An eye-opening theory: the past and the future do not exist – is it true?

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the past and the future
the past and the future

Lately, I have come across the same idea about the past and the future expressed in different ways. I have read books about religion, Christianity, philosophy, psychology, self-help and I remarked that some of their theories say, essentially, the same thing. Needles to say, I still have a lot to learn about this, but the main point is that the past and the future do not exist. They are only the products of our collective imagination. For me and many others, this is just a clichée. However, I am positive that a lot of people had never come across this idea before and I thought that summarizing what I have learned might be useful for some.

You will easily find out that this theory is actually quite simple to grasp if you think about it.

We are talking about time – what is time? It is a tool crafted by human beings that help us measure the passing of our lives. It is not something real – it is something that we have created, not nature.

As we all were taught, time is divided into three categories: the past, the present and the future. The past is about things that do not exist anymore. The thing is that the past does not actually contain past events in themselves, but our memories of them. The same reasoning goes with the future. The future does not contain events that will happen in themselves, but our expectations and predictions of them.

However, the present really contains present events that are happening for real right now and are not just things that we imagine, in contrast to the past and the future.

Now, all of these are pretty much obvious and theoretical. Moving on to the consequences of these arguments in our daily lives, I have surprisingly found out that this theory implies that a huge part of our lives is spent living not in the reality, but in our own minds.

Why? Because most of the time our mind is flooded with a wide range of thoughts. From worrying about whether we have locked the door or not to trying to come up with solutions for a problem at the workplace, we are nearly always speaking with ourselves. We are living either in the past or in the future, but, regrettably, so rarely in the present.

Think about it like that: you are having dinner at the restaurant with a friend. However, while he is talking, your attention is divided to what he is saying and to what your own mind is mumbling. While you are eating or drinking, you also keep chatting with yourself, thinking about a lot of things from the past or the future, like if you have done your homework yet or where to get on your next holiday.

The conclusion is that we spend a lot of time thinking about things that have already happened or that are to come, but so little time actually living and feeling the present moment, the here and now. 

This can be really harmful and we risk missing on a lot of real things that are happening in the present (like the beauty of a flower) in favour of vainly worrying about imaginary stuff in our mind (like what I have to work on the next day).

I am definitely not saying we do not have to think about all these mundane things – school, work, homework, locking the door and so on. I am saying that it may make you feel better to just stop thinking about these all the time and try to actually seize the moment and consciously feel what is happening in each second of your life. It is quite sad that instead of being happy with what we already have, we overthink so much about our future career or family and so on.

Each time we get what we want (be it a new flat, house, job, spouse etc.) we feel good for a very little amount of time, then we move on to wanting more and more, ending up trapped in a vicious circle. But things are much easier – we only need to actually live, to see what is around us, to feel every breath and ray of sunshine without worrying about unreal things.

Now, there are a lot of techniques to help you stop thinking so much about the past and the future and live more.

What amazed me is that, although there are different techniques to help you overcome the past and the future, the goal of them is pretty much the same and they can be found in a lot of very different places. Psychology has the here and now concept. Christianity has the Jesus prayer of the mind/heart, self-help books speak about mindfulness, Buddhism teaches about meditation and lack of worries or wishes, philosophers write about eternalism etc.

I hope that this article managed to lay out a little bit of this idea. As you may have already noticed, my goal was certainly not to provide an exhaustive or academic summary on the subjected, but rather to give you some food for thought that may encourage you to seek more and better information about it.

If you are interested in philosophical discussions, you may like these articles – click here!

I am going to give you some ideas of books with which you may start (however, keep in mind that the list is totally subjective and random, so to speak, as I have not conducted any serious research on the topic, but just randomly picked up some books that drew my attention):

  • The Power of Now, by Eckhart Tolle – something between self-help and spirituality, as it refers to a wide range of religious beliefs about living the present moment and stop being dominated by the past and the future;
  • The Way of a Pilgrim – this is an Orthodox view on how to live the present moment. The technique that it suggests is the Jesus Prayer (Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner). The book is written like a novel and it is a really good introduction to the beliefs of Christianity and, more specifically, Orthodoxy;
  • The Confessions of Saint Augustine, Bishop of Hippo – (only) book 11 is relevant to the topic of this article. It is more of a theoretical part, but it is very interesting. For a summary, click here (part 2).
  • You may also check out this documentary about Taoist beliefs and how they help us live in the present moment (look in the Youtube comments in order to find the sequel).

…and many more that I hope you will find if you are interested in the topic.

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