Near the end of his life, Mark Twain said: "I am an old man and have known a great many troubles, but most of them never happened.” How many hundreds of hours have we spent agonizing over possible problems that never actually happened?
Ralph Waldo Emerson said it more poetically:
"Some of your hurts you have cured,
And the sharpest you still have survived,
But what torments of grief you endured
From the evil which never arrived."
The Peanut's character Charlie Brown is notorious for this kind of worrying. Eventually he said, “I’ve developed a new philosophy. I'm only going to dread one day at a time".
The Master Jesus doesn't want us to dread the future. Not even one day at a time. He wants to introduce us to the "Perfect love which casts out fear." He tells us in his teachings not to fear the future. Now the version of this we have in Matthew is a bit confused. It makes Jesus into Charlie Brown. Jesus says there, “Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.” Now I’m pretty sure that this isn’t a very good rendering of what Jesus actually said. Jesus never focused on troubles and he would hardly advise us to do so. I suppose if he had, we could make a fortune marketing the “Don’t Worry About Tomorrow” Christian day-planner. It wouldn’t have a calendar – just a page that says “Today’s Troubles”.
I suspect what happened was that some poor neurotic scribe a hundred years after Jesus read Jesus’ statement to “not worry about tomorrow” and thought “How can Jesus be serious? How can we not worry about tomorrow?? Oooohhh – it must be because there are so many horrible things to worry about TODAY!!” He apparently doesn’t notice that two verses earlier, Jesus tells us not to worry about TODAY either! Here’s how Bishop Keizer renders this entire teaching in the Simple Word of the Master Jesus:
“Therefore, do not WORRY (!) or say, what will we eat? Or, what will we drink? Or, how will we be clothed? For your Heavenly Father knows you have need of all these things. But seek first the guidance and justices of God’s INNER kingdom, and all these things shall be added unto you. Therefore do not fear the future; rather, entrust the problems of the day in prayer to the Father, and then act on Heaven’s guidance. For the transformed present will produce a transformed future.”
The Master Jesus wants our attention in the here and now. In the present moment – the only moment where we can actually change anything. The past doesn’t exist. The only contact you have with the past is in your memories – in the present moment. The future doesn’t exist. The only effect you have on the future is caused by your actions right here and now, in the present moment.
Does this mean we SHOULDN’T use an appointment calendar? No, that’s not what it means at all. It’s fine – even helpful, to use “time” for practical purposes. Who do you think worries more about tomorrow – the person who consults their appointment book and knows they have three appointments tomorrow – or the person who doesn’t HAVE an appointment book and THINKS they may have appointments tomorrow. The person without the appointment book may spend hours trying to remember where they are supposed to be and at what time, or making calls to find out.
Even if you aren’t consciously thinking about your appointments and things to do – if you don’t have a good planning and appointment system, your commitments will always be there in the back of your mind or in your subconscious, giving you a faint feeling of anxiety as your mind tries to keep track of everything. So the purpose of organizing your plans and appointments isn’t to worry about the future, it’s to NOT worry about the future. Once your mind knows that your commitments are captured in some external system that it knows you will check when you are supposed to – it can relax, and let you focus back on the present moment.
Of course, if organizing and reorganizing your day becomes your hobby – if you spend more time organizing than actually DOING, then you’ve let your organizing pull you away from the present moment.
So let’s get back to the present moment. Because the present moment is the gateway to the Kingdom of Heaven
I’m going to make a statement that may seem extreme, but I ask you to consider it carefully. Almost all of our worry, fear, stress, frustration and anxiety comes from refusing to accept the present moment as it actually is.
Next time you’re worried about a relative or stuck in a traffic jam, notice your feelings. At the bottom of your frustration you’ll find a deep feeling of resentment and hostility against the reality of the present moment. When we worry about the future, what are we really doing? We may be rebelling against the fact that our reality has uncertainties in it. Or we are unhappy with our present reality and want to focus on our plans for the future – but they’re not coming fast enough. There are too many setbacks. We’re not getting out of this terrible present situation as fast as we’d like to. Or perhaps we fixate on the past to escape the present moment. We linger in the sweet sadness of memories of a past that we prefer to our current situation.
We fight and we resist and we run away from the only thing that actually exists – the present moment.
Why do we resist it so?
Well, one thing that may worry us is an idea in the back of our minds that if we accept the present moment, and are content with our current situation – we’ll never get out of it. We’ll be stuck here. Forever. We think that with our discontent we can bribe or threaten God into changing things for us. But if we let him think we’re content – he’ll just let us languish. That doesn’t say a lot of good things about our image of God, does it? It sounds like the kind of God who if we ask for bread will give us a rock. But it is love and gratitude that open the windows of heaven, not discontent.
