Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own. –Matthew 6:34
Forget the former things; do not dwell on the past. –Isaiah 43:18
Do not wait for life. Do not long for it. Be aware, always and at every moment, that the miracle is in the here and now. –Marcel Proust
Disabused of our illusions by much travel and travail, we awaken one day to find that the sacred center is here and now – in every moment of the journey, everywhere in the world around us, and deep within our own hearts. –Parker J. Palmer
The here-and-now is a hard moment to stay in, even though it’s all we got. Unlike Marty McFly in Back to the Future, we don’t have the luxury of being able to go back in time to shape how things turn out or into the future to try to control them.
The tendency to mentally go back in time often leads to a lot of regret, sadness, bitterness, and even self-condemnation. The tendency to project into the future often leads to becoming overly idealistic about how awesome things are going to be or overly anxious about how bad they might be.
Far too often, we look back in time and rub our own faces in past mistakes we’ve made or rub other people’s faces in theirs. When we look ahead to the future, it is often with unrealistic fantasies (delusions, really) about how great everything is going to be or full-blown panic about not knowing what painful things might come our way. Neither creates a sense of peace and confidence in the here-and-now that allows us to focus on the issues at hand, which, in turn, makes us less productive and efficient in our day-to-day endeavors.
All that being said, there are legitimate reasons to look behind and legitimate reasons to look ahead.
Let me explain…
Why Look Back?
While there are a number of legitimate reasons to look back into the past, let me highlight two. First, it is healthy to look back in time to deal with past wounds. If we will find the courage to face the traumatic things that happened to us in the past, we can forgive those who hurt us and set ourselves free from what they did. A second reason to look back in time is to do what twelve-steppers call a “fearless moral inventory” so we can take responsibility for the ways we hurt others and make amends where possible.
Why Look Ahead?
While there are a number of legitimate reasons to look ahead, let me highlight two. First, we need to look ahead in order to plan for the future. There’s a quote I like, “People don’t plan to fail, they fail to plan.” On occasion, we need to look ahead to the future to assess what we need to do in the here-and-now to get ready for it. A second reason to look into the future is to decide what kind of boundaries to have with people who mistreat us in the here-and-now. It’s never healthy to allow people to keep mistreating you, and we need to make it clear that future interactions with these folks are going to look a whole lot different if they don’t stop.
As a psychologist, I see clients who frequently make the mistakes I’m talking about here.
- I see clients who refuse to look back in time to work through their wounds, and they tend to stay embittered and unforgiving toward those who hurt them.
- I see clients who won’t look back in time to take responsibility for how they’ve hurt others, and they tend to stay defensive and unrepentant.
- I see clients who won’t look into the future to wisely plan for the things to come, and they tend to be impulsive and out of control. And I see clients who won’t look into the future to create firm boundaries with others, and they tend to bitterly play the victim card.
Munchkins, try to avoid making these mistakes in life. I want you to have the courage to look back in time to heal from the things that wounded you. I want you to look back in time to own how you’ve hurt others and seek their forgiveness. I want you to look ahead to wisely plan for your future. And I want you to look ahead about where to put firm boundaries in place with those who mistreat you.
One of my favorite writers, Henri Nouwen, once said, “Patience asks us to live the moment to the fullest, to be completely present to the moment, to taste the here and now, to be where we are. When we are impatient, we try to get away from where we are. We behave as if the real thing will happen tomorrow, later, and somewhere else. Let’s be patient and trust that the treasure we look for is hidden in the ground on which we stand.”
Words to Live By
“The treasure we look for is hidden in the ground on which we stand.” Now those are some words to live by. I hope that as you live your life, you will do as Nouwen suggests, patiently live the moment to the fullest, be present to the moment, taste the here and now, and be where you are.
Munchkins, the treasure you’re looking for in life is hidden in the ground on which you stand. Don’t unhealthily look back in time or into the future—live as fully in the here and now as you can so you don’t miss all the important things along the way.