The most common perspective gleaned from contemporary dharma teaching is that our goal in mindfulness practice should be to keep ourselves in the present moment. For example, from a recent “Daily Dharma” published by Tricycle magazine:
“We can get dragged back into the past, which can lead to depression, or we can become anxious about the future, which can lead to fear. Conscious breathing returns us to the here and the now, where we really belong”.
—Gary Gach, “Brief Teachings”
This is certainly some truth in this. And, we have all gotten (repeatedly) lost in our minds.
HOWEVER: The present moment does not, and cannot, exist in isolation from the past and future. The present moment includes what arises in the mind as we recollect what has happened to us. The process of recollecting and narrating our experience is an essential part of the activity of the brain/mind that is given to us as human beings. Stories about what has happened to us in the past are an integral part of the present moment (albeit not the direct experience of the present moment).
Similarly, we don’t exist in isolation from how we relate to the future. Planning, thinking about, and fantasizing are intrinsic functions of mind. It is important to be aware of these processes and to try to be conscious of them. It quite often happens that we topple forward toward the future, and we can become quite anxious in the gap of Unknown between now and then. It is skillful to be wise about the imagined future through the way that we formulate our intentions.
A woman said to me in a therapy session: I want to stop worrying and just be present with what’s happening.
I said: worry is what is happening.