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Hawaii_Jake's avatar

Do you live in the past, present, or future?

Asked by Hawaii_Jake (25799 points ) April 8th, 2012

Many people seem to live in the past. (I know some of my relatives do.) They are always bringing up past accomplishments and revisiting old wounds.

Then there are people who seem to live in the future always talking about plans and dreams. They rarely seem to take care of today’s chores.

And then I meet people who seem to live in the present. They are content, and some are even what’s known as happy-go-lucky, living carefree. They take joy in everyday occurrences.

How about you? Do you concentrate on what was, what is to be, or what is?

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25 Answers

john65pennington's avatar

I think a person’s answer to your question, depends on their present age. Older folks always think of the past and better times. Younger people think of what’s ahead for them in life. At age 68, I think only of the past, since I have already passed the halfway mark in life.

Younger, I use to think of my future and what was ahead for me. I think this is normal. Planning ahead is the key to a bright and leisurely future and retirement.

Some things did not go as I had planned, but the replacements were okay and have worked to my benefit.

Your age is the determing factor as one person perceives their life.

janbb's avatar

All three constantly, I believe. It gets tiring.

gailcalled's avatar

Right now. Anything else is a waste of “my one wild and precious life.”

I don’t believe that you can say “Older folk always think” or ‘younger folk” think. They are not monolithic groups.

janbb's avatar

@gailcalled Want to give me lessons?

gondwanalon's avatar

I call this living in the 4 dimension and I do it a lot while running. I’ve been running the same 8 mile route for 17 years. Each mile point I check my time. If I’m running slow I can see the hundreds of me’s up ahead. It is like a carrot as I pick up the pace to catch up with the pack of me’s of the past. They are good motivators. Sometimes I’m feeling very good, I’ll run very hard to make it up to the fastest me’s way up front of the huge pack of slower me’s where the air is sweet and clean This is not easy to do anymore at the age of 61 but I keep trying. Of course I’ve fully aware of the me of tomorrow who will most certainly be gunning to beat today’s time tomorrow morning. I don’t talk about this much as I don’t want people to think that I’m totally nutsy cookoo. HA!

cookieman's avatar

Like the penguin said, all three at once. I can reminisce, plan, and do from moment to moment.

I would be sad if I could only focus on one of them. I don’t want to forget, stop dreaming, or not appreciate the moment ever.

tom_g's avatar

I consistently ignore the present. Working on that.

thorninmud's avatar

Today I took a long walk with my father-in-law. As always happens on those long walks, he began pulling out the old stories. I’m not sure whether he doesn’t realize that he’s told them all to me a hundred times before, or maybe he just knows that I’ll always indulge him as if I’d never heard it. But these stories are so thoroughly and frequently rehearsed in his mind that scarcely a detail has slipped away in all those decades.

His daughter—my wife—is like Janus, with one face toward the past and the other toward the future. When she’s not planning for every contingency that might possibly arise, she’s trying to work out what we should have done differently in the past. For her, the present is just an awkward way station where we reap the rotten fruits of our past screw-ups, and brace ourselves for whatever unpleasant surprises the future may be cooking up.

I’m completely baffled by all this. When I try to look backward, it all feels like remembering some dream. Vaguely interesting at best, but largely irrelevant. When I try to look forward, I feel as if I’m just doing a fiction writing exercise. Despite my best efforts to write some story about how things will be, I can’t really believe it.

But here, in this living eternity, there’s no such ambiguity, no sense of conjuring up some “past me” or “future me”. Here, there’s really not much need for any kind of me, and that feels quite natural and sufficient.

janbb's avatar

@thorninmud Have you always felt this way or did you attain this presence in the present through your meditation?

JustPlainBarb's avatar

I mostly concentrate on the present and future. That’s especially true since my husband and I are really into preparing for his retirement in a few years. We’re really focused on that right now.

Even though it’s fun to think about the past, I’ve never been big on spending a lot of time thinking about it. Better to live for today .. that’s all we really have anyway.

Linda_Owl's avatar

I live in all 3 at the same time, past, present, & future. You can never forget your past, you must live in the present, but you have to plan for your future. Really, living in all 3 is a prerequisite for your existence.

marinelife's avatar

Present.

Blondesjon's avatar

I live in the what if and try to manifest it into the what is.

Bellatrix's avatar

Mostly the present and the future. I tend to forward plan quite a lot. Goal set and the like. If I had to be self-critical I would say I should live more in the present. Enjoy what is happening now, today rather than worrying about what I need to achieve and will happen in the future. I think that would be much healthier. Just spend more time in the moment without thinking “I have to get xxx done’.

I don’t spend a lot of time focusing on the past. If I am feeling down and useless, I will try to think about the goals I have achieved or partially achieved and what I can do if I set my mind to it as opposed on focusing on what I haven’t done. I think about the people I miss from the past but not so much events and things that have gone or mistakes I may have made.

ro_in_motion's avatar

Although not what you’re looking for, it’s worth noting that all of us live in the ‘past’. The minimum amount is 0.1 seconds. That’s the minimum time it takes to perceive something. This is what makes great baseball batters such a precious commodity. They have to make split second decisions based on ‘past’ data of the ball to be able to hit it.

