Why the past and future are a problem when you’re meditating
“The past is a foreign country; they do things differently there.”
L P Hartley, The Go-Between
If you are new to meditation, you might want to set some time aside to put solid foundations under your practice. As you progress, that structure you have carefully put into place supports you and provides stability as your practice grows.
This is stage one. Be sure to spend plenty of time working with these ideas. Being able to maintain your mindfulness in the present is a significant step in the right direction and you will have already achieved a great deal.
In order to come into the present moment, we have to be able to give up the past and the future, at least for the time spent in meditation. It’s a simple idea that can be tricky to execute.
As you sit to meditate, you are looking to abandon the past: No good times, no bad times, no childhood memories, no moments of past glories, no thinking of your work or family.
For the purpose of meditation, you become someone who has no back story. Of course, during our meditation, memories will come up, but there is no requirement to grasp at them. If we think of our mind as the sky, these thoughts are merely clouds and we let them float on by without engaging with them. The more we practise, the more clear blue sky we have to work with. The mind becomes still.
Received wisdom would have us believe we can learn from the past and that these experiences will provide solutions to current problems. But we all look back to the past through our own filters and lenses. Whatever we think it was like, we are inevitably wrong. If we can begin to see that the past is an unreliable source of help and information, it becomes easier to let it go.
If we do hang onto the past and find it difficult to let things go, they begin to weigh us down. The longer we hold onto them the more burdensome they become. Instead of informing our present, they often prevent us from enjoying the current moment.
The one thing we can all be certain of about the future is that it is uncertain. It is unknown and unpredictable. Over-planning or worrying about the future is a waste of time and energy, as it is if brought into your meditation. If you are worrying about the future during your meditation practice, you are not actually meditating!
As you develop present-moment awareness, you come into ‘now’. To help you get there, you may find it useful, in the early days, to visualise two suitcases on wheels; one marked past, one marked future. You are carrying one in each hand. They are very heavy. At the beginning of your formal session, imagine putting these suitcases down in front of you. Feel the physical and mental relief!
Remind yourself that they will be there when you have finished, should you want them again, but for now you have no need of them. Push them away from you, give yourself space.
By training the mind over time to be accepting of present-moment awareness rather than paying any attention to the past or future, you will have let go of one of the major burdens that stops deep meditation. Well done you, onwards and upwards!