In that post, I basically said that the key is to stay present, unattached to one’s plans. When you think about the future, make your decision as mindfully as you can, gather information about what you have to do to accomplish your goal, and then forget about the future, focusing just on doing what you can in the present to advance your goal.
That’s good advice as far as it goes, but it is flawed. We cannot make any decision about the future that is in our best interest if we “think” about the future.
The problem is that if we “think” about the future, even if we try to be as mindful as possible, listening to our heart, it is unavoidable that our ego thinking-mind gets involved. That means that our learned experience ... our feelings, perceptions, mental formations, conscious-ego ... gets involved.
But those aspects ... the clinging skandhas ... are not only empty of any intrinsic existence, we know from our past experience that listening to our ego-mind leads to nothing but frustration, fear, and anxiety. We cannot make a decision about anything that is in our best interest if we are under that influence.
Since we know that, and yet find ourselves powerless to separate ourselves from that influence, we obsess about the future with fear and anxiety because we know in our gut that we are not making a good decision, or at least that we have no way of knowing whether we are making a good or the right decision for us.
And so we are on an endless treadmill throughout our lives. Because we have doubts about the decisions we make, we obsess about the future with fear and anxiety. And because we obsess about the future with fear and anxiety, we continually revisit our decisions, questioning them.
“OK,” you say, “but how can one plan for the future without thinking about the future?” The answer is to not “think” about the future, but instead, while being present in the moment, experiencing it with dispassion, free of labels, free of the intervention of your thinking mind, make a decision and act based on what you are experiencing at that moment. That is the only way to make a decision about the future that you know is in your best interest and in which you can thus rest assured.
(Once you make your decision, you will need to determine how to get from point A to point B, how to achieve your goal. To the extent that these are objective matters, you can use your thinking mind. But to the extent that here too judgmental questions arise, then you have to again make those decisions based on being present free of the intervention of your thinking mind.)
Let me give you a personal example. For several years, my friend and I have known that it would be in our best interest to move to a different location. It would be better to live in an environment that presents more opportunity for human interaction and expression. In an attempt to move forward, we’ve had discussions ... endless discussions, always the same, always without any clear result, or when we thought there was clarity one day, breathing a sigh of relief, finding that the next day we thought clarity meant something else (see my post, “Real Clarity v the Delusion of Clarity”). The problem was that we were using our thinking mind. We were engaging in mental masturbation.
But when I took the awareness I expressed in that post to its next logical step, I realized that when I was present, aware of the emptiness of all five skandhas ... appearance of form, feelings, perceptions, mental formations, consciousness-ego ... I knew without any question what I had to do right then to move my life forward. I did not engage in any thought about how it will work out or what will happen in two months, etc. because I knew that is just thought, it is just imagination that has no foundation in reality.
And the next day, and the days since, I have been relaxed, at peace, free of fear and anxiety and doubt about the future as I have never been before. I feel positive energy in a way that I haven’t experienced before. And that is because my decision was made in the present, free of my thinking mind.
This time I have no doubts or fears. As the classic Chinese poem, “Affirming Faith in Mind,” says, “With single mind one with the Way, all ego-centered strivings cease; doubts and confusion disappear, and so true faith pervades our life.”