July 11, 2014

Deconstructing Mindfulness: Why We Need the Past & the Future. ~ Ayan Mukherjee

Source: https://www.flickr.com/photos/niznoz/3116766661/

The concept of mindfulness has become quite the rage in the Western world.

It comes with the concept of “Being in the Now,” made popular by the influential works of Eckhart Tolle, Thich Nhat Hanh and numerous other spiritual leaders of our time.

It basically states that the past and the future are illusory states which result in suffering and the only state that is real is the present. Practicing the art of being in the present can result in us transcending suffering.

Fair enough.

I never challenged this concept until recently, while having some bad take-out butter chicken for dinner. I started thinking about it with a different perspective. These were my questions:

  • If the Present is all we have, then why are we so programmed to be in the Past or the Future? If the human body, the brain and the universe are so efficient, then why make it so difficult for us to be in the Present?
  • What can I learn from the Past or the Future that I cannot learn from the Present?
  • Why are we so hell bent on removing the idea of “suffering”? Apart from the pain, what has suffering given me?
  • Why does our dimension have the concept of time if we are supposed to live only in the Present?

After dinner, I began to look at these questions more deeply and tried to answer them from my limited perspective.

To summarize my thoughtful ruminations, here are some highlights:

The Issue with Always Being in the Present—

It’s true that there is a sort of bliss when we are in the Present, but there is also stagnation.

Yes, there is no suffering, but there is also no growth. The Present does not give us the opportunity to truly assimilate the experience nor be able to know more about ourselves in the process. We are in the moment and busy with experiencing the unfolding moment.

It can be great to bring us into our bodies when our heads are too caught up in the Past or the Future. But we can’t really do much with the information from the unfolding experience as we stay in the Present.

This is where the Past becomes helpful.

What Can We Learn from the Past?

The Past has been much maligned as a state which stores all our regrets, sorrows and disappointments.

But it also stores all the beautiful moments that make us who we are. The Past gives us a chance to reflect on the Present that just went by. It gives us a chance to relate to the experience, to learn from it, to assimilate it.

Most importantly, it uses the experience as a mirror to help us know more about ourselves. Just as we can’t see ourselves without a mirror, we cannot know ourselves without this mirror of experiencing.

This process then creates the need for a Future.

Why Do We Need the Concept of a Future?

Humanity is not here just to reflect, it is here to create as well.

Creating in a willful manner, driven by passion, is another way to know ourselves, to discover our potential through the process of creating and manifesting.

All of the reflections of our Past give us this ability to predict and hence manifest our Future. Without this ability, we would be like animals. Animals have no inner desire to create (apart from programmed procreation) or realize their dormant potential because their consciousness hasn’t individuated and hence is not trying to know itself at that level.

If you keep an animal in one location and give it what it needs to sustain life in a comfortable manner, then it can be in that state for the rest of its life without wanting anything more. That is called Homeostasis.

Humans are not built for long term homeostasis. We fear change but we need change to be truly ourselves. Hence we try to plan the Future. Here we try to control the change that we foresee from the vantage point of the Present using our wisdom, gleaned from the Past, which is very natural and also important to live in this dimension.

Why Do We Need Suffering?

We need suffering because it gives us contrast.

If we are in constant bliss, we won’t know what bliss is. If there is only light, we won’t know what light is. We need contrast to know things, to know ourselves.

Look back and you will see that your sufferings were your greatest teachers. They were some of the biggest drivers of change that made the person, who you are today. Then why are we always trying to nullify it, discard it and remove it from our lives? Why can’t we accept and embrace the bitter with the sweet, the light with the shadows?

Finally, Mindfulness is a great technique to connect with our inner divinity but be aware that if it is used without discernment, then it can quickly become a tool to disconnect us from our core faculties of growth.

It is not a mistake that we have the concepts of Suffering, Ego, Time, Past and Future in this dimension. They are our greatest teachers.


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Apprentice Editor: Karissa Kneeland / Editor: Catherine Monkman

Photo: flickr

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