It’s been said…
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.
The quote has been attributed to the likes of Lao Tzu, Junia Bretas, Reverend Run (an ex rapper, come TV minister) and even the billionaire, Warren Buffet!
Unfortunately, even after some not so extensive research, I wasn’t able to find the definitive origin of this philosophical quote. So, it remains a mystery. (Personally, I think it may have been the drunken, mumblings of some guy named Bob, after he downed a few pints at his local, but what do I know?)
It sounds like something, I’d like to believe, was insightfully said by someone like Lao Tzu; the ancient Chinese philosopher and writer. However, a devote follower of Taoism pointed out (in a Google piece, explaining why he believed this quote was wrongly accredited to Lao Tzu) that the concepts of depression and anxiety are modern concepts and would have been alien to the ancient Chinese. Good point.
Regardless of who said it, the quote intrigues me and I’ve spent a lot of time (too much time, I’m sure!) trying to figure out where I am, on the spectrum. The conclusion, I believe, is that I vacillate between being consumed by the past (which makes me melancholy) and obsessing about the future (which scares the shit out of me!). And I do not spend nearly enough time in the present.
The past, constantly entices me; like the sirens, luring sailors with their enchanting music, only to shipwreck them on the deadly rocky coast!
Oh sure, it starts out all well and good; one random memory triggers another and then another and another. And before you know it, you’re carelessly skipping down Memory Lane.
“What could possibly go wrong?”
It’s all sunshine and smiles until you suddenly feel yourself standing beside your Mom’s open casket, at a funeral parlour on Shrewsbury Street, in Worcester, and it’s 1991. You’re wearing that 1940’s style, blue/black dress and you’re just standing there in disbelief… but at the same time feeling relieved that it’s over.
You unwittingly drift away from your Mom’s wake and you’re magically transported to your Dad’s funeral service. It was a horrible, dark, rainy June day; you wore another black dress. The streets were flooded and cars were broken down everywhere. When the priest’s words were said and done, you had to leave your Dad there… alone, in a coffin, in the cemetery’s chapel, because a graveside burial was impossible. Too much rain, maybe just as well.
Hmmm, rain. Charlie held the huge, black umbrella over you and he helped you into the limo.
In a instant, you’re standing at Charlie’s death bed.
You can hear the pages, over the hospital loudspeaker and you can feel his hair, between your fingertips, as you gently stroke his head. He’s breathing, rhythmically, in and out, in and out. Until that nauseating moment when you hear an unusually long exhale breath, but even as you wait for it… that expected inhale, never happens.
“No, no… not yet!”
Suddenly, it’s years later, you hear yourself on the phone with someone; it’s Tommy’s doctor. You hear yourself telling her not to admit him to the ICU and “No.” she may not put him on a respirator! You say this, even though, in your heart of hearts, you knew that it would be these words that would literally, be the death of him.
“Death of him...” we’re at his funeral service now. It was a day of sleet and snow. Odd, because it’s March 25th, and the first day of Spring was March 20th? Why sleet and snow, today? He had said he didn’t want anything. No service, no funeral, no obituary, no nothing. Did you listen to him? No. Did he make sure the weather would keep people away? Yes.
You somehow find yourself back in the present. Thank God!
Has it been 20 seconds, 20 minutes, an hour? Hard to tell as you’ve lost track of time and your senses are numb, but at the same time you’re in super, hyper-sensitive mode. All you’re really sure of, is that you feel utterly and completely exhausted, drained, sad and yes… depressed.
On other days the future presents itself to you in freeze frames… One minute you’re feeling optimistic, happy, carefree… you’re looking into your grandson’s beautiful, hazel eyes and you’re laughing. The next minute you’re at a loud, dark, confusing rave and you’re being bombarded with fast, eye catching, visual glimpses of your future.
