Note: This month’s post is an article I wrote that was recently published in the Austin American Statesman newspaper.
As a spiritual-based counselor, I like to incorporate the words and wisdom of the world’s great spiritual teachers in assisting my clients.
I frequently encounter individuals who are unhappy or discontent. There are an infinite number of reasons as to why people are unhappy and many of them are very valid. It would be terribly difficult to be happy when you, a dear friend, or family member is suffering with a debilitating illness, or experiencing dire financial hardship and struggling to keep a roof over your head and food on the table.
However, more typically, my client’s unhappiness stems from reasons less extreme and that often are rooted in the past or in anticipation of the future.
I do not know anyone who doesn’t have a few decisions they regret. I constantly remind my clients that they are human and part of the human condition is that we will make mistakes. Yet, some people have a habit of focusing on the past and letting it dictate their mental and physical state. They allow the past to define and confine them. Their focus on the past hinders their ability to enjoy life and fully experience today.
I also encounter a fare share of worriers. These individuals tend to view events and their life from a negative perspective. They see the glass as “half empty” as opposed to “half full.” As with individuals who are confined by the past, worriers are confined by their imagination regarding the future, in that their expectation that something bad will happen prevents them from stepping outside their self-imposed limitations, realizing their potential and enjoying today.
When I have a client who is living in the past or worried about the future, I will introduce them to the practice of mindfulness. Mindfulness has become quite popular as a technique to bring an individual’s focus and attention into the present moment. When performed properly, the individual becomes fully engaged in the here and now.
I treasure the reactions and observations of my clients when they achieve mindfulness. For many, this is the first time they have experienced being in the now through their own efforts. In the present, my clients will tell me they feel liberated, as if the pressure of the past and the worry of the future have been instantly lifted from their shoulders. Many will describe mindfulness as being a spiritual experience. I will emphasize to them that the present moment is always there, waiting for them to become mindful of it.
The Buddha said, “The secret of health for both mind and body is not to mourn for the past, worry about the future or anticipate troubles, but to live in the present moment wisely and earnestly.”
We cannot change the past, nor can we accurately foretell the future. By focusing on something we cannot change and worrying about unknowns, we suffer unnecessarily.
The practice of living in the present through mindfulness will show you the key to dealing with the past and worrying about the future is forgiveness and acceptance. To sever the ties that keep us stuck in the past, we must forgive others and ourselves, and we must accept that we don’t know what the future will bring, be it good, bad or indifferent.
Life is happening right now, not tomorrow, next week, or next month. In the present, today is truly the first day of the rest of your life.