Past, present or future – where do you live?

Cultivating a mindfulness practice can feel like reclaiming your life!

As we take back each moment we find we gain time, as time is no longer lost in the washing machine of thoughts in our minds.

Mindfulness brings us a sense of peace and calm as we resist getting caught up in the ‘monkey mind’ of swinging from past to future, only passing through the present if we touch base with it at all.

So where do you tend to live?

I ask this of my clients and also of my meditation students.  I get them to observe where their minds tend to get stuck, ruminate, replay over and over again.

Some people live in the past. As human beings this has been a survival skill, to remember past events.  It is what has kept us safe, knowing where danger previously hid.

In our 21st Century minds we no longer need to worry about tigers or wolves in the jungle ready to pounce and eat us. Our past thoughts tend to focus on disappointments, regrets or embarrassments.  This can be excruciatingly painful as our focus on the past can keep us locked in certain memories, some ‘good’ that we believe we can never achieve again and so we have sadness, or some past memories which are traumatic or ‘bad’ where we can ruminate over what has caused us pain, harm, shame, grief or devastation.

Past thinking can be heavy, tiring, exhausting and can cause us to be lethargic, unmotivated, disengaged, tearful, depressed.  We can lose interest in everyday activities that we previously enjoyed.  We can become disconnected with family and friends.  We can lose interest in keeping ourselves fit, healthy and energetic. We can develop self destructive behaviours which keep us feeling the shame, grief and harm.

The other side is living in the future, the ever evolving, unpredictable future.  This was also a survival skill as we needed to know which watering hole was safe to drink at or where we thought a predator might be hiding.  In today’s world vigilance can keep us from walking out in front of traffic, predicting what someone else might do or prevent us from eating rotten food which may give us food poisoning.

However our future thinking is often more about anticipating, fantasizing, musing, worrying.  Predicting the future allows us to plan our holiday, what we are going to eat for dinner, a special occasion with family or friends or make that ‘to do’ list that we get so much pleasure out of checking off.

But predicting the future can also be exhausting, nerve-wracking.  Questions can spin uncontrollably in our minds – have we covered all the bases for everything to go as planned, is everyone going to be safe, did we get enough food or drink, have we done enough on that proposal or studied enough for that test, what if I get it wrong, what if people don’t like me, what if they laugh at me ……. the list can go on.  Worrying can lead to anxiety, creating a sense of dis-ease as we try to control every facet of our busy lives.

Our ‘monkey mind’ as Buddhists refer to it, can swing around in the past or around in the future, or if you are anything like me, it can swing both backwards and forwards! IMG_2860

Remember that happened…. well I won’t let that happen again so next time I will do …. or I never want  to feel that way again so I am going to keep my (future) feelings safe …. and so it can go on and on and on.

So this week’s challenge is to notice where are you living or where the monkey is swinging.

Take some time during the day to just notice ‘what am I thinking about – is it something I am replaying from the past? Am I worrying or predicting the future?’ Where is my mind focussed?

Notice as you rise in the morning, in the shower, on your way to work, as you drop your children at school, while you are shopping, driving, sitting on a train, talking with others.  There are so many moments in our day where we can just stop, notice where our mind is at, refocus on the here and now and continue with our lives.

If you notice your thoughts are in the present, you may remember a previous blog about ‘creating our own suffering’ are you bringing a non-judgmental approach.  So am I here in my head, but I am judging whether I like or dislike what’s happening or how I feel?

Mindfulness – deliberately bringing present moment awareness without judgment.

See if you can train your ‘monkey mind’ to sit in this very moment, even for short moments at a time.  Remember Mindfulness is a practice, we practice it over and over.


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