Welcome back to Mid-Week Meditations, Lifehacker’s weekly dip into the pool of stoic wisdom, and a guide to using its waters to reflect on and improve your life.
This week’s selection comes from Marcus Aurelius and his Meditations. He recommends you focus not on the past or future, but the present alone:
“Do not let the panorama of your life oppress you, do not dwell on all the various troubles which may have occurred in the past or may occur in the future. Just ask yourself in each instance of the present: ‘What is there in this work which I cannot endure or support?’ You will be ashamed to make any such confession. Then remind yourself that it is neither the future nor the past which weighs on you, but always the present — and the present burden reduces…”
What It Means
Don’t let the grand scope of your life hold you back. Don’t focus on the hardships of your past, and don’t stress about what might go wrong in the future. Stay focused on right now. Is there something about this very moment or this particular task that you can’t handle? Probably not, because you know you can get through it. Remember, it’s not the weight of the future or the weight of the past that you should be carrying. Let those burdens fall away, and the weight of the present becomes much lighter.
What to Take From It
We tend to focus on where we’ve been and where we’re going, but we don’t put enough thought into the present. But all that really matters is now because that’s all there is. The past is only memories, writings, or recordings, and the future merely conjecture based on those things. You are never in the past or in the future, so why waste so much of your time and energy there?
When life gets tough, or you’re struggling through some difficult work, remember to stop and let go of useless burdens, like the past (it’s unchangeable), and the future (it’s unforeseeable). Don’t dwell on your entire life, or a certain span of it, as a whole and wonder how you’ll get by. Look at this exact moment, right now. Can you get through this moment? Yes. OK, how about this one? Of course, it’s not much different than the last. And this one? Again, yes. See, the only weight you need to carry is the present, and you’re certainly strong enough to lift that. You’ve been doing it your whole life and then some.
Life is a long journey, a marathon of experience. How do you walk such a great distance? By taking one step at a time. Focus on your present step — not the missteps you’ve made, or the steps you may have to take down the road — and you’ll get where you need to go.