Now that we are into the first weekend of the new year it might be a suitable time to look back and ask “Where was I in 2015?“. I don’t pose this question in a geographical sense, such as “was I at home?” or “did I get away?” but in the sense of being present in 2015 during 2015.
So much of our present seems to be spent in needless worry about the future and pointless regret about the past. Looking to the past we think “if only I had said or done this”, “if only I had not done that”. Looking to the future we worry about things that might never come to pass, we prepare answers to questions that will never be asked and smart retorts to insults that will never be offered.
Mark Twain is credited with the statement “I am an old man and have known a great many troubles, but most of them never happened” but words to that effect have been offered by the wise throughout history. The Roman philosopher Seneca the Younger who lived between 4 BCE and 65 CE said in his letter number 98 to Lucilius: “There is nothing so wretched or foolish as to anticipate misfortunes. What madness it is in your expecting evil before it arrives!”
In the present we need to make plans and perform actions that we believe will help lead to the future that we desire, for the most part we reap what we sow. But pointless daydreaming achieves nothing and an undue proportion of our time can be whittled away in that valueless activity.
The past cannot be undone. Is there one of us alive who would not do things differently with the benefit of hindsight or with the advantage of the wisdom that sometimes accompanies older age? Who, with a mouthful of fillings, crowns, bridges implants and dentures would not take better care of his or her young teeth the second time round? Who would not immerse himself enthusiastically in the acquisition of skills so easily acquired in youth if only youth could be grasped once more? How many times have we failed to do the good deed or succumbed to the attraction of something we later have cause to regret?
We cannot change the past but the present gives us the opportunity to change the future. So we have to develop the skill to live in awareness of the present moment as it arrives. We can practice this by stopping for a minute or two and seeing if we can concentrate on our breath or on the sounds around us. Try this and notice the tendency to start thinking of something else arising so often and so quickly. When someone is speaking to us, really listen to what is being said. Notice how often we only half listen as we prepare our response. When going from A to B pay attention to the journey. Life happens on the way to our destination.
So in 2016 let’s see, day by day, if we can be present even just a little bit more than we were in 2015. That will make it a good year, one for which we can be satisfied when we take a quick look back at its end.
Happy New Year. In 2016 may you be well, may you be happy, may you be peaceful, may you be loved.