Don’t Zen Me In

The Zen philosophy of life is to live in the moment. Don’t look behind you, don’t look ahead – just exist in the now, this very minute, where you stand, sit or tumble. Live as if today was the last day of your life. Live life to the fullest and never let yourself fall into the trap of “what if” or “maybe someday.”

This doesn’t work for me.



When you reach the middle of your life as I have -and I hope it really is the middle- it’s impossible to shuck the past and ignore the future. And why would you want to? More to the point, how could you? How could you never look back and reminisce or remember, regret or revisit? How would that be possible? How simple and easy life would be if each day we could awaken to a blank slate, a fresh new beginning with no traces of the past following us around like stubborn little dust bunnies, clinging to our shoes, leaving trails of dirt behind us. It’s not going to happen. Ever.

You can meditate and follow your bliss all you want, but those moments in the past – good and bad – are going to sneak into your conscious thoughts sooner or later. And that’s ok, because without the past we would never be in the present – the all encompassing and more than perfect present moment that, to be honest, doesn’t exist. The present is a nanosecond, an itty bitty swatch of life. How can we live only in this moment? The past moment just happened, and the next one is coming up pretty quickly.

Visit the past – romanticize it, regret it, think of it for hours on end. Let those mistakes you made and those thrills you had cloud your brain for a little while. Because who are we without our past? Loving someone depends on having shared memories and moments of greatness and moments so awful you wish they’d never happened…but they did happen. Whether you were good or bad, you are where you are and what you are because of the thousands of days before this one.

And the future – well, that’s where all of our dreams are. The future is where things happen that we never could have imagined, no matter how much we think about it. The future is our children, our grandchildren, the continued evolution of who we are and the possibility of being what we want to be. The future is eternal and unknowable, and that’s what makes it so alluring and magnificent. Without the future, there would be no reason to try, challenge ourselves, contemplate or discover. The future is the better version of today – because anything can happen in the future. The future is built on plans and new ideas and what is improbable but still…we dream.

As Emily Dickinson said, “I dwell in possibility.” That is the future.

So yes, be in the moment. Watch your children play, hold your lover’s hand, see the painting, the flowers, the beautiful sunset. But let the past and the future in, because they are who you’ve been and who you’ll become. And part of what makes the present perfect is all the possibility to dwell in.

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  1. says

    Very well said. I think the sentiment of ‘living in the moment’ has value for those who spend too much time living in the past or dwelling on what might be in the future that they forget to ‘live’ in the present enjoy their life today. :)
    Cheryl recently posted..Ultimate Blog Party 2012My Profile

  2. says

    Well, if you’re gonna put it THAT way… :)

    I hear you about learning from/reminiscing fondly about the past and I am completely with you about planning for the future (I am not one of those who gets caught with their pants down), but that might not be entirely incompatible with the value of living in the moment. Far too many of us get stuck in the past, or worry about the future, so much so that we forget to live the now. But the present, in a vacuum, doesn’t make sense, it’s not supposed to. I don’t think of past, present, and future as distinct and mutually exclusive, I think it’s all a fluid continuum. Which I think was your entire point LOL. So yes, I agree with you!

    Great post!
    Megan@MondayMorningMusings recently posted..wordless wednesday: croque monsieur in parisMy Profile

  3. Cindie L says

    Beautiful piece. We are what we have lived. Like using the experience to inform what comes next. Old enough to know that must plan for tomorrow, but live for today!

  4. says

    I have written many post about living in the now and for me, it is the only way. That being said, I am who I am because of where I’ve been and though I spend very little time looking back, I allow myself to get lost in pictures now and then. I allow myself to feel what I felt when I was here or there and then when my ‘moment in the past’ is over, I move ahead because my now IS remembering. My now might also be planning our future or tomorrow NOW. Now is what is happening and I want my heart and soul to be THERE whether it is remembering or planning or just enjoying or working myself silly, I want to be THERE in my now 100%
    I love this post. ♥
    Jo recently posted..Oh What a NightMy Profile

