Constantly Planning for the Future
We spend a lot of time ruminating about the future. We may plan things for hours. "I'll first do this errand, then that, finally the third. Or would it be quicker to do them in the reverse order? Or maybe I should do them on different days?" Back and forth our mind swings trying to decide what to do. "I'll go to this college, do graduate work at that one, and then send out my resumé to land the job I've always wanted." Or, for Dharma practitioners, while doing one retreat, we daydream about all the other practice opportunities that lie before us. "This teacher is leading a retreat in the mountains. I can go there and learn this profound practice. Then, I'll go to this other retreat center and do a long retreat. When that is done, I'll be ready for a private hermitage." No practice gets done now because we're too busy planning all the wonderful teachings we're going to receive and retreats we're going to do in the future.
Unrealistic Expectations for the Future
Envisioning the future, we create idealistic dreams. "The Right Man/ Woman will appear. He/she will understand me perfectly and then I'll feel whole." "This job will fulfill me completely. I'll quickly succeed and be nationally recognized as excellent in my field." "I'll realize bodhichitta and emptiness and then become a great Dharma teacher with so many disciples who adore me." As a result, our attachment runs wild, and we develop unrealistic expectations that leave us disappointed with what is. In addition, we don't create the causes to do the things we imagine because we're stuck in our head just imagining them.
Worrying About the Future
Our future ruminations may also spin around with worry. "What if my parents get sick?" "What if I lose my job?" "What if my child has problems?" In school, we may not have been very good at creative writing, but in our heads we dream up fantastic dramas and horror stories. This leads to an elevated stress level as we anxiously anticipate tragedies that usually do not occur.
Our worries may zoom around the state of world. "What happens if the economy plummets? If the ozone layer keeps increasing? If terrorists take over the country? If we lose our civil liberties fighting terrorism?" Here, too, our creative writing ability leads to fantastic scenarios that may or may not happen, but regardless, we manage to work ourselves into a state of unprecedented despair. This, in turn, often leads to raging anger at the powers that be or alternatively, to apathy, simply thinking that since everything is rotten, there's no use doing anything. In either case, we're so gloomy that we neglect to act constructively in ways that remedy difficulties and create goodness.
The Present: Life Happens Here and Now
The only time we ever have to live is now. The only time that spiritual practice is done is now. If we're going to cultivate love and compassion, it has to be in the present moment, because we don't live in any other moment. So, even though the present is constantly changing, it's all we have. Life happens now. Our past glories are simply that. Our past hurts are not happening now. Our future dreams are simply future dreams. The future tragedies we concoct do not exist at this time.
Reprinted with permission of the publisher,
Snow Lion Publications. ©2004. www.snowlionpub.com.
This article was excerpted with permission from the book:
Taming the Mind
by Thubten Chodron.
Thubten Chodron offers practical techniques to help us gain a more spacious perspective on relationships, freeing ourselves from habitually blaming others for our problems, and learning to be on the spot and take responsibility for our lives. "This book helps to ... find peace and contentment through a practical application of the teachings of the compassionate Buddha. Ven. Thubten Chodron has chosen a wide variety of situations that we encounter in daily life and has explained how to deal with them from a Buddhist viewpoint, in words that are easy to understand." -- His Holiness the Dalai Lama
About the Author
Bhikshuni Thubten Chodron, an American-born Tibetan Buddhist nun, has studied and practiced Buddhism in India and Nepal since 1975. Ven. Chodron travels worldwide teaching and leading meditation retreats and is known for her clear and practical explanations of the Buddha's teachings. She is the author of Buddhism for Beginners, Working with Anger, and Open Heart, Clear Mind. Visit her website at www.thubtenchodron.org.