Many teachers (and teachings) talk about how thoughts reflect the past, and only reflect the past.
Is it true? When I heard this again as a quote from Byron Katie, there wasn’t an immediate and whole-hearted recognition, so I decided to explore it again for myself. It is true in my own experience?
Thoughts arising here and now, with content about past, present and future
Thoughts, as anything else, arise here and now. But their content appear, on the surface, to be about the past, present and future.
Thoughts about the present, about what that just left
When I look at thoughts about the present, I see that they always reflect what has already gone. They cannot keep up with the continuous stream of content, they are always a little slow, always about what just left.
Thoughts about the future, reflecting the past
Thoughts about the future are maybe a little different, but even here, they actually reflect the past. They are projections into the future, into what may be, based on experiences from the past. I hit my toe on the leg of the table a while ago, and it hurt, so I assume it will hurt if I do it again. I enjoyed a vacation up in the mountains last year, so assume I will enjoy it again. I resolved a stressful issue last night by doing inquiry into it, so assume inquiry may work again on future stressful situations.
These are all reasonable assumptions, and are very helpful in daily life. They have a clear practical value in our everyday human life, and without them we probably wouldn’t last very long.
But as helpful as they are, these thoughts are still reflecting the past, taking past experiences and lessons from past experiences and projecting them into an imagined future.
Thoughts about the past, present and future, all reflecting the past
So thoughts about the past are obviously reflecting the past, thoughts about the present are really about what just left, and thoughts about the future reflect past experiences – projected into the future.
And the interpretation of any of this also, obviously, reflects the past. Past experiences, and my stories about them, color how I interpret anything in the past, present or future.
So, yes, when I look at my own thoughts, I see over and over that they not only reflect the past, but 100% reflect the past.
It is a humbling realization.
More about the effects of realizing this in the following post(s).