That being said, I think we all live in the now. I really can’t see any alternative. Some people have experience that makes them dredge up the past or forecast the future as their best technique for handling ‘now’.

thorninmud's avatar

@janbb I sure don’t see it as something I’ve attained in any way. In my experience, the present is where we naturally find ourselves when we’re not trying to get somewhere else. When we set out to attain, that’s when we start having ideas of past and future.

janbb's avatar

@thorninmud There is a wonderful essay by Barbara Kingsolver “High Tide in Tuscon” that your comment just brought to mind. It is about natural rhythms in life. I need to reread it.

Hawaii_Jake's avatar

@ro_in_motion : That’s very interesting information about the timing of decision-making, and I love baseball.

I can see your point that we all live in the now, but it seems some people dredge and forecast so much they can’t see the present.

I like to practice a Buddhist thing called mindfulness. I concentrate on exactly what I’m doing it as I’m doing it, or at least 0.1 seconds after I’ve realized it. I use this technique when I’m washing dishes to clear my mind. I use it when I’m walking for exercise. I use it when I smelling a flower. I often say out loud – much to the consternation of whomever I might be near – the actions that I’m performing for the task at hand. It really works wonders for me. It calms me when I’m stressed. I removes the dross of my extraneous thoughts. It helps me focus on now.

Bellatrix's avatar

And that mindfulness is exactly the thing I was saying I need to do more of. Being more mindful of the now. Great question @Hawaii_Jake.

Symbeline's avatar

I live in the present and not too far away future. The future, not because I plan much of anything out, but because I do need to consider my actions and my life and how shit I do will affect the near future. This I calculate with the little wisdom that I may have to see ahead, based on whatever experience I think I can rely on. It’s tough though, and often I find that I don’t really care much bout the future anyways, so I mostly live in the present, because it’s happening right now. Whatever will be will be, and all that. I’ll deal with it then. But if I can lay some mines, I will, if I’m sure of it, or at least think it’s partially right. Anyways fuck it, I’m usually wrong. XD
The present is what’s important for me, whether I’m having fun, doing something constructive, or doing something stupid. I do try to think about everything, but maybe I’ll die tomorrow, so all I thunk about will have been wasted time except for when I was thinking about it, which won’t matter when I’m dead. I like living for the moment, because it’s happening, and isn’t a memory or a delusion. Makes me feel alive, whether it’s good or bad. Ya can’t chase happiness, you have to recognize it when it’s happening, as well as all the other shit that happens. Wasn’t like this for me all the time though. I used to be obsessed about the future, probably up to a point that was mentally unhealthy. Not saying my way now is better than then…but it feels like it, anyways.
That said I think about the past quite a lot, again, good or bad, but very rarely do I apply it to the now or the then as a means to transform the now or then. Or at least I don’t think so, most of the time anyway.
How much cash did I have then? 2000? Okay, but all I got now is three twenties…gotta work with that shit. Maybe I’ll make more, maybe I’ll be left with pocket change…but gotta go with what’s goin on now. I do look ahead though, as much as I think is constructive and good for me.

prasad's avatar

Sometimes, I find it unavoidable to think about the past or the future. Little thought to each one is necessary though. What goes on in past built my experiences. I can learn from it, from good things (to repeat it), from mistakes (to avoid it) – from mine and others’ too. Planning for the future helps me predict some of the results, and act with that knowledge. And all these things and many other I do in the present. The key is how to balance it – how much time I should spend thinking about the times. For trivial things, I think I should go just with the present. For more critical things, I should give some thought to all three.

Master Wugui (Oogway) is the fountain of wisdom in (the animated film) Kung Fu Panda and here is a great quote from him that hints at the underlying oneness of existence.

Yesterday is history, tomorrow is a mystery. Today? Today is a gift. That’s why we call it the present!

Leanne1986's avatar

I worry far too much about the future. That is the biggest cause of anxiety.

ucme's avatar

It’s fine to reminisce & predict as long as it doesn’t dominate your thoughts.
Me, i’m spontaneous, take each day as it comes.

philosopher's avatar

I live in the present. I learn form past experience and I plan for the future. I believe this is how well adjusted people survive.

Paradox25's avatar

I live in the present, but it is impossible to live a quality life in the present without reference to our past and future in some way. To me recalling the past is important as a learning experience, so that we can learn from our mistakes. Also recalling memories from the past are important as well such as remembering loved ones and the good times.

When I do think about the future I do so as the result and experience of the past. Present decisions can have drastic future implications so I do always find myself digging up the past to help me make the best decisions for myself in the future. I think it is important to refer to the past/future as a reference guide, but I don’t think it is wise to live in the past/future. Life will always be a gamble regardless of which decisions we choose to make.

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