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

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