Between the mistakes of the past and the uncertainty of the future, the present eludes us. The ability to remember the past and to plan for the future can become a double-edged sword that we use, more or less unconsciously and with little experience, to transform the present into a miserable reality.
In this regard, the philosopher Ayn Rand wrote: "anxiety and guilt, the antithesis of self-esteem and the unmistakable signs of a sick mind, are the destroyers of thought, the distortions of values and the paralyzing factors of action".
Of course, this does not mean that we can erase the past with a swipe of the sponge or that we should close our eyes to the uncertainty of the future. But we can learn to live with those non-existent times by taking a healthier perspective that allows us to fully enjoy the present.
Carrying on blame will not make up for past mistakes
José Saramago wrote: “what is the use of repentance, if it does not erase anything of what has happened. The best repentance is simply to change ”.
The sense of guilt has a specific function: it is a state of inner unease that tells us that we have violated our values or someone's rules. It is a message from our conscience that tells us that we have done wrong.
The problem begins when we get stuck in guilt. Many people, when they understand that they cannot repair the damage caused, use guilt to punish themselves, as a method of self-flagellation. In this way, they are continually stuck in the past, denying themselves the possibility of moving forward.
The truth is that this idea (of religious origin) of inflicting pain on oneself to atone for the sins committed is counterproductive. As much as it punishes you, you will never be able to undo the damage done. Punishing yourself will not bring the past back but it will sour your temper.
On the contrary, as indicated by Saramago, the best way to show repentance is to change. And for this it is necessary to look to the future. A mistake is only worth it when we learn from it. Once the lesson is learned, we need to move on and move on.
No amount of anxiety can change the future
Eduardo Galeano said: "whoever is not a prisoner of necessity is a prisoner of fear: some do not sleep for the anxiety of the things they do not have, others do not sleep for the fear of losing the things they have".
While guilt is a feeling anchored in the past, anxiety is inherent in the future. Anxiety is a wake-up call to the consciousness of the possibility that something could go wrong. It is a widespread feeling of fear usually caused by uncertainty and the inability to control all factors.
But grasping for control is, at bottom, an expression of a deep self-confidence, it means thinking that we will not be able to face the events of life. Hence, the transience and change that the future brings generates anxiety only in those who cling unnecessarily to the immutable.
Then the anxiety will be unleashed and make us imagine the worst possible scenarios. With that negativity in mind it is impossible to enjoy the present, because our mind is already in the future, experiencing the problems that we glimpse and that will probably never materialize.
In other words: anxiety makes us live in a nightmare that exists only in our imagination, while immersing us in a cycle of worries that prevent us from planning effective actions to help us avoid the situations we fear.
There is an escape: living in the present
The key is to learn to live in the here and now, developing a mindfulness attitude that keeps you anchored in the present. This doesn't mean that you don't have to look to the past or the future from time to time, but you need to make sure you bring your sight back to the present as soon as possible.
After all, "if my consciousness of the future and the past make me less aware of the present, I must begin to wonder if I am really living in the real world," wrote Alan Watts.