Where Did It All Go?

Ajahn Karuṇadhammo • August 2012

Today is Beth’s birthday. We were talking a few minutes ago about how quickly it all happens, how fast the time passes, particularly as one gets older. Time tends to telescope and move much faster with age. Beth mentioned her mother was recently looking in a shop and saw a reflection in the window. Her first thought was, Who is that old lady? Then she realized that it was herself! I remember a time when I was about ten years old and thought to myself, Wow, in the year 2000 I’ll be forty-five years old. All of these experiences of time are very malleable and fleeting.

We can use this perception of time as a reminder that the life that we have is a certain length and we don’t know how long it’s going to be. It may not last beyond the next few minutes or it may go on for many, many years from now. The point is that we don’t know. For most of the time in our lives we are either thinking about the past or projecting into the future. We miss the point that it’s all happening right here in this moment.

We need to use a sense of urgency, knowing there is an aging process, illness, and death. We don’t know when illness and death will occur. We only know that it will occur at some point in time. With this type of reflection we can develop a sense of urgency to encourage our minds to dwell in the present, because the present is where we have the ability to change and create favorable conditions for the development of our minds. It’s not thinking about the past, having regrets about the past, or making projections into the future; it’s about responding to what comes our way right here and right now in this very moment. Of course, it’s easy to believe our thoughts, Well, the time isn’t quite right. Maybe when the conditions are better I’ll start practicing seriously. I have plenty of time left and there are just too many responsibilities right now and too many goals I have to accomplish. As soon as I get this part of my life together then I’ll really be able to practice. But that’s a kind of false thinking that we get ourselves into. It’s a misperception that we’re going to have all that time when the conditions are perfect, because the conditions are never going to be perfect. We have to take the opportunity right here and right now to take what’s coming our way and work very closely with greed, hatred, and delusion.

It’s not as if we’re trying to create a different person in the future who will then be more skilled and capable, If only I didn’t have so much anger or craving . . . I’ll work on that so in the future I will become somebody who can be much more free. While it is true that things develop over time, it is the effort we put forth right here and right now, seeing our reactions and habits just as they arise that allows us to change our perceptions and understand our human experience. If we keep on putting it off, spending time regretting all the things we did in the past, or projecting into the future without paying attention to right here and now, then we’ve missed the opportunity to make a genuine change in our present experience. Realization and genuine shifts of perspective don’t occur somewhere off in the distant future. They occur right now in this moment.