Your Life — The Concept of Past, Present, Future

Sam Chen
11 min readNov 2, 2022


Before we begin, I would like to claim that I am not a psychic, nor am I a fortune teller. I don’t know you on the personal level, but I know your life. Here is the brief history of your life: Suddenly you appeared in this world, we call that the birth of life. After birth comes a period of expansion and growth, where you learn new things, activities, ideas, beliefs and have different experiences. This is a period of time when life becomes increasingly complex and you go after different goals and dreams, chase after possessions or personal relationships. This is also a period of time where the ego is formed, with likes and dislikes, preferences and desires based on your experiences. With these preferences in mind, whenever you get something you want, you are relatively happy for a brief moment; when you don’t get the thing that you want, resentment and frustration begins; when you get something you don’t want, hell is created within you; when you don’t get the thing that you don’t want, a temporary sigh of relief. Just when you think you’ve made it, your life starts to contract. People around you begin to pass away, your physical body is weakened, your mind is not as sharp as it used to be. Things start to look like it is dimming, and you are not in control. Eventually, you will disappear too. Your body will be dissolved and that is what most people consider to be the end of life. Pretty sad and depressing, isn’t it? But is that all life is? Is there something deeper that we can look beyond and see something greater in life?

Let us dive into the reasons why we might see life overall as a tragic and its horrendous ending. One of the biggest illusions in life is time, we have divided life into three sections of time: Past, Present and Future. Most people view time as one of the most important attribute in life. The past is what defines our identities; and the future is what holds the promise of salvation or fulfillment; while the present moment is just the means to the end(future). What we are missing is the most important quality in life: the Present moment, the consciousness that is sitting in the seat of self and experiencing the Now! The present moment is the most precious thing we ever have, and it is all there is. The past and the future only exists in our mind. Nothing ever happened in the past, it all happened in the former Now; nothing will ever happen in the future, it will happen in the next Now. What we think of the past is a trace of memory that we stored in our mind, and when we think about the past, we are doing it in the present moment! What we consider as future is an expectation of the next moment, and we are thinking about that future in the present moment! When the future arrives, it will be arriving into the present moment and we will be experiencing it in the Now. The past and future don’t hold the reality on their own, they are all part of the eternal Present moment. As one of the greatest Persian poet Rumi once said: “ past and future veil God from our sight; burn up both of them with fire.” Or as Meister Eckhart — a Medieval Philosopher once said: “ Time is what keeps the light from reaching us, there is no greater obstacle to God than time.”

When we think or talk about the past, it usually comes from our mind. As I mentioned in my previous article, we built our preferences based on the past experiences, and we stored these likes and dislikes in our memories, whenever something or someone appears in the present moment, we immediately think about its relevance to our past, thus we are creating our own problems and sufferings through our mind. Our mind strongly identifies with our past and uses it as a tool to create a false sense of identity, thus enhancing the ego and creating more suffering in the present moment. Guilt, regret, resentment, remorse, sadness, grievances, bitterness, and all forms of non-forgiveness are caused by too much past, not enough presence. What if we don’t identify with our mind, and its futility to strongly attaching to the past? I am not claiming to deny the past, or do not accept anything that happened in the past. What I am saying is to let the past go, let it be what it was, and let now be what it is now. For example: I broke up with my ex-girlfriend five years ago, and she had a blue car. Is it reasonable for my mind to think about my ex whenever I see a blue car driving on the street? That would be unreasonable and insane! I am not denying the fact that I had a girlfriend who owned a blue car and broke up with me five years ago, but it doesn’t mean my mind should remind me of her every time when I see another blue car! Dis-identify from the past is not to deny it, but simply acknowledge it, accept it, and transcend from it! I am not the person who broke up my ex-girlfriend five years ago, I am simply the being who had such experience in the past. The past should only exists and used for practical purpose, such as learning from our mistakes and apply such learning in the present moment.

When we look at the term Future, it is a point where mind-projected next moment, when the salvation or fulfillment, whatever forms of happiness, equality, liberation and enlightenment will be obtained. What the mind does not understand is that the future will never arrive. When it arrives, it will arrive in the Present moment. Mind-projected future is like a mental disease that keeps us motivated to desire and achieve something greater in the next moment. And the present moment is used as the means to get there, often in enslavement, torture and murder in the present moment. Look at the ideology of Communism and what it has brought for the Chinese people. It was roughly estimated about 50 millions people were starved to death in China during The Great Leap Forward movement in the 1950s. It was an ideology to bring about a better world, the promise of future salvation for mankind, but in mean time it costed more than 50 millions lives. This was a horrifying example of how a belief in the future paradise can create a present hell.

The mind creates an obsession with the future as an escape from the unsatisfactory present. Unease, tension, anxiety, stress are caused by too much thoughts about the future and the denial of present moment. Even if we find ourselves in heaven, it wouldn’t be long before our mind would say: “ yes, but…” Here is an interesting story that I was told awhile back: one day John was hiking in the forest, he stumbled upon heaven by accident and did not know that he was there. Just as he was getting tired, all of sudden a mattress appeared under a huge tree with lots of shades. Oh by the way, as one of the rules in heaven, you are able to create and manifest anything upon your wish. John was tired, and he didn’t give it a second thought, he sat down and took a nap. After John woke up, he was hungry and all of sudden the most luxurious and tasty food appeared out of nowhere in front of the mattress. John was hungry enough not to second guess about the food, and he happily consumed all of the food. It was after that John was full, he started to wonder what happened about all of the coincidences. As he was unable to comprehend, he started to become neurotic: “ it must be the demons! The devil who created all these to tempt and lure me into hell!” Just as John had such thought, a demon appeared out of nowhere and devoured John. The moral of the story is that if we don’t have clarity of mind, even when we are in heaven, we would suffer and create hell within ourselves. The only way to have a clarity of mind is through consciousness, with conscious awareness of the present moment, every thought we have and every action we take will lead to greater results and be in harmony with the universe. Ultimately, we are here to realize that problems are mind created and future-projected, as a human being, we don’t have problems. There are life situations to be dealt with now, or to be left alone and accepted as what is, as the part of the universe. If we are aware of the present moment, then we can realize that there is no problem in the Now.

