Wednesday, 10 December 2014

"We never keep to the present," said Pascal

I can't remember a better description of the destructiveness of ignoring the present moment than this:

"We never keep to the present. We recall the past; we anticipate the future as if we found it too slow in coming and were trying to hurry it up, or we recall the past as if to stay its too rapid flight. 

We are so unwise that we wander about in times that do not belong to us, and do not think of the only one that does; so vain that we dream of time that are not and blindly flee the only one that is. 

The fact is that the present usually hurts. We thrust it out of sight because it distresses us, and if we find it enjoyable, we are sorry to see it slip away. 

We try to give it the support of the future, and think how we are going to arrange things over which we have no control for a time we can never be sure of reaching. 

Let each of us examine his thoughts; he will find them wholly concerned with the past or the future. We almost never think of the present, and if we do think of it, it is only to see what light it throws on our plans for the future. 

The present is never our end. The past and the present are our means, the future alone our end. Thus we never actually live, but hope to live, and since we always planning how to be happy, it is inevitable that we should never be so."

Written a long time ago by someone who I doubt ever heard the term "mindfulness."

With thanks to Sarah for chasing down the whole passage, quoted to us during an excellent day with John Peacock.


  1. Inasmuch as the future is what we will do/what will happen to us next, the present is a good place to stocktake and rehearse, life being more a business of exigencies and appetites than plans. When the present doesn't irk, or merely call for another log on the fire, I do find myself more inclined lingeringly to count my blessings. I put it down to age and the moderation of appetite. The present is agreeable only in a condition of contentment -- the absence of disquieting factors? Hankering, on the other hand, calls for stern discipline.

    Hmnn, got me a-pondering, GM. Thank you.

  2. "Hankering, on the other hand, calls for stern discipline." A golden example of the Cowling pen, thanks Charles! When are you publishing your "Pensées?"

    I'm pleased you singled out contentment; so much guff written and talked about happiness, as something you can aim at and measure. Surely happiness is more unpredictable, sponanteous and evanescent, whereas content is a state that can be cultivated?

    Though a sterner Buddhist meditator than I am might say that the present is the present, whatever state we think we are in, and accepting it is the way to break the bonds of anguish and extremity.The famed Middle Way....

    Still and all, it'll soon be Christmas, which despite the shops and the TV, is still a delight. It can yield contentment, and sometimes happiness....

  3. Yes, I think there's a tendency to suppose that contentment is a steady state in which contentment is unalloyed. When I look back on the happiest times of my life, there was simply a predominance of contentment, which was founded in good relationships, not material good fortune. Maybe it's all about counting one's blessings?