Friday, September 6, 2013

Words to Ponder

"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." -- Lao Tsu

Such simple words, but--at least for me--oh so hard to put into practice.

I continue to flounder, searching for my purpose, my "present".


  1. Ah, yes, simple words---and some might add: "simplistic." Or "judgmental." Or even potentially harmful...

    One problem, unfortunately, that seems to result frequently after one reads and ponders a 3-line quote like Lao Tsu's: the reader believes and feels as if she is doing something "wrong" (behaving or thinking incorrectly) in the present time, or she wrongly believes that SHE is causing her own suffering in the present moment.

    However, if Buddhist teachings about karma hold any validity (with karma understood as a complex spiritual concept that can't be boiled down to convenient homilies or sound bites), then it quickly becomes clear that a human being's experiences of existence in the present (such as one's current thoughts, actions, and emotions) do not simply arise from one's current ability or inability to correctly "put into practice" spiritual principles but rather our current experiences of existence arise (as effects) originating from an infinite number of possible prior causes.

    Thus, at any moment in the present, one is powerless to control her experience of---or her interpretation of---her present existence. Indeed, she may experience a greater sense of peace if she is able to recognize the suffering caused when she buys into the false beliefs about having control---in the present moment---over her present experience of existence.

    Maintaining the illusion of having individual control (as commonly understood) over one's current experiences leads inevitably to more and more suffering, I humbly suggest, because maintaining the illusion of individual control results (generally speaking) for the individual in 3 possible outcomes (all of which also cause more suffering for other people):

    1) The individual's need to unjustly blame herself or others for her suffering when it appears that an outcome or present experience of existence "should have been otherwise";

    2) The individual's need to be in denial about her own suffering (as well as the suffering of others); thus, she consistently represses her true feelings and/or becomes heavily dependent on her need to perpetually fantasize about the way things are (dependent on a false consciousness);

    3) The individual's increasingly painful, hopeless, and meaningless experience of existence, which seems to offer little or no means of escape from a life that eventually feels like she is living in Hell.

    By coming to accept that she is powerless to CONTROL her present existence (including her feelings and thoughts and interpretations of her life), she may begin to discover a way to live that does not require her to embrace the deadly illusion of individual control---yet nevertheless leads inevitably in the direction of less suffering and greater peace, for both herself and for others.

    Big Hugs,

  2. I'll be back several times to read/digest your profound commentary, H&F... Here's to peace!

  3. testing, testing, it's NM

  4. I'm with "hopefulandfree" about these simplistic sayings. Depression and anxiety are both often chemical issues. They are brain diseases and biologically induced. Just like Type 2 diabetes, they can be controlled in some cases with therapy, drugs, or lifestyle, but they are, at their roots, biological. By saying one "lives in the past/future" and that causes these issues, there is an aspect of blaming the victim.

    Certainly, some people ruminate on their issues and bring on these states, but a lot of people can't escape them. They are biochemically mired in them and it takes enormous effort to get out of that chemical soup. So, I can't agree with Lao Tsu, though I do realize these assertions were made centuries before we knew about things like serotonin and dopamine, their various receptors, and the way in which some people are born into a state which makes them very prone to various emotional states.

  5. Hi SFG and H&F,

    You are both correct, but on a very simplistic level, the idea really spoke to me. I definitely agree, though, that some of us (due to chemicals in the brain) are much more prone to anxiety and depression.