  5. says

    My professor in a college class said that studies show that people aren’t old until they stop planning for the future and start reviewing their past. Statistically, I’m about 3/4 of the way through my life, and some would say I’m old, but according to the above definition, I’m maybe middle aged. I’m always interested in how the past brought me to where I am today, but I still have not only a plan for the future, but several contingency plans–just in case.
    Angela Myers recently posted..Now That I’m Not Trying to Write About HomeMy Profile

  6. says

    Memories of the past have a tendency to change each time they are revisited, which brings them into the present or now. Future plans are the creations of the Universe we plan for ourselves, well calibrated, calculated, and laid out, they become our present.
    k~ recently posted..R ~ Razor SharpMy Profile

  7. says

    I like this. Especially about the past, and how it shapes us. May not be the path we had hoped for, but there’s always room to grow and evolve. Live in the present, sure, but let the past inform our present and inspire our future. OMG – that sounds like something you’d read on a coffee mug. UGH. :) I like how you said it way better.

  8. says

    I could definitely benefit some by ‘living in the present’ but I agree, you can’t ALWAYS be there. I worry too much about the future (It’s possible I”m a control freak) so it would be nice to feel comfortable in the ‘now’.
    Michelle recently posted..I Love You, ManMy Profile

  9. says

    I must admit, I love thinking about the future and have to make myself live in the present. My husband is the opposite. He’s very happy and focused on the now. I’m the worrier and the planner. Maybe we balance each other out.

  10. says

    Hi Sharon! Point well taken. I agree that a big problem with Zen philosophy (or any other for that matter) is when ut takes things to an extreme making them impractical and nearly impossible. The past can be filled with great learnings and memories and the future is full of unlimited possibility. BUT, and it’s a big BUT–I think we all know people who live way too much in the past (to their own detriment) and others that keep saying over and over, “I’ll be happy when such-and-such finally happens,” and they keep delaying their happiness or their peace of mind. Balance is the answer to so many things in my opinion and this is one of them for sure. Thanks for the thoughts! ~Kathy
    Kathy @ SMART Living recently posted..When Was The Last Time You Felt Passionately Alive?My Profile

  11. says

    I like that I’m not alone in having such a hard time in living only in the present moment. I’m too neurotic not to ever think about the future and the past. That said, I do appreciate this Zen reminder and only take it to mean that we should not get stuck in either the past or fears about the future. I agree with you that we are nothing if we don’t appreciate our past and how it has shaped us. But as I’ve written before, “Looking back doesn’t have to mean getting yourself a stiff neck.” ;-))
    Joy recently posted..Marry Someone You Can Dance WithMy Profile

  12. says

    As a natural worrier and eternal pessimist, I have a tendency to dwell too much on what happened in the past or what *might* happen in the future, so I’m trying to introduce mindfulness into my daily life (following a course I did a few months back) in the hope that I will learn to appreciate – and enjoy – the here and now. It does help when I actually remember to apply it and I’ve recently downloaded an app called Headspace to encourage me to practise a daily meditation.

    We’re all wired differently, so it’s a case of what works for one might not work for another. No right or wrong approach!

  13. says

    When I first starting reading your post I was so happy to read, “This doesn’t work for me”. Thank-you!
    I hear, live in the moment, embrace the past and the future will take care of itself. That doesn’t work for me either. I did more security in the future!

  14. says

    That has never worked for me either. Especially when I want to look to the future in dreamy anticipation of projects seeded and nurtured. But the future can also look daunting and foreboding.

    Looking to the past has the benefit of providing rich memories and lessons learned. But it’s also a place where we can dwell on regrets.

    In the end, it’s all about balance, isn’t it? Especially when you have children. We need to learn to enjoy those moments with them, in the moment. I’m afraid I may have missed a few of those.
    Anne-Marie Kovacs recently posted..The nicest thing you can do for a blogger: Leave a commentMy Profile

  15. says

    I would hope that most people would have more good memories than regrets, so I love to look back at the past. If we didn’t have the mistakes we wouldn’t be here in this exact moment and I personally wouldn’t want to be anywhere else. The future holds all of our dreams so they have to be part of it also.

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