There are few absolute truths in life, but one that is undeniable is this: the only thing that has any substance is the ‘now’.
That is to say that this moment, happening right now, is the only thing that matters. It is the only thing that exists and has any relevance to our perceived existence.
The reason for this is that nothing can be happening in the past or in the future; things can only happen in the present. Nothing can exist in the past, and any perception of the future is a non-reality because it is yet to happen, and probably won’t happen, at least not in the way we imagine it will.
Seen in this way, this is an incredibly simple teaching, and one that deep down we all know. So then why do we have such trouble acknowledging and accepting this truth? For example, why do we constantly allow the past to dictate how we feel in the present?
The reason is identity.
Our identity is comprised of thoughts – and the subsequent emotions they stir up – stored in the brain.
If we choose to completely disregard the past, we effectively lose our identity: the friends we knew at school, the sports we were once good at, the people we cherished, the first car we owned, the degree we completed, the awards we won. These things give us a sense of self, a confirmation of who we are – an identity. These are the things we believe represent and equate our worth in the world.
We also collect memories of the past to further support this identity; think pictures, videos, diaries, objects. These are all reminders of what once existed and subsequently contributed to the person we are today. These memories are the roots of our identity, roots we often romanticise and persecute and allow to distort our perception of the past and control our potential in the future.
It is no coincidence that the older we get the more sentimental we become over the past. “Ah, the good old days”.
Youth pushes us forward towards the next challenge, as we seek to learn, understand and succeed. I remember being so excited to make double figures when I was 10 years old. For me it couldn’t have come soon enough. Yet as the years mature, we anxiously try to hold on to wilted branches that support our identity and reassure the ego of our relevance and capabilities. Is that natural human instinct? To some degree, yes, I’m sure it is.
For reference, have a quick look on Facebook. At 37 I still consider myself pretty young, yet all my school friends are posting pictures from the playground, talking about reunions, how good music from the late 80s was and how the dreaded “40” is just around the corner. “I can’t believe how old we are!”
This is compounded by the fact that as we age more people we know die. Four people I knew from school have died in the last year, and as I enter my 40s, 50s and 60s that number will naturally escalate.
So while our identity is based largely on the past, it is also based on our fear of facing the future.
The future means getting older, which brings with it the prospect of having to face our mortality. We know deep down that we’ll end up looking like those people we used to call “old” when we were kids and teens, we’ll be less mobile and more prone to injury and, eventually we will get sick and die.
We graduate from kids who can’t wait to be grown-ups to adults fearing the future and tightening our grip on the past. But the past can’t comfort us, because it doesn’t exist.
The result is that end up living in a limbo of sorts. We become straddled in a fearful, nostalgic state, for which the only exit is to embrace death as the high cost of living and move forward in its sanctuary of certainty.
Life is for living, and going back to what I wrote at the very start of this post, the “now” is the only reality we have. If you are not living in the now, then you are not truly living.
Don’t let fear of the unknown lead you to hide in the valleys of your past. Instead, cultivate a positive acceptance and appreciation of life and the inevitability of its interdependent cousin, death.
How? By saying this one simple affirmation:
“One day I will die”.
That’s it. There, I said it. Now it’s your turn.
Say it. No really, say it out loud.
Most would label this a morbid affirmation, but accepting this truth is a fundamental part of fully embracing life and seizing the moment. If death isn’t enough to motivate you to throw off your self-made shackles and hug someone you love then I don’t know what is.
I don’t know about you, but right now I plan on living forever. “Now” is all I have, and so far so good.
I have accepted that I will die, and when my ride is here I will get in gracefully. But it’s not part of my plan today, and nor will it be any other day.
When you liberate yourself from the past and except the only inevitable fate of the future, life suddenly looks very different. Stress, worry, fear and negativity dissipate because they have no grounding to take hold. Suddenly the world radiates a powerful energy that makes you feel almost reborn. You fall awake into the world.
A tree never grows downwards. It reaches upwards towards the sun. Be that tree.
I’m not going to sit around thinking about how good life once was: how I used to have hair and wrinkle free eyes, how I used to run 100 metres in 13.5 seconds, how I used to be so happy playing with my brother on our yearly family holiday when I was nine years old, how my parents once loved each other dearly, how great it was when my group of male friends were footloose and fancy free.
None of that exists. It is just old data on the hard drive.
Sure, I can access that data if I dig around in the archives, but I’d sooner set up a new folder, open a new document and create a new file.
I’m winning. And so are you.
Every day the light comes in through the window and my eyelids peel back into my head is a win. And when you’re winning a race, the worst thing you can do is stop and look behind you at who might beat you to the line.
Don’t get me wrong, it’s cool to reminisce about fun times; I love a good catch up with the guys to laugh about the stupid stuff we did way back when. But the good old days can’t beat better new days, and it’s up to us to create them.
My identity is whoever I am in this moment. I cannot be identified by who I was a year ago, let alone ten. Don’t judge yourself or anyone else by who they were yesterday. To do so will only create another tie to a past and identity that no longer exist.
The chance to be a great person: to be happy, successful (whatever that means to you), kind, loving, honest and generous does not fade with time. We have the amazing ability to do all that in this moment.
This is the power of ‘Now’, something ever so more powerful than the past or the future.