Future becomes past …. without being present

In the months after I left my 8 plus-year marriage, the pain was so immense that at most times I could not function for or look past more than two hours at a time. I was used to seeing into the future, blessed with the ability to be meticulously planful – plan the next education step or career move, make the next creative travel plans or book tickets for a visit to family in India, make sound financial or property investments, plan birthday surprises for loved ones … look forward to this and look forward to that. I was also blessed with an incredible memory of events, and therefore, a long and deep record of the past was ingrained in my brain with a stubborn and unfailing accuracy and dependability, so much so that others could easily use me as their history book or events calendar. But suddenly all this was changed. Looking into the past for even a moment proved so painful that it was physically impossible. And looking into the future showed me nothing but an empty blackness, so that was equally painful and futile.

Other than simply extinguishing myself, the only way for survival seemed to be thinking and acting in two hour increments. Because at that time, the deluges of tears hit at two-hour intervals. They were so overwhelming, that I would have to run to a nearby bathroom and cry, no matter where I was or what I was doing. Each time it felt as if I might not make it through the next two hours, so I would simply breathe deeply after all tears were exhausted, drink a glass of water, and make a short list of things I needed to accomplish in the next two hours. Then I’d try to return my attention to the chosen activity of the moment. Slowly but surely, something strange and magical happened.  In those sparingly few moments of focus, I had incredible clarity. With no past and future considerations at play, all extraneous thoughts were put aside, and I did only the work at hand – simply, creatively, imaginatively, productively. I began doing what I (and my company) recognized later as the best work of my life.

Eventually, I began to recognize that this “inability” to plan for the future was actually a newfound ability – to live solely in the present. I was now incapable of doing it any other way! I had thought that my sudden inability to plan, manage, foresee etc would cripple me. I had imagined I would be homeless and jobless. But the pure and unwavering focus only on surviving (and later thriving in) this moment meant that I had stopped wasting any energy on “bigger” problems outside my control, such as a promotion at work that had eluded me for several years or my drastically reduced standard of living (lowered by about 50% as soon as I stepped out of my marriage and my husband’s cushy salary). But within the next 2-3 years, I was promoted twice, and my income increased 40% without my doing anything outside this moment’s calling – at every single moment.

The pain did not go away, but I stopped suffering it. I saw that pain itself, like joy, is a neutral thing. Just like black and white or night and day, pain and joy are partners – two sides of the same coin. It is when we choose to resist or reject it or develop aversion to it, that it turns into suffering. By focusing on just this moment’s calling, pain and joy began to appear to me simultaneously. The same feelings that had earlier seemed to me solely as pain, took on the form of joy. I saw opportunities and divine coded messages everywhere – in an advertisement on a bus, in the local newspaper, in a savings coupon. Little bits of kindness streamed towards me from all around, from strangers, from the lady at the bank, from the mortgage specialist, from the hair stylist or from the taxi drivers. Strangers and acquaintances alike, extended themselves beyond any credible imagination to assist and support me. And of course old friends and family members surfaced from the woodwork to help me at exactly the right times and in the right ways.

Although I had clinical (chemical) depression, this was a time of supreme spiritual awakening and clarity. Often I would wake up in the wee hours of the morning (after barely getting 3 hours of sleep – an indication that the depression has become chemical) with strange visions, insights, or simply messages, which, in and of themselves, may or may not make immediate sense. Once I had woken up with the phrase “Limestone Diary” in my head. (I eventually went on to write a poem with that title.) Another time, I woke up with:

Future becomes past without being present.

The accompanying vision was one from my childhood – being on a long-distance train to Calcutta to see my grandparents and the mileposts by the tracks whizzing by at superfast speed. You could see each one approaching from a distance, and then you could see it whizzing off into the distance, but you could never really see it clearly and fully when it was at the point directly across from you, nearest to you. You couldn’t read it, savor it, know it, embrace it. Thus, future became past without being present.

Three plus years after that time in my life, I recognize that what was found (or awakened) as an innate ability must now be consciously accessed and practiced. With “normality” back in life, it is easy to get caught up in the next this or that, in the maya – illusion – of control of the future, or in moha – attachment – to the joys or sorrows of the past. The present moment is lost in the greedy bid for the future or the nostalgic attachment to the past. This moment, the ONLY one we can really experience, the only one we can truthfully know, and the only one we can influence, slips through our fingers.

I was encouraged to share my experiences and discoveries because last week, my boyfriend forwarded me a “Tuesday Tip” from Dr. Alan Zimmerman (www.DrZimmerman.com). The salient points of Dr. Zimmerman’s “secret of BEING THERE” are:

  • Ruthlessly eliminate all unnecessary hurry from your life
  • Focus on one person at a time (and activity – please STOP multi-tasking!)
  • Practice detachment

To the list above, I would add:

  • Use every occurrence as an opportunity without labeling it good or bad
  • Practice gratitude

Often when I talk about my focus on the present, people ask me, “But how can one ensure that the best things happen in the future if one is always only responding to the present?” My answer is that if you do ONLY what is highest and best in this moment, the best things will automatically happen in your future. A highest and best response is one that (a) requires the most pure and unadulterated love towards yourself (first) and others (second), (b) that challenges you to extend and grow in spirit beyond your comfort zone, and (c) that is completely free of all wants, desires or fears regarding any imagined future scenario.

The present is indeed … a present. Look no further!

Last 5 posts by Shahana Dattagupta


  1. Anonymous

    Staying in the present is one of the greatest rewards of yoga as well. Dont look back or forwards….all the best.

  2. Jane Stevens

    Pain is neutral – my favorite line.

  3. Khushi

    Beautiful post. I like the train analogy – I was waiting for the birth of my son for months. And in a few hours it was gone. This time I slowed down mentally to enjoy it more. Last time, after 9 months of wait, it whizzed past before I knew it.

  4. anonymous

    Very interesting. Spiritual teachers have been trying for thousands of years to inculcate this understanding into people. And yet the only way to “unlearn” what you feel at the time are your best qualities is by going through difficult times as you have described. Those difficult times can turn out to be your best allies.

  5. Anonymous

    Nice post..You write very nice…I am glad that you are enjoying your like in the present

  6. Yasmin

    Wow…amazing blog, Tana. You have such a great talent of using personal stories to facilitate very complex and arcane subjects. You should seriously consider writing a book.

  7. Tana

    Dear All,
    Thank you so much for these comments – it is incredibly valuable to know that this content has resonance for you, and that sharing with others can be so meaningful.

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