You’re Either Living In The Past Or Living For The Future Because The Present Doesn’t Really Exist

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Photo by Wyron A on UnsplashYou’re either living in the past or living for the future because the present doesn’t really exist.

OK, that sounds a little harsh. Allow me to offer something a bit more palatable.

You’re either living in the past or living for the future because the present is a moment that lasts but a quick instant.

Think about it. It takes a lot of effort to constantly live in the present. It’s a constant churn to live for the day every single day. I suppose if you’re a hedonist, it might be a tad easier. Still, even then, you’ve got to be numb to withstand the constant movement of the present.

So, you have a choice. You can live either in the past or you can live for the future.

What made me suddenly think of this dichotomy?

Blame Paul McCartney and Sirius Radio.

Somehow, without telling me, I’m getting Sirius Radio in my car. I’ve never paid for Sirius Radio, but it did come free for six months when I bought my car. After that free period expired, I never looked back. You might say, when it came to Sirius Radio, I focused squarely on the future.

Until just before this past Christmas. That’s when the past returned out of nowhere.

As I changed channels on my radio, I accidentally hit the Sirius Radio button. Lo and behold The Beatles Channel began playing. Just where I left it so many years ago when I last listened to Sirius Radio. Apparently, the service was offering itself for free through the first week of December. Maybe it hoped all those Christmas gift cards would find their way into its coffers.

What ensued wasn’t a reprise of my “born-too-early/born-too-late” dilemma (see “Was This Written 50 Years Too Early or 50 Years Too Late?Mendon-Honeoye Falls-Lima Sentinel, August 1, 2019). No, this was something completely different (albeit more Mel Brooks than Monty Python).

As the radio blared some not-forgotten tunes, it swept me back in time. Only, which time? The time I remember when those songs first aired in the 1960s? Or the time I remember when I first bought the albums that contained that music in the 1970s. Or that time most recently when I listened to Sirius Radio for the first time?

The past, even if it refers to the same subject, represents not one single moment but several echoing moments.

And each of those moments has a future associated with it. Here’s what I mean. Imagine yourself in elementary school. How did you envision your future back then? It’s most likely how you filled in the blank to the statement, “When I grow up, I want to be a ___________.”

Now remember high school. How did you think of your future then?

I could go on for each decade, but you get the picture. Life events shape what you think your future will be. You’re always thinking of your future in terms of your past. You might say it is an “ever present” exercise.

Ah… There’s that word. “Present.”

The present is like the current of a river. It’s constantly moving forward, taking you away from the past and toward the future. It sits on a fragile cusp, precariously positioned between what was and what will be.

Here’s the great thing about the past and the future. Neither is limited by your own lifespan. You can harken back to a past from before you were born, if not from your own family history, but from any history book. Similarly, you can imagine a future where you are long gone. It could be something as common as the legacy you wish to leave your descendants or the dreamed future of a science fiction story.

With all this time thinking about the past and the future, do you have any time to think about the present? More important, is it possible to even think about the present?

Consider this. The moment you start thinking about the present, it’s already past. Your thoughts may be instantaneous, but they cannot be simultaneous.

Oh, you may try to outsmart yourself by trying to have your thoughts keep up with the ever-moving present. But isn’t that merely anticipating the future?

What does this mean? It means, for all intents and purposes, the present does not exist in any practical way.

If you’d like to see a better (or at least funnier) explanation of this, watch the “When Will Then Be Now?” scene in Mel Brooks’ Space Balls where Dark Helmet and Colonel Sandurz channel their inner Abbott and Costello.

So much has been written and said about living for today that I’d like to offer a counter proposal. It’s not that you should take a moment to stop and smell the roses, but think for a moment what that really means. It means to pause and reflect. And a reflection is nothing more than a peak at what was.

Similarly, you’re told to stop worrying about the future. While it’s good advice to stop excessively worrying about all things, a little worry is healthy. It protects you. And the best way to stop excessively worrying about the future is to plan ahead. That means you’re thinking about the future.

So, whether you’re pausing to reflect or you’re planning ahead, you’re living in the past or living in the future.

And that’s the only reason why the present exists.


  1. Hey Chris,

    1. It seems no matter what we’re all coming into full realization of what ‘reality’ is, or is not … and your article here aligns wonderfully with the philosophy(?) of nonduality, particularly as represented by this quote from one of the grand nondual teachers, Jed McKenna (you’d probably appreciate his overall frank treatment of the topic): “There is no now, there is only the intersection of past and future, both of which possess the curious charm of not existing.”

    2. I signed up for your “… free three-step checklist to determine if your idea has what it takes to succeed.” as prompted in your Forbes article on making money after full retirement ( … confirmed my email, but then received an autoresponder page that says “I have no idea how you got here because I’m pretty sure there’s no link to this page.” Huh. Quick search of your website turned up nothing of the sort … ergo, can you send me the checklist directly, please? Gracias

  2. Chris Carosa says

    Bob, first, thanks for the comment. Second, sorry about that. I’ll look into the autoresponder. In the meantime, I’ve emailed you the checklist.


  1. […] you’ll always wonder what happened to “then”? Read this week’s Carosa Commentary “You’re Either Living In The Past Or Living For The Future Because The Present Doesn’t Really Exi…” and see why we passed “then” just […]

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