The ancient Chinese philosopher Lao Tzu believed that "if you are depressed, you are living in the past; if you are anxious, you are living in the future; if you are at peace, you are living in the present."
Both men echo Francis Bacon Sr., who said, "Begin doing what you want to do now. We are not living in eternity. We have only this moment, sparkling like a star in our hand -- and melting like a snowflake."
The gist of these quotes is that we should live in the moment -- otherwise known as mindfulness.
The dictionary defines mindfulness as "a mental state achieved by focusing one's awareness on the present moment, while calmly acknowledging and accepting one's feelings, thoughts, and bodily sensations." In other words, it involves being cognizant of your physical and emotional state without being judgmental.
Most people assume this can only be done through meditation. In reality, though, by stopping what you're doing for a few moments each day (whether you're at home or in the office), taking a deep breath, and focusing on the here and now, you can achieve this "Zen" state of mind.
Living in the moment rather than dwelling on the past or anticipating the future is often easier said than done.
There are those of us who are suckers for nostalgia and still others who can't help but plan for the future. Chances are we may find ourselves shifting from one mode to another depending on what's going on in our lives.
To Lao Tzu's point, I find myself reminiscing about the past when there's nothing noteworthy happening in the present, or if I'm melancholy about something in particular. And when we reflect on the past, we tend to so through rose-colored glasses -- we seem to remember the good times and leave the bad ones buried in the furthest recesses of the mind.
Then there are those periods where we become totally consumed with the future. For example, some people become so focused on planning their wedding that once the big day arrives, they hardly have a chance to savor the moment -- it comes and goes in a flash.
College also comes to mind. I was so wrapped up in getting good grades and landing a good job after graduation that I neglected to make the most of my college experience. This also happens in everyday life; we focus all our energies on future goals - what's ahead -- and forget there's things to relish and appreciate in the present.
When your mind is fixed on the past or the future, you're letting the present -- which should matter far more -- slip away.
The past got you to where you are today, which serves as a springboard for where you want to be tomorrow.
There's no use in harping on the past, as you can't change it. What's done is done; you can only learn from it and move forward.
As for the future, you'll get there in due time. There's no harm in planning for it now, but don't let that planning consume you to the point where you're an anxious wreck. Yes, what you do now can help shape the future, but realize you won't have full control over events.
As someone anonymous once advised, "Accept what is, let go of what was, and have faith in what will be."
Seize the day, let bygones be bygones, and tell the future it can wait. Only by living in the present can you truly be satisfied.