You might ask: “ don’t I need to worry about paying for the rent for next month, where am I going to get such income if I don’t have a job?” You see, it is not a problem, but merely a situation to deal with. No, you don’t need to worry about paying for the rent for next month, because it is a mind created and future-projected problem, whereas you do need to deal with a life situation since you don’t have a job. Yes, it would be highly recommended to do what it takes at the present moment to get a job with the clarity of mind, but there is no need to worry about the future ultimately created by the mind about the current life situation. Isn’t life challenging enough already? Why make this worrying into a problem? The mind unconsciously loves problems because the problems give us all sorts of identity, thus the ego enhances itself through these problems. It is normal yet insane. “Problem” of worrying about the rent for next month means we are dwelling on a situation mentally without giving it an intention or possibility to take action now and we are unconsciously making it a part of our identity, our sense of self, thus enhancing the underlying ego. When we become overwhelmed by our life situations, we lose our sense of life, the Being that is underneath the surface of human. Human alone is never enough, no matter how hard we try or how much we achieve. Then there is Being. It is found in the stillness, alert presence of Consciousness, the Consciousness that you are. Human is form. Being is formless. Human and Being are not separate but interwoven. -Eckart Tolle (A New Earth)

Your life situation exists in time.

Your life is now.

Your life situation is mind made.

Your life is real.

Once we eliminate the illusions of past and future, Present moment shines its light through consciousness. As long as we are aware and conscious of the present moment, nothing that is not who we are in our essence can survive in the Now. All the problems dissolves in the present moment, and the sufferings cannot survive in the Now. As the great Zen master Rinzai once said: “ what, at this moment, is lacking?” There is no need for mind to answer to this question, it can be used as a powerful mantra, just like another saying in the Zen tradition: “ If not now, when?

Contemplate this, do we truly know someone, even if it is a person who we identify as parents? Do we know them in their true nature? Or is it the labels that we put on them to help us identify who they are in according to the relationship they have with us. This is my father, who loves steak and hates pork chop, who likes to watch sports and discuss politics. These are the labels, facts, opinions and preferences about my father. If I am able to be in the seat of consciousness, and witness beyond these labels, then I can find the true nature of this person, the Beingness and consciousness will shine through these surface labels. Make it a practice to withdraw our attention away from mind and its tendency to think about past and future, whenever it is not needed, and step outside of the time dimension that the mind has created. Does that mean time is useless or evil? No, it just means that we as human beings created time as a tool for practical purposes. To reflect upon the mistakes that we made in the past, and use these experiences to improve ourselves in the present moment; to set ourselves a goal and work towards it in the present moment; to use the clock time to make an appointment for the future and attend such appointment when the time arrives in the present moment.

Notice how often our mind tends to think about the past and future. Do not analyze it, do not go along with it, and do not judge it for any reason. Just witness and observe it. Watch the thoughts, feel the emotions and observe the reactions. Don’t make a personal problem out of them. When we practice this, we would find something more powerful than the urge to react to these situations, the stillness that is underneath the turmoil, the presence of consciousness with its peacefulness and tranquility. Observation of the mind opens up the timeless dimension, the energy that is withdrawn from the mind turns into presence. Once we feel the presence, it is much easier to simply choose to step out of the time dimension whenever it is not needed for practical purposes and move into the Now. This does not mean we lose the ability to sense time or to use our mind, it is actually quite the opposite, whenever we do need to use our mind or time, it will be sharper, and more focused than if we were to be trapped in it.

Real changes can happen, and the transformation depends upon whether we can become present enough to dissolve the past and its disturbances in our mind by being in the present moment. What we perceive as future is the intrinsic part of the state of consciousness now. If our mind carries a heavy burden of the past, then we would experience more of the same thing in the future. The past perpetuate itself through lack of presence, just like the history repeats itself if we don’t ever learn from it. The quality of our consciousness at this moment is what shapes the future, and the quality of our consciousness is determined by the degree of presence. So the only place where true change can happen is when we let the past dissolve in the present moment.

A good tool to use for the practice of presence is meditation. Have a seat in the nature, observe the rhythm of our breathing; feel the air flowing in and out, feel the Chi or the spirit or the life energy flowing through our bodies. Then open up our eyes, use our senses fully, look around without any interpretations, see the light, shapes, colors, textures. Be aware of the presence in everything. Listen to the sounds without judging or understanding them. Listen to the silence underneath all sounds. Touch something, a tree or a flower, feel its form and acknowledge its being. Allow everything to be, with-in and with-out. Allow the Beingness of all things. Step into the presence of Now. Use this practice as a step to the evolution of consciousness, as the survival of mankind depends upon it!

Thank you so much for taking your time to read this article. Feel free to share your thoughts and discuss about any topics you would like to. Good luck with the practice and have a lovely day!



Sam Chen

Yesterday I was clever, so I wanted to change the world. Today I am wise, so I am changing myself.