In his newsletter, Ryan Holiday shared that in “Stillness is the Key” the most highlighted quote is “The less energy we waste regretting the past or worrying about the future, the more energy we will have for what’s in front of us.”
While we may know that the past is past and the future still has to come, we may not always be aware of how much presence both can have in the now.
It’s quite easy to notice that one is worrying about the future or regretting the past when it comes to thinking about either of both. The thoughts we have tell us what is happening to us. However, one can become so subject to these thoughts that one may not even realize that they are there in the moment.
When thoughts start to run in circles, that very fact might become the sign alerting us to what is happening. An intuitive reaction may then be to wonder why this is happening, but it might be more relevant to simply notice that it is happening and then find a way to return to the present moment.
What is less evident is to notice the past or the future taking over when emotions or reactions appear. The sum of our experiences is available to us at any moment, it is the sum of what we learned. As an experience, it is usually present just as fast as any thought appearing to us, and faster than most of the thinking we may try to entertain.
However, it contains a pull to either the past or the future. Take a picture of a loved one that pulls you into the past and reminds you of joyful moments. Depending on one’s outlook on life, nostalgia appears, or worries of how much of it will stay available. Think of a recent event triggering anxiety, was it because of bad experiences in the past or reminding you of expectations that never came true?
None of it is either good or bad. It simply is. And there is no reason to conceal or prevent it.
However, it is worth noticing what it does to the moment.
Does it transform the way you perceive the present moment? Does it transform how you engage in the moment? And are these transformations helping you?
And sometimes it is even less noticeable. An emotion or a mood appears, and one becomes more or less subject to it. Coming back from a holiday, it may be difficult to find one’s way into the normal routine. The day before, one may worry about being able to handle the work. On the day itself, the presence of normality may lead to regretting having left it.
These changes belong to life. They simply are there. They are neither good nor bad.
But failing to notice them as they appear makes it hard to choose if one wants to stay with them or engage in what the present moment offers. It’s the inability to make that choice that leads to a waste of energy, not the existence of experiences that trigger us.