It seems like such a simple thing – living in the now. Yet most of us spend a lot more time living in the past or the future than in the now. As Richard Rohr observed, “for some reason, the human mind feels most useful when it reprocesses the past and worries about the future.”
As a general matter, our minds are very much like undisciplined children (Buddhists sometimes liken the mind to undisciplined monkeys), constantly flying off in many directions. You sit down with a book and within a page your mind is thinking about what you need at the grocery store. You are in a meeting listening to someone else speak and your mind retreats to think about a conversation you had with someone else that morning, the memory of which then sparks a thought about something completely unrelated, and so on.
Despite our tendency to engage in this backward and forward looking mental activity, doing so brings us no happiness. St. Therese was correct in saying that “[w]e get discouraged and feel despair because we brood about the past and the future.” We create tremendous anxiety agonizing about things that may never transpire and worrying about things over which we have no control. Such worry, of course, does nothing. “Can any of you by worrying add a single moment to your life-span?” (Matthew 6:27)
St. Therese expressed a better way in simple terms: “I can see only the present, I forget the past and I take good care not to think about the future. It is such folly to pass one’s time fretting, instead of resting quietly on the heart of Jesus.”
It does take some practice to do this. As a start, you might try to be conscious today of when you find yourself drifting forward or backward. When you do, try to let go the thought and gently bring yourself back into the present moment.