Past, Present, Future; Our Relationship to Time

"it's okay to lose, so long as you learn from every game you choose..."

“If there is no future, and there is no past; if all we’ve got is right now, then…let’s make it last.”

"Remember your dreams because your dreams become the life you lead..." --Prince Rogers Nelson

Human beings have a strange relationship to time. We sometimes get stuck in moments and replay them over and over again. We often fail to live in the "present"—not hearing the person right in front of us. Some of us are so focused on our goals in the future we often fail to enjoy them when we attain them—rather, setting new, bigger, more impressive or more challenging goals without ever pausing to enjoy the view from this new height.

Then there is this idea that there is only “the now”-- which is certainly one way to think about it. At the same time, while the past and future may only live in our minds, so do so many other things. Does that mean they do not exist? Memories? Fondness for someone? Plans for our future? They are indeed “real” even if they are strictly intra-subjective experiences.

If we declared they were not, we would have to say things like intentionality, compassion, hope, and love, were not “real”. Are you prepared to say compassion is not real? Aside from the most dogmatic of scientific materialists, I know very few who are willing to support that argument.

What then is the most appropriate and useful relationship to time that we could cultivate, such that we accelerating our personal evolution? How can we use our internal representation of time for emotional choice and ultimately, emotional freedom?

The Past

The past, in the context of accelerating our evolution, is really only useful for two things: learning, and the storage of emotional states. It is a treasure trove of opportunities for learnings and therefore evolutionary advancement.

If, while we review past events, we simply ask two questions:

1. How am I responsible?

2. What can I learn? (that is positive or empowering about yourself or about the world)

...then our relationship to the past is a healthy one.

That is, it is one that supports increasing our spiritual depth and emotional freedom while building on "mistakes" (less than optimal choices) in a useful way. The first question builds esteem for the self as all responsibility does, so long as we are taking responsibility responsibly—that is free of shame. If we use it instead as an opportunity to shame ourselves or judge ourselves, then we have been irresponsible in this exercise and defeated the very purpose of it. The questions must be answered with a positive or empowering forward look. In the case of a “failure” or a negative event, or perhaps in exhibiting behaviors that are out of alignment with our values: what can I learn such that this will not happen in the future? Or, What will I do differently in the future?

In the case of “successes”: what can I learn such that I can continue to model this behavior? How can I increase my effectiveness even further? The Present People often speak of “staying present” or “being present” or “being in the now” as if we were somehow absent. We are always present—the question is, “what are we present to?”

Often when people are not paying attention to what is in front of them, they are paying attention to their internal representations. Their internal thoughts, fantasies, imagery, or internal dialogue. Building the muscle of mastering our minds such that we are present to what is in front of us when we need to be—fully present without atemporal or past-related thoughts—is one of the critical components of the game of Personal Evolution. There are times when we are not even aware of our internal representations. We must bring these into consciousness so they can be managed appropriately and responsibly. Once we become conscious of them, it may be necessary to use certain mental shifts and practices to “shelve” these thoughts to be dealt with later when it is more appropriate for our lives. Sometimes it is a matter of learning to simply quiet the mind through meditation. Or both.

The Future

Often when I work with clients and they are in despair, I elicit their internal representation of time and find it compressed. They are seeing perhaps only two weeks into the future and the events that are occurring in their present are unpleasant--and then it just goes black.

When we extend their sense of time out to include another 100 years these feelings often turn into convictions about what needs to be done--or at the very least, increasing ease.

The truth is that regardless of what is occurring—everything has a nature: it arises and passes away. Nothing lasts forever. This is especially true for human beings. In the greater scheme of things, or in the larger view, or with an expanded sense of time, as we literally zoom out, we become more emotionally free from whatever may be troubling us at that one moment in time. Once the events become objects in our awareness and we are no longer identified with them, we are free form them and can use the events for learnings and make more appropriate choices.

This practice is especially useful for fear and anxiety. The structure of fear and anxiety is that we are imagining some future event with a negative result or outcome. However, since we know that the future exists only in our minds [although in our subjective experience it is very real] then we can bring that imagined future into consciousness and change it to a positive one. Given that neither is more “real” or “true” than the other, the evolutionary master of their own mind will change the imagined future to a positive one and “live into” that—thereby aligning their consciousness around it. While a high level of facility is required, we can all build the muscle of a more responsible and useful relationship to time. Just like all exercise, at first It may cause soreness.

So we start off light. We increase the frequency of our exercise gradually. Eventually, we are lifting heavy weight indeed and are excited about how are new habit is transforming the way we experience ourselves and how we feel. And it is then, that we are becoming free.

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