In December of 1988 I drove a beautiful, restored 1980 Triumph Spitfire 1500 under a disabled car in Memphis, TN. I was saved from decapitation because in 1980 British Leyland installed a safety hook on the bonnet (hood for the Americans) that crumped it rather than allowing it to slice through the windshield and occupants of the vehicle.
On this day in 1989 I drank away that car and all its symbolism, straying from a path of righteousness and entering into a 4 year period of blackout drinking. I’d give almost anything to have those braincells back, to have those 4 years without the impact of alcohol. I documented those years in a journal that was later stolen out of my car in the parking lot of West Town Mall, the first sign that time had come to move on.
For roughly a decade a good friend and I used this day as a reunion for friends. We hosted some outrageous parties on the premise that our friends could be assured on this 3 day weekend, there would be a celebration of friendship in Knoxville. In reality, we threw some huge keggers and held onto the past. As time went on fewer friends showed and more strangers trashed our homes. Sometimes my friend and I get together for a game of pool and tea although now-a-days I prefer Lipton over Long Island.
Thich Nhat Hanh in Essential Writings talks of mental formations, “things we see, hear, smell, taste, touch, imagine, or think can all give rise to internal formations – desire, irritation, anger, confusion, fear, anxiety, suspicion, and so on.” These are also called fretters.
If we live in forgetfulness, if we lose ourselves in the past or in the future, if we allow ourselves to be tossed about by our desires, anger, and ignorance, we will not be able to live each moment of our life deeply. We will not be in contact with what is happening in the present moment, and our relations with others will become shallow and impoverished.
I find Buddha’s teachings never truer.
Buddha taught that we should not pursue the past “because the past no longer is.” When we are lost in thoughts about the past, we lose the present. Life exists only in the present moment. To lose the present is to lose life. The Buddha’s meaning is very clear: we must say good-bye to the past so that we may return to the present. To return to the present is to be in touch with life.
I was at odds with such thinking because I have always felt that to “forget the past means we are doomed to repeat it” but Buddha does not say “forget” rather “should not pursue.”
The present contains the past … When the Buddha said, “Do not pursue the past,” he was telling us not to be overwhelmed by the past. He did not mean that we should stop looking at the past in order to observe it deeply. When we review the past and observe it deeply, if we are standing firmly in the present, we are not overwhelmed by it. The materials of the past which make up the prsent become clear when they express themselves in the present. We can learn from them. If we observe these materials deeply, we can arrive at a new understanding of them. That is called “looking again at something old in order to learn something new.”
Escaping to the future is so easy. I can look ahead and see our much improved lives with so few troubles and all the luxuries.
Sometimes, because the present is so difficult, we give our attention to the future, hoping that the situation will improve in the future. Imagining the future will be better, we are better able to accept the suffering and hardship of the present. But at other times, thinking about the future may cause us a lot of fear and anxiety, and yet we cannot stop doing it. The reason we continue to think about the future, even when we do not want to, is due to the presence of internal formations. Although not yet here, the future is already producing ghosts which haunt us. In fact, these ghosts are not produced by the future or the past. It is our consciousness which creates them. The past and the future are creations of our consciousness.
The present really is all that matters.
To return to the present moment is to discover life and to realize truth. … Only the present moment is real.
If we do not stand firmly in the present moment, we may feel ungrounded when we look at the future…bring[ing] about unease, anxiety, and fear, and do[es] not help us at all in taking care of the present moment. … The best way of preparing for the future is to take good care of the present, because we know that if the present is made up of the past, then the future will be made up of the present. All we need to be responsible for is the present moment. … To care for the present is to care for the future.
I once read a No Fear t-shirt “There is nothing more painful than regret.” I have spent a terrible amount of my life pursuing the past and fixating on the future. As I place more effort on living in the present moment, such a wonderful moment, I feel more whole, like I am standing on solid ground. The regrets of the past vanish including the regret that the time spent pursuing the past could have been spent being alive in the present moment.
To return to the present moment is to be in contact with life. Life can be found only in the present moment, because “the past no longer is” and “the future has not yet to come.” …
… Life is not a particular place or a destination. Life is a path. … Every step can bring us peach, joy, and liberation.
My wife often reminds me that “it is not about the destination. Life is a journey.” I am glad we now walk the same road and that we share an adventure! On the weekend we celebrate Martin Luther King, Jr’s birthday, I celebrate the present moment, wonderful moment!