Is there such thing as mindfulness thinking about the future or past? I have a job that requires a lot of "going" into the future and past (projecting forward and assessing the past). I was wondering if could practice mindfulness while working. But it's not like I'm working with my hands, where I can be completely concentrated at the current moment with what I'm doing. From what I understand, mindfulness practice has to do with staying in the present. So my understanding is that it is inherently in conflict with what I do for work.

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    In my humble opinion, mindfulness is about staying with what arises in the present, and doing what you have to do, without having that train be derailed by fantasizing about the future or considering the past. If your work requires planning then the right way is to be true to that planning without having other/irrelevant thoughts of the past or future derail that planning.
    – Parag
    Dec 8, 2015 at 12:19
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    @Parag I think your comment would make an excellent answer.
    – THelper
    Dec 27, 2015 at 10:04
  • @THelper Thanks. I made it a comment because I did not have any Suttas to quote :-)
    – Parag
    Dec 29, 2015 at 5:01

4 Answers 4


As you suggest by writing that your work involves ‘going’ into the future and past, the reality of our experience is that past and future exist only in thought (which includes memories, imagination and so on). This is the key to approaching your experience with mindfulness. In any given moment it is possible to recognise, from a place of awareness, that thought is occurring. In my experience the best place to start with mindfulness is the body and breath. They help root us in our present, moment by moment experience. When aware of being in the present moment it is possible to notice that thinking is happening. It is not you, it is not necessary to identify with the thoughts nor get lost in them. One way to work with this is to start work with a kind of ‘checking in’ with yourself, with a minute or two of mindfulness, being present, however you find it is best done for you. And then to frequently ‘check in’ with your body and breath as your work continues, continuing like this throughout the day. In this way you can gradually develop the ability to think but not be lost in thought. I hope that helps…


Mindfulness thinking about future and past?

Actually any object can be taken as a meditation-object, it does not matter if the object is a physical or mental phenomena.

If you are practicing Vipassana meditation (insight meditation), then you have to be with reality in the present moment. That is the foundation of the technique.

When you are on the job and working with past and future you can be mindful of the thoughts, ideas and other mental formations, as they arise and pass away. If you observe them with mindfulness, in the present moment, then you are practicing correctly.

If you are getting lost in the thoughts, that means that mindfulness is absent and the Mind has followed after the object or run away from the object. When one is mindful, the Mind is kept in the present moment, unable to stray from the object.

Is there such thing as mindfulness thinking about the future or past?

Thinking about past and future is actually done in the present moment, since past and future are concepts and do not really exist. There is only the present moment.

The tradition I practice (Mahasi Sayadaw, The Burmese Method), has a technique of noting. There is already an answer in the thread which describes the noting. If one is thinking, then one makes a mental note saying "thinking, thinking" while sending the Mind out to the object. That means that full attention has to be placed on the object (in this case mental formations), while the mental note is being applied.

When one has observed and noted the object a couple of times, one places attention on the feeling of the rising and falling of the abdomen. The abdomen functions as an anchor, so that the Mind will not get lost. One keeps attention on the abdomen until a new object arises, then one notes that object a couple of times and again returns attention to the rising and falling of the abdomen.

The function of the noting is the remind oneself to stay in the present moment and to stay objective. This way the Mind cannot identify with the objects. Instead one is seeing their ultimate reality, i.e. the 3 marks of existence; Impermanence, Unsatisfactoriness and Uncontrollability of conditioned phenomena.

In this tradition one tries to cultivate insight about the 3 marks of existence. They are gateways to Nibbana.


When you must plan for future business then simply note something like, "planning planning" in the present moment when you are planning. If you don't note then simply intentionally focus your awareness on the planning but I recommend noting at least in the beginning.

When remembering the past then always make sure to note 'remembering, remembering", in the present moment, moment by moment as the "remembering," arises. Does that help?

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    I guess when I do these activities, I get lost in thought because i'm so absorbed in it. Is that mindfulness by itself? or is it not mindfulness?
    – jason
    Dec 4, 2015 at 3:06
  • Well, are you aware on a moment by moment basis when doing those activities? I wouldn't think so if you get lost in thought. Do you have nonpartial awareness of one aspect of your work activity experience , moment by moment? If not, it's simple to learn but what makes it difficult is that it so goes against our normal egoic and habitual ways of doing things. It's a challenge:)
    – Lowbrow
    Dec 4, 2015 at 4:17

Is there such thing as mindfulness thinking about the future or past? I have a job that requires a lot of "going" into the future and past (projecting forward and assessing the past).

If you look at the Abhidhamma each though has either pleasant, neutral or unpleasant sensation associated with it. (Ref: Comprehensive Manual of Abhidhamma). These cover all the 4 Satipatthana. You have to be mindful of the arising and passing of these sensations with equanimity. This method is given Pahāna Suttas (Pahāna Sutta, Avijja Pahana Sutta 2).

From what I understand, mindfulness practice has to do with staying in the present.

No necessarily true. This is the general thought this way so students do not make mistakes in practising the instructions. The instuction and easier and simplified also. Saṃyutta Nikāya > Saḷāyatana Saṃyutta > saṭṭhipeyyāla gives practising on the past, present and future 6 sense bases, 6 faculties, 6 external objects, 6 contacts from the respective faculties, 6 feelings from the particular contacts.

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