Why Limiting Mental Time Travel Leads to More Freedom and Happiness

I had tears in my eyes. Not because I was sad but because I was happy. Extremely happy. I was standing on top of a high cliff and I was watching the ocean beneath me. The sun was shining on my face and I felt a fresh breeze coming from the ocean. It smelled salty and full of life. On my right side I could see the silhouette of the Balinese sea temple Uluwatu, on my left side a stretched coastline. Birds were flying in the air, waves were crashing on the rocks. The colors were vibrant and everything about that moment was perfect, peaceful and beautiful.  

I was already traveling for two months by that time and I had seen a lot of beautiful places. Places even more beautiful than Uluwatu but none of them had triggered the same reaction. None of them had brought tears to my eyes. This moment was different. Not because of the place but because I was different.

On that moment something happened to me. Suddenly my mind stopped thinking and I fully realized where I was. My mind was not dwelling in de past or in the future but I was one hundred percent there, right on the edge of that cliff, on that moment. I felt connected to everything and I could feel the space around me. A feeling joy and gratitude filled my whole being. I was present and aware!    

ulu watu cliff

What if I told you that time traveling is possible? Perhaps you would ask me how. What if I told you that it is not only possible but that we all do it every day? You would say I am nuts! But think about it, how often do you travel with your thoughts to the past or the future? How often do you think about things that happened and how often do you fantasize about the future? Wouldn’t you say we are actually all experts in time traveling?

Physically we are (still?) incapable to travel in time but in our minds we are able to create space and time, next to the actual moment. Think about your last holiday. Picture yourself in the place you stayed at. You are mental time traveling now. Mental time travel is a big part of being human. It is an ability we all possess. It is a gift and a curse at the same time. When we are able to control it, we can use it for great things but when it is out of control, it can be very destructive.

The past and the future do not really exist. They  exist only in your mind. The past already happened. You can recall your interpretation of it in your mind but that is it. You cannot do anything about it, you cannot change it. The future is only a story you are making up in your mind. It did not happen yet and maybe it is never going to happen. Only your actions now are making your future. So what is left? Right, the present!

But like I said, the fact that the past and the future do not actually exist does not mean that you cannot spend time there. But only in your mind. Think about it for a moment. Only in your mind. You cannot touch anything in the past and the future, you cannot interact with it. You can only do that in the present which also means you can only make changes in the present.

The weird thing is that many of us spend more time in the past or the future than in the present. Our minds are forcing us to do this. It is compulsive thinking that is making us travel back and forwards, over and over again. If you are unaware of this you are basically trapped in your own mind because you are rarely in ‘the real world’. You are not in control which means you are not free. When this is the case, you might have a problem.  At least, you are blocking out a lot of potential happiness.

Bosnian mountains

Let me say a few positive things about mental time travel first. It is a great way to learn from our mistakes and to grow as a person. We can learn from the past. Also, it can be entertaining to recall nice memories sometimes. Memories about wonderful travels for example or a fun situation with friends. As long as it is positive, in moderation and you are in control of it, there is no harm done.

In the future, you can make plans. You can set goals which can work very positive. But be careful, do not set yourself ‘waiting–for-happiness-goals’. Do not say to yourself: when that happens or when I achieve that, I will be happy. Once you start doing that, you are going to wait your whole life. Happiness is not something you can achieve, it is something that you are.

Now the downside of mental time travel. Earlier I said that it can be destructive when it is out of control and I will tell you why. Fear, anger, guild, stress, worries, sorrow, regret, resistance, etc. can only exist in the past or the future. Not in the present. Only when you make up doom scenarios in your mind, you can have worries. Only when you think about something you had done wrong, you can feel guild. Not now, never on this moment. All these emotions are very negative and do not contribute to a happy and fulfilling life. Worse, they can make you deeply and deeply unhappy. Unfortunately, many people’s lives are dominated by these emotions. Luckily, it does not have to be like that. The key is to become aware again of the present, and practice to live in it.

Ask yourself the question, how much time do I spend dwelling in the past? How often am I repeating thoughts about things that happened while you wish they went different? What use does it have? Can you change anything that way? No? Is it not just a waste of thoughts and is it not time to accept it and to let it go? Those thoughts are not only negative and destructive but are also stealing moments from positive events. Wonderful things can happen right in front of you but you will not see them if you are somewhere else with your mind.

View On Yellow Tower Sun Set

Same as with worries. Do you believe in fortune tellers and do you consider yourself to be one of them? No? Why do you act like it? You worry because you create a bad scenario which did not actually happen yet. Also, you do not know if it is ever going to happen. Worrying is no use, it is only a waste of thoughts and it is blocking out happiness. You can only act in the present so when the moment is there, you can act. In the meanwhile, you can just do what feels good.

So where is the happiness? It is right in front of you! It is so close that you might not even notice it. Happiness is in every single moment. Happiness is in the life you are living now, in this world. The one you can interact with, not in the ones in your mind. All you have to do is live in the present and to become aware of yourself and the world around you. That is what happened to me on that cliff in Bali. That is why I was so touched by the beauty of the moment and everything within it. At that moment my mind was free from the past and the future. I was there and only there. I felt happy and fulfilled.

Nowadays I practise to be present and aware every day.  I won’t lie, it is not easy. The mind is tricky and lures you back to the past and the future in no-time. You have to be on guard all the time. But I am getting better at it and it works. It is making me enjoy life much more. It is the only way to feel really free. Remember, If your thoughts are too often focused on the future or the past and you don’t start to live now, you’re going to miss your whole life.

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