for our actions and accepting responsibility when we cause pain to another living being. We need to review our behavior in a loving way without berating ourselves with guilt, regret and grief, but with detached and mindful awareness.
While you’re visiting the past, ask yourself: is there some way to make amends for past mistakes? What can I do better in the future? Baha’is utilize that spiritual practice by reviewing the past day each evening, holding ourselves accountable and consciously making necessary changes for the future. Remembering and focusing on all the good from the day is also important. Taking pride in a day well-lived is a day ended with peace of mind.
Twice and thrice over, as they say, good is it to repeat and review what is good. – Plato
O son of being! Bring thyself to account each day ere thou art summoned to a reckoning; for death, unheralded, shall come upon thee and thou shalt be called to give account for thy deeds. – Baha’u’llah, The Hidden Words, p. 11.
Living in the Present
The present is the time for action, service and deeds. But while living in the present, we are still, nevertheless, connected to both the past and the future. We are affected by what was, what is and what can be. That’s what mindfulness means: fully inhabiting the present. It doesn’t mean ignoring the past or the future—instead, it calls on us to live in full awareness of the now, without negating past or future:
Happiness always comes from within, and is found in the present moment by making peace with the past and looking forward to the future. – Doe Zantamata
Declare the past, diagnose the present, foretell the future. – Hippocrates
Visiting the Future
Life can only be understood backwards; but it must be lived forwards. – Soren Kierkegaard
Let’s face it—creativity, imagination and the arts all come from an expansive vision of the future. Athletes who wish to enhance their performance envision themselves repeatedly in the future, strong and capable. The artist’s mind calls on a future dream before it becomes a reality on canvas. The writer grasps at unwritten prose held in the promise of its future manifestation, and the musician hears the melody before it becomes an audible reality.
The future belongs to those who believe in the beauty of their dreams. – Eleanor Roosevelt.
We look forward to visions of a peaceful future for our world. These positive thoughts for the future give us hope and light our way during dark times. Even the smallest situations can be changed with a hopeful future vision.
I remember as children my sister and I would love looking forward to Christmas, summer or happy things to come when we were sad. It would brighten our spirits and remove us from whatever mundane situation we were complaining about. I still find today that looking forward to a trip or vacation is half the fun. Sometimes thinking happy thoughts about the future is a helpful way to navigate an unpleasant present. Situations beyond our control can take us where we don’t wish to be. At these times our hope and faith can fuel our lives:
The secret of change is to focus all your energy, not on fighting the old, but on building the new. – Socrates
We would do well to remember the past with gratitude and forgiveness, to regard our present lives with mindfulness, and look to the future with inspiration and hope.