"Forever is composed of nows." - Emily Dickinson
There are some who tell us to live each day as if it were our last, but usually that's tough to truly embrace. There is a high probability that today is not your last day on earth, so spending it away from work -- eating bon bons and hiking with your dog -- is all well and good, but seriously impractical. The reality is that dead-tomorrow you does vastly different carpe diem things than dead-in-10-years you. In this way, living in the now and seizing the moment, without a terminal time stamp becomes a complicated gesture.
So then why do the great poets and philosophers keep harping on this point? Henry David Thoreau says: “You must live in the present, launch yourself on every wave, find your eternity in each moment. Fools stand on their island of opportunities and look toward another land. There is no other land; there is no other life but this.”
There is a wisdom here to be pursued, for sure, but it’s not to eat more dessert or imagine you’ll be dead tomorrow. What Thoreau and others are trying to tell us is this: There is no Future. There is no Past. There is only Now.
When most discuss the Now, it's about engaging the living moment -- stopping to smell roses, increasing daily gratitude, and being mindful - all good things. But let us consider something a bit meatier -- the Now’s relationship with the Past and Future -- and how one navigates through the conundrum of present living when it is so hopelessly tangled with its partners.
The reality is your "now" contains residue or rewards from past actions while you're simultaneously planting the seeds for both with your current actions. Sure, life can throw curve balls that have nothing to do with what we have done or plan to do. But if we look around, much of our "now" is derived from our actions, whether we want to always admit it or not. We focus on the right actions in the living moment and we're simultaneously improving our past and future.
The simultaneous existence of all these “states” resembles or perhaps reflects a physics theory called Quantum Entanglement, which can be defined as a state where particles (or in our case perceptions of time) are connected and entangled, to a point where describing them independently becomes impossible. They are best thought of as a system. Or as Thoreau stated, echoing Emily Dickinson, “An eternity in each moment.”