How To Live In The Present & Let Go Of The Past

If you listened to your thoughts for even 5 minutes you’d likely see that you’re bringing a whole lot of the past and the future into your present. The idea of being "more present" is easy to talk about, but it can be a challenge to put it into practice.

People have many different ways of trying to be more present, but understanding why I was bringing the past and future into today is something that has helped me to actually be more in each moment as it's happening. 

There is a great quote that speaks to this that has been attributed to a number of people, including Alice Morse Earle, Bill Keane, and Eleanor Roosevelt: "Yesterday is history. Tomorrow is a mystery. Today is a gift. That’s why it’s called the present."

If you really think about each part of that quote it will change your life. So let’s break each one down.

Yesterday is history.

I interpret this as a way to look at our past and take the lessons we’ve learned with us, as we do when we learn history in school. We were taught about all kinds of things that happened in the world over time and the things that were born of fear and hate were taught, in part, so we would not allow that history to be repeated.

We learn about times of oppression and war, not so we can be better oppressors or know how to fight a battle, we learn about those things so we can have some perspective on what the generations that came before us went through and so we can learn from their mistakes.

So we can take the knowledge we've gained about what happened and understand the destruction that results from acting from a place of fear and have gratitude for the brave people that stood up and spoke out in love. 

Now take that idea into your own life.

I personally have taken my sweet time to learn certain lessons, and history kept repeating itself over and over again until I finally got it. Part of this is because we are bringing the past into every present moment with us.

We often judge situations and people in the present based on something that happened to us in the past. And when we do that, history keeps repeating itself because we keep bringing it along for the ride.

This is not so say that our pasts don’t have great value to us as teachers, but the trouble comes when we keep judging ourselves by who we were yesterday instead of who we are trying to be today.

Marianne Williamson talks about this idea a lot when it comes to relationships. How the marriages and partnerships that thrive after many years are the ones where the other person is willing to see their partner with new eyes every day, and is willing to let the other person be someone they were not yesterday.

So, once we've looked at our history, our past, it's our responsibility to take the lessons into the present with us, but we also have to forgive and release the pain in our past so we don't bring that along too.

Tomorrow is a mystery.

The thing that trips a lot of people up about the future is that we don't know exactly what is going to happen, it is uncertain. And uncertainty freaks us out.

Not knowing what's going to happen usually equals “something bad” in our minds. But the truth is, not knowing what's going to happen means anything could happen. It means that anything is possible. And how we perceive that uncertainty changes our experience of it. 

This is where looking at the past for a history lesson and reality check can be helpful. If you look at your past there will no doubt be some tough times, but if you’re still here you clearly came out on the other side of them, right? So why would you think the future would be any different?

Adversity sucks while we’re in the middle of it, but we're usually a better person for the experience and come through it having learned a lesson.

So what would happen if we used those times as evidence that we can handle whatever happens to us in the future? Would we fear the uncertainty a little less? 

Today is a gift. That’s why we call it the present.

This one can be a little tough to grasp because we are usually so wrapped up in either thinking about the past or the future that we are rarely in the present moment.

You might be thinking, "but you are creating your future by everything you do in the present, so don’t you have to think about your present and your future in the same breath?" Yes and no.

Yes, because it's true each choice you make today will play a part in shaping your tomorrow. BUT, if you’re so busy trying to control the outcome of your future you might miss the interesting turn in the road that just popped up in the present moment.

You might overlook it because it doesn’t happen to fit with your idea of what the future should look like.

So, part of being in the present moment is having faith that whatever decisions you make and experiences you have are leading you down the path to the future you’re meant to have.

Putting that amount of trust in yourself and the universe can feel a little scary, but isn’t it scarier to live your life wrapped up in the past or trying to control and predict the future?

By focusing on building trust with yourself in the present moment you're actually investing in your present and your future.

Another way I think about it is: The past is what it was. The future will be what it will be. But the present is exactly what we choose for it to be.

We often don't think about each day as a gift until something happens to us or someone close to us that makes us remember this, but that doesn't have to be the case.

Every time we put down our phone, look into someone's eyes, and truly give another person our undivided attention we are realizing that gift of the present and of our presence.

Simply being present with the people in your life, and yourself, is a gift in itself.