What is Both Real and Not Real at the Same Time?

Hi there, welcome back! I recently went through a 10-day meditation course. In it, I came to a few wonderful realizations about life, truth, and happiness. Today, I’d like to share one of them with you, in hopes that you could borrow (or strengthen, if you’re familiar with it) this way of looking at things that happen in your life. For any interested in the course, feel free to visit www.dhamma.org to learn more about Vipassana.

Friend, I’d like to conduct a small thought experiment with you, if you’re willing. Close your eyes for a moment, about 10 seconds. Did something pop up in your mind? If you’re like most people (myself included), you would’ve thought of something that happened in the past, or something that hasn’t yet occurred, in the future. The 10 seconds of shut-eye might have produced these types of thoughts in your head:

  • That guy who overtook me on the road today — what a douche. I swear, next time I see his car again…
  • Next Monday’s presentation…I can already see the look on the clients’ faces.
  • I wonder if the photo of the latte I sent to her was too dark. Maybe I should’ve used a brightness filter.
  • I can’t wait for the Hawaii vacation 2 weeks from now. It’s going to be so relaxing!

Notice that they don’t really have anything in common on the surface. They are isolated, dispersed events that have either already happened (in the past) or is yet to happen (in the future). “No sh*t, Sherlock. Jeff, please tell us something we don’t already know and stop wasting the precious minutes of our lives.” I know! I’m sorry! Your life is indeed super precious (and I’m not being sarcastic)! Please, bear with me here. Although they seem to be totally unrelated thoughts, the one thing that ties all of them together is the fact that they are both real and not real at the same time. They are real in the context of our minds, i.e., we are really experiencing them as we think them, but they are not real in the context of the present moment in the external, physical world dictated by time and space. Think about it for a second.

Whatever latte you drank, whatever scone you ate, whatever moment you experienced — it’s passed. It no longer exists! “But I swear, that latte was real when I drank it. It even had too much froth.” I know it was, and it should’ve been. But it was only real in that moment in the past, and now is no longer the past. You’ll never be able to relive that moment, ever again. (A moment of silence for the latte that’s forever gone). You could buy another latte, ask for a bit more froth, go find that exact spot you sat in, wear the same clothes and fragrance, and drink that new latte facing the exact same direction where the wind from the air conditioning was blowing the strongest. You still cannot go back to the past. It’s a new day, a new you, drinking a new latte.

How about that Hawaii vacation? It hasn’t happened yet. I know you’re looking forward to it, but it hasn’t happened yet. Let’s pretend for a second you actually do have a Maui trip planned in two weeks right now. As you’re reading this sentence, can you say you’re in Maui, Hawaii right this moment? Of course, if by pure coincidence you are, fine, then pretend your vacation in 2 weeks is somewhere else, anywhere but Maui. If you’re not there, and the future hasn’t become present yet, then it’s not real — it doesn’t exist.

So why is it that so many of our moments, day by day, are spent worrying about the past (which is gone forever) and the future (which hasn’t yet come)? I’m not going to sit here and pretend to preach high philosophy as if I know so much — I don’t! I am only writing this because I experienced it myself. I completed many hours of meditation over the 10 days, and not through a single meditation was I free from thoughts of the past or future. Some thoughts were soft, mild, didn’t leave an impression and left as abruptly as they came. Others stuck and engulfed my existence, my reality — I was watching these thoughts like movie scenes on an IMAX screen. They made me laugh, cry, my face red with anger. Then, I realized, none of these thoughts, mild or strong, were realities in the physical world. And the longer I live in these “zones” of the past and future, the less attention and energy I can dedicate to the present. And let’s be honest, what really matters at the end of the day? The present. It’s the only relevant time frame, where things can actually be done. They say the present is a gift — no kidding, the word speaks for itself!

Friend, the sooner you stop living in the past or anticipating the future, the sooner you start really living. Enjoy the present moments, because instantaneously, in trillionths of a second, they become the past.

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