Abundant Time

I have huge problems with the living in the moment understanding of mindfulness as a philosophy, so when James Nichol posted this blog about John Heron and abundant time, I was really interested. I’ll try to make my post make sense if you haven’t read the other, but, read the other anyway.

To me, living in the moment does not seem like engagement with life, but removal from it. Being in the moment sounds like pure immersion, but what does it do? It takes away the context for the experience. Humans have fairly linear lives, out of which we fashion narratives and understanding. Beyond a certain point, the more present you are, the more you have to let go of certain other things.

The focal point of living in the moment is (as I understand it) to free us from all those uncomfy emotions. Fear (of the future) and regret (about the past) are the big reasons why we don’t want to bother ourselves with any of that past and future malarkey. I simply don’t like the implications. Our discomfort with past actions is part of how we learn and our anxiety about the future is part of how we avoid disaster. We need, for example, to be really worried about climate change.

Nostalgia and a sense of loss teach us about what we love and value. Hope for the future uplifts us, creating purpose and direction. Do we really want to be free from the judgemental thoughts that are part of not being in the moment? Or do we need to make value judgements in order to function? What space is there, in only being in the moment, for love, or duty, forward planning to take care of self and others, or backward glancing to learn and understand? I can see some utility in it as a short burst activity to clear an over busy mind, but if you are living in the world as a responsible, creative entity, you cannot divorce yourself from past or future for very long at all. What you lose, for being entirely in the moment, are the emotional connections that flow naturally from your humanity.

Coming at this as a Druid, is seems to me that balance is the critical issue. We live now, and we have to be present enough to do that living, to act well in the moment and to appreciate life from one breath to the next. To do that, we have to set the present moment in its proper context, evolving as it does out of the past, and reaching as it must towards the future. We need to be consciously engaged in that process if we want any control over our lives, choices and experiences. If dwelling on the past or worrying about the future takes over such that we don’t really experience ‘now’ that needs rebalancing.

The human mind is gloriously complex, and capable of doing more than one thing at any time. Living in the moment is associated with a tradition that says we should only do one thing at a time and do it with total awareness. I admit that would drive me mad. My mind is not like a single track, it’s like a rainforest, and at any given time a whole array of thoughts – some more consciously held than others – tend to be in process. Letting that roll, letting things surface, I can still be very present to my environment and to the people around me. Shutting that down is awful, unnatural for me and distressing. Not all minds are the same, and you have to start with the one you’ve got.

Abundant time as an idea has us showing up to the present and experiencing it while being able to hold the narrative context of our lives. It gives us room to make important emotional connections with past and future to enrich the present. We are now, but we do not cut ourselves off from awareness of before and after. Without the threads of past and future we cannot be fully functioning human beings. Working with abundant time has the additional advantage that you can live here. You can aim to do this full time, and be richer and better for it, more functional, more engaged with the world, more alive, more present. It’s nothing but win, really. Again, coming at this as a Druid what I’m looking for above all else are ways of living that I can live.

About Nimue Brown

Druid, author, dreamer, folk enthusiast, parent, polyamourous animist, ant-fash, anti-capitalist, bisexual steampunk. Drinker of coffee, maker of puddings. Exploring life as a Pagan, seeking good and meaningful ways to be, struggling with mental health issues and worried about many things. View all posts by Nimue Brown

7 responses to “Abundant Time

  • contemplativeinquiry

    Yes. I’m for abundant time – the present lived awarely with a sense of a re-evaluated past & future possibilities coming in. The good thing about present time seems to me that it takes us away from unhelpful past and future fantasy, the first perhaps based on re-enacted memories of suffering & discomfort, the second on future oriented yearning & displaced hope. Those things are not abundant.

    But if we address old distress and find ways of healing it (at least to an extent), and if we can call in future possibilities from within a present time experience clear (or relatively clear) of distress-distorted memory and expectation, then we can have the experience of abundant time.

    John Heron wrote this in ‘Catharsis in Human Development’ where the recommendation was to clear the past through the revisiting of old distress and the release of negative feelings. In his world view the abundance can’t happen without this. It’s why he advocated co-counselling and similar therapeutic work as a necessary precursor to the effective use of ‘spiritual’ disciplines like meditation. His view was that without this kind of clean-out people wouldn’t be able to gain the benefits of meditation, which without them tended to have a kind of repressive effect (only one step above ‘keep calm and carry on).

    I realise that these are old debates now and have a kind of 1970’s flavour about them. But I also have to say that in my own life, his proposed sequence (therapeutic work first, contemplative work later) has turned out to be about right. I just wouldn’t want to be so dogmatic about it all – people being so complex!

  • angharadlois

    There’s an important element of letting go of attachment to our ideas about the past and present, to some extent, in order to understand that nothing is fixed. The future is not written: we are creating it; not as individuals but as a part of vast interconnected network full of unpredictable quirks. And the past depends a lot on perspective – as you’ve said before, it means different things depending on what stories we tell ourselves or each other.

    Off to read about abundant time 🙂 – as a phrase, it makes a lot of sense, because time really does feel quite elastic.

  • picturespaintingsandotherscribblings

    ” I stopped and I saw everything ” kind of a thing.

  • Aurora J Stone

    What you say here Nimue makes ‘abundant’ sense. Loving only in the now can be a way to avoid responsibility, I know someone like that. Living now whilst ignoring the context of others and the implications of that self-centred way of being. I realise that is an extreme of living in the now.

    I find also living with a sense of time of spiralling there is no moment where I can live only in the now. The then and the yet are always with me in my awareness. To me a heart or soul or mind cleansed of them would be like a desert. Now is watered by the tears of the past and illuminated by the lights of the future.

    Balance is key. It is possible to be mindful dancing on the time spiral honouring all the wheres and whens of being. At least it is for me, it is the way I’m wired and how I perceive and live a rich and creative life.

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