“Live in the now” is one of the most frequent pieces of spiritual advice we hear in our culture these days. The concept is central to many of the Eastern philosophies and many spiritual and religious paths. It has been brought into Western culture and popularized by a variety of spiritual teachers, from Baba Ram Dass in the 1970s to Eckhart Tolle in the present as well as dozens, if not hundreds, of well-known and not-so-well-known teachers throughout history.
Time is something that both scientists and philosophers see as a useful fiction, but a fiction nonetheless. Scientists talk about the space/time continuum and philosophers assert that there is no such thing as the past or the future—the only reality that actually exists is the “now”. Yet, to most of us ordinary mortals, the past, present and future all seem very real and time itself is experienced through our changing lives and changing bodies as something that cannot be denied.
So what do the past, present, and future have to do with us as aging adults? Our sense of the past and future clearly shift as we move from earlier life stages to later life stages. The past often feels longer than it did when we were young and somehow farther away. Our projections of future living often feel shorter and the future may seem closer than it once did. More and more, many of us sense the importance of living in the now at this point in our lives.
There is value in the past and in the future. The past provides us with a sense of personal history, being part of a family of generations and a sense of personal identity. The past shapes us yet our experiences sometimes alter our perception and interpretation of past events.
The future is the vessel that carries our dreams and aspirations. It holds possibilities and the vision of who we want to be and what we want to develop in our lives. The future is usually where we place hope and the possibility of change. Fiction or not, the future is important to us. But the only place we can actually live and make these changes is in the present moment.
A few questions to think about:
- Do you feel there is value in believing in the past and the future? What do past and future mean to you? Are they real?
- What is your personal understanding of what it means to live in the now?
- How much of your own personal life do you spend living in the past? In the future?
- Have you had the experience of feeling absolutely present to others, to life and to yourself? How often do you experience this feeling and what is it like?
- Have you found practices that help you live in the now?
- What is valuable to you about the past? About the future?