“The future is not even here yet. Plan for it, but do not waste your time worrying about it.
Worrying is worthless.
When you stop ruminating about what has already happened, when you stop worrying about what might never happen, then you will be in the present moment.
Then you will begin to experience joy in life.”
“Anxiety, the illness of our time, comes primarily from our inability to dwell in the present moment.”
“There is no enlightenment outside of daily life.”
All quotes from Thich Nhat Hanh
Today I read the Fourteen Mindfulness Trainings with friends. Each time I read them they arrive in my life in a different way. Today, I was struck by number seven, Dwelling Happily in the Present Moment and the message of cultivating our own happiness and joy through our attention to the present in the midst of an anxious world. The training begins:
“Aware that life is available only in the present moment, we are committed to training ourselves to live deeply each moment of daily life. We will try not to lose ourselves in dispersion or be carried away by regrets about the past, worries about the future, or craving, anger, or jealousy in the present. We will practice mindful breathing to be aware of what is happening in the here and the now.”
More and more I hear the words, “living in uncertain times” referring to climate change and the polarized political spheres worldwide. These issues are truly disturbing and vast, creating a myriad of responses, from social activism, outrage, to increased anxiety, or apathy. We hear about genocide and wars, the rate of species extinction, and children with automatic weapons. There’s upheaval in every sphere of the world if we look. So with all this going on, how can we not be carried away by fear and worries about the future? Wouldn’t fear, worry, and protection be a natural response to this uncontrollable world?
We can consider whether the world actually is more unpredictable than it used to be? Is there more worry in a life than there was in the time of the Buddha, Jesus, or Muhammed when a cut finger could result in death from infection? There has always been uncertainty. There have always been disasters and the threat of loss. It may seem irresponsible to attempt to be happy in the unfolding turmoil, but our happiness and solidity are not to be mistaken for denial of indifference. Living happily, attending to what we are engaging in at the present moment is the way to stay with our intention to care and to give longevity to our actions. And, present moment awareness, paying attention to what is happening in me and around me right now, is the medicine to heal the anxiety of worry. We believe we can solve the problems of a future that has not yet arrived and spend our time bracing ourselves for eventualities that may never happen. If our minds are constantly spinning about what might happen, we will end up exhausted and miss the opportunities that exist right in from of us.
Attending to the present moments and what is unfolding in and around us is the best way to take care of the future. We have an instinct to muscle through unpleasantness until it all gets sorted out. We don’t want to stop and be with what is happening at this moment because it is painful. The imaginary future moments, when the world has been saved, or a different administration is elected, sound much better and much more relaxing—that’s when I’ll relax. I can’t afford to let my guard down now.
This habit of leaning into the future is just like all habits, something that increases with use. When we push off contentment and the possibility of happiness, thus we train our minds. We won’t be able to stop and smell the roses in the future, because we are so good at ignoring the roses in the present. We can give ourselves permission to stay with our own range of awareness and our ability to take care of what is arising right here and now from washing the dishes to creating a resistance movement. Whatever we engage in, we can be present for it fully and find that in doing so, there is no space left for the worry to seep in.
When we are immersed in our lives, we honor ourselves and our work through our own attention. We can be grateful for our own commitments, our good hearts, and give ourselves the time and attention to follow through on what we do. In this way, we save ourselves from worry and speculation and we can be truly useful and a source of joy right here and now.
May we all trust our light,