Don’t let the title confuse you; the message here is a simple one. How can we exist in the present if we let ourselves dwell in the past?
Believe me, I know how hard it is. One lick of an ice cream cone can conjure up a childhood recollection. One photo can have you sitting on the sofa reliving a lost memory. One TV commercial can propel you into reviewing the history of all of your career choices.
Yoga can help to give you discipline to control your thoughts. For over 5000 years, this practice has brought peace and serenity to the world by providing a total mind/body workout. It’s the instructors who do not have it easy. Think of herding cats, but on a mat. Last week I watched my instructor gather up all her positive energy in order to try to counteract the negative forces of 20 students either still on their phones or curled up in a ball or actually napping before class. In 60 minutes, her challenge was to not only move the group through a series of poses, but help them to mindfully focus on the now.
One of the best instructors I ever had was part army sergeant. She would begin the class with a low, soothing voice, but when necessary bark out orders. We all needed that. I swear she knew the precise moment when my mind would wander and would give me a gentle tap on the shoulder as she walked around, observing the class.
We don’t have to achieve swami status, but we can take a few tips from this ancient practice and learn to be present:
- When you lose focus or your mind starts racing, just shut your eyes for a few minutes and reboot.
- Try to concentrate on the task at hand, whether it’s writing a report or washing a dish.
- When your mind wanders off into the past, just acknowledge it and bring yourself back to the present.
There is nothing wrong with bringing a lovely thought to mind (in time, we can even learn to let the tender memory of a loved one travel from our head to our hearts). It’s when we use the past to cloud the present that is the concern. We need to remind ourselves that the path not taken is no longer an option, but it can serve as a valuable lesson and a guide to the new direction we’re following at the moment. Re-living prior events over and over again will not change their outcome, so what’s the point?
So, go ahead, reminisce, evoke feelings of a time gone by, but just remember to keep it healthy by making it the dessert and not the entrée. There are just so many hours in a day. Let’s use them wisely and give all our attention to shaping who and where we are right now.