If we drop our resistance to the present moment, does that mean we are stagnant? That we can’t change? Of course not! It means that our change begins with an objective, loving assessment of out situation as it really is. It’s like a person who falls into quicksand. By resisting – by flailing around like a lunatic – we only sink deeper – because our activity is irrational – not productive. But if we keep ourselves calm – if we don’t resist the reality of our situation, then we can plan our escape more efficiently. And the universe will help us. Perhaps we will notice a branch nearby that we can grab. Something we wouldn’t have noticed if we were flailing around. Perhaps we can explore the quicksand and find a gentle handhold or toehold somewhere. And we make progress.
The next time you find yourself in the grip of worry, or resentment or anger some other strong negative emotion, try this exercise – completely surrender to the present moment, including all its risks and possibilities. Don’t resist. Know that everything is just as it must be for the moment. Suspend your judgment of other people, or the situation or yourself.
What you will find is that a space opens up in the spiritual atmosphere. There’s a feeling like a fresh breeze blowing away your problems. You may still feel anxiety or some other emotion – but you won’t be lost in it. You won’t BE worried – you’ll be a person aware of experiencing a feeling of worry. And that’s a much different feeling. And when you do, you’ll find that your emotions will settle down. Negative emotions like worry don’t like to be watched. They’re bashful. Be the witness of your emotions instead of being possessed by your emotions.
Let’s come back to the present moment again. There is another reason we run away from the present moment. This reason is rooted in the nature of our being. It’s a metaphysical reason. That doesn’t mean it’s weird or complicated. Just the opposite. It means it’s so basic it’s sometimes hard to see.
The Master Jesus says that the Kingdom of God – God’s dominion or God’s dimension – is within you – within each of you. If you could reach down to your innermost nature, your heart of all hearts – you will find the presence of God. Your innermost essence – is God’s essence. That is the secret of all secrets. That is the core of all mystical teaching – the root of all true religion.
But this inner kingdom is hidden from us. It’s covered up by huge amounts of emotional turmoil and mental noise. Anyone who has seriously tried to practice meditation knows that – even when you don’t want it to – the mind keeps spewing out thoughts like some unwanted television set that’s impossible to turn off.
Eckhart Tolle tells a story of sitting on a bus next to a woman who was mentally disturbed. She was talking to an imaginary person in a loud and often hostile voice. Lots of profanity. She was a running stream of conversation. Later as he washed his hands in public bathroom, Eckhart thought to himself “I’m sure glad I’m not like that woman” – and the man at the sink next to him gave him a strange look. Then Eckhart realized he hadn’t THOUGHT the phrase to himself – he’d actually said it out loud!
We’re all “crazy people”. We all have a running stream of mostly useless, mostly repetitive thought going on in our minds all the time. The only difference is that the “normal” people manage not to let it come spilling out of their mouths – at least MOST of the time.
A lot of those thoughts are hopes and plans, and especially worries, about the future. They pull us like a strong swift current away from our grounding in the present moment. And it is in the present moment, and only there – that we can find the gateway into the inner kingdom of God.
You won’t find the Kingdom of God in some grandiose plan for the future.
You won’t find it in some cherished memory of the past.
God, your inner nature – is reality. And there is only one point of contact we have with reality – that pinpoint gateway – that eye of the needle, between the remembered past and the imagined future. The doorway to the kingdom of God that fills up the reality of the present moment.
Be in the present moment. Don’t think about it. Experience it. Surrender yourself in a complete and loving acceptance of the present moment, and the door begins opens to you. And behind the door is the essence of the Godhead, the Buddha Nature, closer to you than you are to yourself.
And as you become more at home in the present moment, you realize that you ARE the present moment. It is timeless. It has no past and no future. It is only now – eternally now. Forms and manifestations come and go. They appear in the field of Now and then they disappear – but the Now remains, and YOU remain – at peace in the vibrant energetic emptiness of God – wanting for nothing, worrying about nothing.
And here’s the paradox. When you seek first God’s inner kingdom, all the rest falls into place. The universe aligns itself to your purposes because you are aligned to the universe. Just at the moment when you begin to lose your desperate grasping after the external things of the world, the things you need begin to come to you almost without effort. And you can enjoy them fully – free of worry, because when they go, as all finite things do, they don’t take a part of you with them. You are connected to the source of all manifestation.
This is the kingdom of God, and the home country of all mystics. It’s a place where worries and problems subside, because you are no longer at odds with the purposes of God manifesting in your life. Many teachers of different traditions have commented on this.
Listen to the Catholic mystic St. Theresa describe it:
Let nothing trouble you / Let nothing frighten you
Everything passes / God never changes
Patience / Obtains all
Whoever has God / Wants for nothing
God alone is enough.
The Indian Guru Sri Nisargadatta Maharaj said:
"You are all drenched for it is raining hard. In my world it is always fine weather. There is no night or day, no heat or cold. No worries beset me there, nor regrets. My mind is free of thoughts, for there are no desires to slave for."
And here’s one of the most famous quotes from “A Course In Miracles”
"Nothing real can be threatened.
Nothing unreal exists.
Herein lies the peace of God."
Put aside the unreality of your worries about the future, your longings for the past, your impatient desires. Surrender to the reality of this present moment.
And the peace of God, which passeth all understanding, shall keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.