I was reading when I stumbled on the line that stopped me like a speed bump. It read: "I'm amazed how many individuals mess up every day with yesterday."
The line came from Garry D. Chapman's "The 5 Love Languages." He was referring to how people behave in romantic relationships, mucking up their lives because they can never leave the past.
I wanted to continue reading but I had to stop and let the thought filter through me. Chapman was talking about love, but his words really encompassed a broader scope -- pretty much every aspect of life.
The bottom line is you're asking for trouble if you live in the past, and it's no better trying to anticipate the future in everything we do and think. So what's left? It's not brain surgery; there are no tricks. It's so painfully obvious that it's profound -- you must live every moment in the present.
Sounds too simple, perhaps. Sounds easy to do, but it isn't. For the record, it can be downright daunting for most of us. We tend to visit the present, discovering it at moments like wadded up $10 bills you find in your pocket. When you find it, it's a pleasant surprise, which can make you feel as if the universe is looking out for you -- at least today.
But as quick as your delight bloomed, it disappears as we slip back to the past where everything feels familiar.
Let me give you an example: A married couple feels frustrated and unhappy in their relationship that has dried up over the years like a prune. She resents his dominance of her; and he swears she's turned into a nag.
They want more, but they can't escape their old patterns of behavior.
She tells him to back off and give her space; he rattles off a million reasons why he interferes in her decisions. Back and forth it goes like an endless ping pong match with no one emerging as the winner. In fact, they're both losing out as they grow more resentful, more withdrawn.
If you could be a fly on the wall during one of their typical arguments, you would likely hear a flood of comments about what one did to the other in the past; and then the counter arguments.
As Chapman said, and philosopher and spiritual teacher Eckhart Tolle echoed in his profound book, "The Power of Now," one of the best strategies this fictitious couple could adopt is to stay in the present.
Running into the past to empty a wardrobe of hurt and resentment does little, but make it clear that both spouses are hurt and angry.
The way to a better relationship is to open the door to the present and begin to dwell there, even when it seems impossible. Of course, we can learn from the past like a reference book, but we need to recognize that it only exists in our thoughts.
Tolle points out how living in the moment can change our behavior -- almost instantly: "Life is always now. Whatever happens, whatever you experience, feel, think, do -- it's always now.
It's all there is. And if you continuously miss the now -- resist it, dislike it, try to get away from it, reduce it to a means to an end, then you miss the essence of your life, and you are stuck in a dream world of images, concepts, labels, interpretations, judgments -- the conditioned content of your mind that you take to be `yourself.' "
At this point, I can hear the groans as you roll your eyes and announce that you're not a mystic and not capable of such deep thinking.
Before you buy that self-deprecating thought, which is only an illusion you might have told yourself, be assured that living in the moment requires only willingness and practice.
The point is once you know that the strife and anguish you feel at moments are rooted in the past, once you shed those, it's as if you removed heavily tinted sunglasses and you begin to see things in a fresher light.
Tolle writes: "The now seems so small at first, a little segment between past and future, and yet all of life's power is concealed within it."
Don't take anyone's word about this stuff because it's too important. If you're satisfied with how your life is working out, then keep on doing what you're doing.
But if you hunger for a fresher and profoundly simple way to think about who you are and how you behave, then knock on the door of the present, step in and be prepared for an amazing journey.
Frank Szivos is a freelance writer who tries to live every moment in the present. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.