Is it spiritually OK to think about your past and your future?
When teachers tell you to bring your attention to the present moment, they are sharing a useful technique that focuses the power of your body, mind, and soul. The present moment is where you truly live, and this present moment is that place of power where you can unite all the aspects of your being. So learning to be fully present is definitely a most important and useful skill.
However, this method of bringing your focus to the present moment is sometimes misunderstood, even by spiritual teachers, as a strict rule to never think about your past experiences, or to never dream of your future possibilities. That fear is shortsighted and mistaken. You can learn about your present life situations by examining patterns from your past mistakes. You can then utilize your awareness to take appropriate steps to change these patterns that are affecting you.
Of course, it is possible to be too preoccupied with the past. Take the case of those who harshly judge themselves on the basis of their past mistakes. Or those who live in misery because of regrets and self pity. And there are those who, through too much past-focused therapy, blame their childhood as an excuse for everything in their life.
It is possible to be too preoccupied with the future as well, as in the case of those who are creative dreamers who never take action. And then there are those who, out of fear of a possible negative outcome, fail to take appropriate action in their present circumstances.
It is these extremes in behavior — people stuck in their past, or lost in their future — that may explain the strong emphasis that some teachers have about bringing their students exclusively into present time — while avoiding all thoughts of past and the future.
You can easily imagine ancient teachers warning their meditation students to stay in present time, and avoiding any daydreaming about the past or the present. Over the generations, that reasonable suggestion turned into a generalized fear about the past and the future, without an understanding of the deeper meaning of the practice. It often happens that spiritual teachers are repeating what they have been told, and they have not examined the situation with their deeper intuition.
Let’s assume, however, that you are a reasonably balanced person. You are not expressing these extreme behaviors, and you are not lost in the past or the future. What is the value of utilizing your past and future awareness? Here is an example:
When you let yourself scan your future timeline, you can more easily make assessments about any limitations that you sense in your future. You can bring your insights from the future into your present life. And this helps you access ways of manifesting a more positive future for yourself and others.
So there are valid reasons for you to cultivate present time consciousness, combined with past awareness and future awareness. And you can choose to do this in a balanced way.
But before you explore your past or your future, you might want to examine any irrational beliefs you have been given about the concept of time. You may have been told that past and future are somehow unreal, and therefore unworthy of your attention. Or you may have been told that past and future are irrelevant to your life, since “only the present moment is real.”
When spiritual teachers condemn the past or the future on the basis that it isn’t real, what do they mean, exactly? Does something have to be physical for it to be considered as real?
Well, ideas are not physical — but ideas can be quite useful. Perhaps some teachers mean that the past and future are not as solid as this present moment. That is true. But, does that mean that anything that you learn from the past and future therefore has no value?
I believe that your imagination is the key to accessing your spiritual potential. And your imagination, when centered in the Now moment, can help you learn from your past and your future experiences.
Your amazing multidimensional imagination extends through all time, and all space.
But how can you be centered in the Now, and also aware of past and future?
Does it have to be one or the other?
The key to safely examining your past influences, and your future possibilities, is to be grounded in the present moment when you are meditating on your past and your future.
This is the unified skill that frees you to make the best use of the present moment, combined with your awareness of the past and the future. Let those who claim that the past and the future are unreal believe as they do. You deserve to explore and benefit from the full range of your timeline.
When you recall your past, you are accessing another aspect of yourself, and you are learning from the fascinating world of that past time. You can tune into those past images and feelings and learn from them, if you let yourself.
The same is true for the future. Yes, the future is not as solid as the present. But, the future is a possibility that you can study. What can you learn from it? As you develop your subtle sensing ability, you find that you can learn from images in your mind. And that includes images of the future. You can sense into them, and learn.
The future can give you vital new ideas that you may choose to manifest in the present. And the future can give you understandings about a possible outcome of a situation, so that you can be aware of potential challenges.
Maybe you consider this awareness as all in your imagination — and perhaps it is — but that doesn’t make it invalid as a useful spiritual practice. Or, maybe you want to call it future scanning, or past recall. Could it be that your vast consciousness includes past, present, and future? Why limit yourself?
In your daily practice, let yourself sense your own past, present, and future as a continuum that you have access to — through your conscious awareness that is grounded in present time.
The power of your imagination connects you with these deeper truths. May each eternal moment of your life bring you meaningful and fulfilling discoveries — breath by breath — and moment by moment.
Joel Bruce Wallach
Founder, Cosmic Living spiritual instruction – tele-classes and home-study mp3’s