Eckhart Tolle, often dismissed by 'serious' philosophers as merely another New Age guru, did make a valid point in his best-selling book, The Power of Now. It is essential to our spiritual well-being (as well as, in my opinion, our physical and psychological well-being) to live in the present.
The past can serve as a teacher. It can enable us not to repeat mistakes we have made before -- it can also help us understand ourselves better in the present. At the same time, focusing on the past inhibits us from fully engaging with the present. In some ways, looking back can subconsciously lead us to repeat former behavior by re-inhabiting past thoughts, feelings, and events.
Rather than moving fully into the present, we become immersed in our past lives. Relationships that have ended, both positively and negatively, and events that we believe have had a deep impact on who we are overshadow what is happening now. And not only do they overshadow the now -- they also cast a shadow over our future.
Memories are important -- and, certainly, there are occasions in our lives that we will never forget and that we would probably never wish to forget. But, we must learn not to allow them to hold us back. We must consciously choose to live now -- we must choose the present.
One thing I have always loved about philosophy is that it is centered around ideas. And ideas live in the now. Yes, there are ideas from the past -- and there is a history of philosophy that goes back for centuries. But what excites me about philosophy - taken separately from what has been written about it in the past -- is that it is fresh. It is, essentially, a 'living science.' It is the science of living ideas. And we can take those living ideas and let them teach us how to create the best life we can create today -- not tomorrow, not next week or next year.
The great philosopher Lao Tzu once wrote, "If you are depressed, you are living in the past. If you are anxious, you are living in the future. If you are at peace, you are living in the present." Because the world we live in is very much fear-centered, depression and anxiety have become almost the 'norm' rather than the exception. And even though many of us would say that we yearn for peace, most of us find it difficult not to worry about the choices we have made, the things we have said, or the actions we have taken. We also make a habit of looking ahead and fearing the future. The capacity for living in the present has almost become a lost art.
But, we were born to live in the present. We are biologically programmed to live in the now. Thus, we cannot ever truly lose the ability to do so. It is only our own subconscious mind, as well as our past 'conditioning' that prevents us from doing so. This is why we must be willing to struggle for it. We must be willing to fight to make our present a thing of beauty. Each day will not stand the chance of becoming a masterpiece it can be if we do not approach it with a single-minded determination to make the most of it we can. And we can only do this by letting go of both the known behind us and the unknown before us. Only then will we be fully capable of surrendering to the sacred present.