I want my life to grow in the future, both professionally and personally. I’ve tried making plans, but I never find the energy to follow through with them. I’ve been so disappointed with my experience to date in these areas of my life that something within me says that nothing’s going to change, so why bother putting forth the effort. And so I feel trapped in inertia. I know that all things are impermanent and changeable, but I find it hard to apply that to myself. Where do I find the energy to move forward with my life?
Trapped in Disappointment
Dear Trapped in Disappointment,
The key to moving forward is to revolt against both the tyranny of the past and the tyranny of the future and take refuge in the present.
The past is all the negative experience that you’ve had. There are things to be learned from that to be sure, but it is not something which should determine your view of yourself or the world around you because, as you know, our perceptions are all illusory based as they are on learned experience, which are in turn a reflection of things we’ve been told whether by our culture, our peers, or our family. We filter everything through the lens of that learned experience which distorts reality and so we never are able to experience reality as it is, free of the intervention of thought.
The tyranny of the future is an extension of the past. We are so obsessed with escaping our past by building a better future that we are incapable of applying rational thought to the process. And although we want to escape our past, it has such a hold on us that not only are we incapable of any rational thought about the future, but we are incapable of any real movement at all. It is a dreadful conundrum which most people experience.
The only reality capable of being experienced is the present moment, and that only if we are capable of experiencing it free of thought. For once thought is applied, our learned experience is brought to bear and the reality of even the present is obscured.
So what to do? While you are sitting on your cushion meditating, try reciting the following mantra: “Breathing in, I’m aware I’m breathing in. Breathing out, I’m aware I’m breathing out. Here there is no yesterday, no tomorrow, no today ... only the present moment. This is the only reality. All else is thought.”
By reciting this mantra, you will be trying to change your paradigm from one that says that our thoughts reflect reality ... and thus our thoughts defines how we view the world ... to one that says that we can only perceive reality if we are free of the intervention of thought. This reflects our understanding as taught by the Buddha and related in the Heart Sutra that our thoughts have no intrinsic existence, they are of dependent origination, and thus place a barrier between us and the experience of reality whether past, present, or future. (For more on the illusory nature of all perceptions, see any of my Buddhist series books.) You are revolting against the tyranny of the past and the future.
At first this will have little effect, other than to give you a feeling of calm. But at some point you will begin to internalize the truth of this mantra. How quickly or slowly this occurs is a function of the stage of your practice. And as this truth goes deeper it will eventually become your default perspective, your new paradigm. And you will be in conscious contact with your true Buddha nature.
When you are able to be truly in the present moment, observing your environment and yourself free of the intervention of thought, it will act as an anchor and you will find that you are able to think about the future in a different way, unencumbered by your past learned experience. If it does arise, you will see it for what it is, not engage it, and allow the thought to subside. Then you will not only be able to think clearly and rationally about the future, while remaining present, but you will be able to act on your plans because are not tied in knots by the past.
Remember though that even with the best of planning, things do not always go as we wish. We must always be aware of that and proceed with our plans with non-attachment. If it works, great! But if it doesn’t work, that’s ok too. Our lives will continue just fine regardless. (Obviously this assumes true acceptance by you of your life and yourself as it is now.) Have faith that if you live each day well, that is, in accordance with the Five Precepts, that the future will take care of itself in the sense that regardless what happens, you will be able to handle it and will find yourself at peace and content.