It is given, even from a conventional view, that the present is all there is. The present is all that is real. Any ideas of past and future are just that, ideas – abstractions, maps.
Believing in (stories about) past and future
But when we believe in our ideas, they seem real so past and future (or rather our stories of past and future) seem real as well. We may know intellectually that the present is all there is, but it certainly does not feel that way.
It is only when we have a glimpse of – or or awaken to – a realization of selflessness that this becomes real and obvious. The belief in ideas fall away, including the belief in the idea of I, so now it is clear that the present is all there is. It is revealed as the Timeless Present, within which time and space unfolds in always new and fresh ways. It is the Present that always is. Ideas and stories about past and future are just ideas and stories, occuring right now along with everything else.
When we go to the past to explain the present, we are going to stories about the past – maps that highlight some features, leave other out, and are inherently quite different from the terrain. It may give a sense of order and understandable patterns, but that is about it. Anything in the present, seen from the perspective of past and future, has infinite causes. Any map will be woefully inadequate in accounting for even a fraction of these.
Past as mirroring the present
What our stories about the past (and future) do, quite accurately, is reflecting the present. Or rather, they are the present – one of the way the world of phenomena unfold in the present.
One way to say this is that they are projections of what is happening right now. They reflect and are what is happening now, but appear to say something about an abstract past or future.
It is pretty obvious, and also quite beautiful. Our stories say something about what is going on right now, and are valuable as that.
There is of course a consensus reality, one that we can more or less agree on in terms of our past, individually and collectively. This map of consensus reality help us navigate this world more effectively.
Pointing back to the present
But at the same time, the map of consensus reality is merely an abstraction – really only saying something about us right now. Other stories – dreams, those we label fiction, and so on – are as accurate in saying something about us right now, although they may be less helpful as guidelines for navigating the world.
The realization of infinite causes also brings us back to the present. Any map of the past is woefully inadequate, so the Present is all we really have.