“Oh, there you are!” Wow, you look sick and you’re all alone. Shit, are you in a nursing home??? Have they put you in a fucking nursing home? It looks like a crappy one too… not very clean! Your money must have run out. Too much frivolous spending! God, you look old, like “Tales from the Crypt,” old! “Why is everything so dusty, does nobody clean? Nick’s not around, so he’s either dead or he’s stopped visiting you… Maybe your dementia (and bitchiness) was too much for him to handle; he’s found a healthier, younger model! OMG, is that nurse going to try to feed YOU that SLOP? Why do you have no teeth? And why the fuck can’t you get out of that bed? “Move, for God’s sake, move! Is that your wheelchair? Ahhhh, those damn those kids, they promised to tweeze those chin hairs!
In between this horror show, you see flashes of your kids who are in the 60s! You wonder if they’re happy? It’s really hard to tell. There are your grandchildren! Wow, they’re in their 30s and 40s!!!! Are they happy? …also hard to tell.
Did you do enough? Did you do too much? You’ll never know… you’re time is almost up.
There are flashes of a world at war. There seem to be fires and natural disasters happening everywhere. Roe v.s. Wade has been overturned! Fake food and fake news are the norm, nobody cares anymore. Empathy, kindness, caring and showing respect and consideration for each other, is no longer a “thing.” It’s every person for themself.
Bang… Crash… Thump…
You find yourself back on the couch! THANK GOD!!!! That was fucking scary. You’re left feeling concerned, apprehensive, fearful, tense… anxious.
Then… there are those other times. They don’t come around often, and they are rare, amazing and unexpected; they offer themselves to you, when you least expect it, and they allow you to be truly and completely at peace in the present.
Maybe you’re leisurely walking around a National Trust property, taking photos of flowers and bees. No big deal, just something to do on a nice day. Your photos are coming out exactly the way you hoped they would and you’re feeling content and one with nature. You are immensely enjoying, what feels like (for some unknown reason) a very special day.
Or maybe you are hurriedly walking to the GP’s office, when out of nowhere you’re hit with the strong, unmistakable scent of lilacs, wafting on the warm, spring air. You stop dead in your tracks and stand there, like a fool, with your eyes closed… breathing in and out; until a car horn, in the distance, snaps you out of it! You realise you’re now late for the doctor’s appointment, but you don’t care.
Maybe it’s a warm, beautiful, summer morning… you wake up early. Way before the rest of the world has woken up… The sun was shining, the birds were singing, and you feel the clean, cool sheets on your body. You lay there leisurely, in no hurry whatsoever; just listening to the birds sing. You wonder what they were saying to each other? Could one species of bird understand what the other species was saying? Are they happy? Are they content? Do they like their lives? Is this a beautiful day for them too, or just another day?
Many minutes might pass, while you lay there contemplating the language and life of birds, but it feels heavenly, tranquil, calm, untroubled… peaceful.
I have spent plenty time in all of these places; and I believe that visiting them for any length of time, can have a profound and immediate effect one’s mood, frame of mind, and emotional state. Sometimes it has a positive effect… other times a negative effect.
Given the choice, I’d prefer to stay in the present.
Unfortunately, that’s very difficult and it takes a lot of hard work and dedication to “master” that ability. We are so easily pulled backwards and forwards.
We learn a lot of valuable lessons (and a lot about ourselves) by visiting the past and the future, but the danger lies in getting stuck there! Thats something we don’t want to do.
Your best bet, in my opinion, is striving to live in the present... acknowledge, appreciate and be thankful for what you have right now, in this very moment.
Sure, plan for the future, but don’t over analyse or worry about how things may (or may not) turn out.
Never forget where you came from or the experiences that shaped and moulded you into the person you are today, but don’t try to go back, it’s very disheartening.
I’m not saying living in the present is easy…. to the contrary! It’s hard as hell and I and screw it up, numerous times each day! No, living in the present, is much easier said, than done. …but we have to keep trying, right?
Because we KNOW it’s the right thing to do, and because yesterday causes heartache, and tomorrow causes agita.