Past – Present – Future

” Live in the present “,
but what exactly is the Present?

There are many quotations, phrases, and concepts that guide us towards the concept of time with reference to Past, Present, and Future. Mentioning a few here; “One should not have worries of the Past, or anxiety of the Future and must try to live in Present instead”. Or another one that says, “Past always seems better than what it actually was, Present feels worse than what it actually is, and the Future seems less resolved than what it actually will be”. The book “Power of Now” by Eckhart Tolle, also, wonderfully talks about the similar concepts of living in the “Present moment”. Great poet Fani Badayuni, born as Shaukat Ali Khan (1879 – 27 August 1961), created a beautiful ghazel; quoting one couplet of it on the present subject;

ہر نفَس عمرِ گزشتہ کی ہے میّت فانی

زندگی نام ہے مر مر کے جیے جانے کا

(Translation – All living beings are the dead bodies for their past, past that includes the last breath just taken. Life is, thus, a continuous process of dying and living)

It seems quite difficult (at least to me) to get clarity on the significance of the time frame, called “present”. What is the “present” moment? The “present” seems an illusion and we unconsciously think that we are living and working in “present”; it gives us a comfortable feeling that we have time at our disposal. The more one thinks about it, the more confusions are born. Through this text a clarity on the subject is sought. An entity or a domain called “time” is continuously on the move backwards; converting Future to Past, through a very thin line called the “present” moment. The Present Moment in accountable units, is thus an infinitesimal span of time which seems very insignificant. Since we give importance to our “present” time, like the one discussed in the book “Power of Now” and in many religious or social philosophies, there is a dire need to understand how should we define the “Present” time period?

The second line of the above Urdu couplet explains that any living being is the dead body for his past, the past that also includes the moment just passed. The future is the immediate coming “breath”, which converts to Past after it is gone followed by the next.

The question arises as to how should we define our “present” time? This will range from the “smallest time duration” on one extreme to the “biggest time lapse” on the other (that is what needs to be defined). This will vary when we consider the life of an individual, a family or a nation (or any specific group of people or any other creation). An interesting concept given by Alvin Toffler in his book “Future Shock”, where right in the opening pages he divides the life span of human beings into “800 Life Times” is worth contemplating. Another important variable to consider is that the understanding of the time frame varies depending on the physical state of the individual or a family etc., which dictates the mental conditions. For example, the “state” of an individual, family or that of any bigger group may include the financial conditions, the family/social relations, the physical and social environment etc. Any big or “significant change” in any of these and the time span of its “emotional effects” keeps it in the “present”. As soon as the mental or emotional effects get stabilized to normal we can consider that event as the event of the past. Recalling any emotional state by thinking about it and bringing the feelings back still keeps it as the event of the past.

کیا ستم ہے کہ اب تیری صورت

غورکرنے پہ یاد آتی ہے ۔ ۔ ۔ جون ایلیا

(Translation – How painful and cruel it is that it takes quite an effort to recall your face features)

When we are defining the time span called “The Present” for ourselves, we must also consider an important aspect; It should not be that small a duration which keeps us in tension or frustration (because we have to do our life activities in the present time) and also not that long a duration which makes us lethargic (to make us think that there is still enough time). We need to define a comfortable time span (which will be different for different individuals) so as to always “stay” in the present as per all the above-mentioned concepts of giving importance to the “Present”. By this we can manage time and plan our events considering the Past, Present and Future that we are comfortable with.

Dr Akhtar Nawaz Malik