The future is not always tenable and capricious. Additionaly, if one is in the moment one shouldn’t be thinking about the future. To me, this seems like the two are mutually exclusive: to make goals and to be present.

Therefore, is it actually possible to be present but to think about the future at the same time? How does one reconcile having goals or making plans for the future?

It seems difficult to not plan for having children, planning a career, etc.


6 Answers 6


Consider following texts:

Majjhima Nikaya (3.272)

‘The past should not be followed after, and the future not desired; what is past is dead and gone, and the future is yet to come.’

Wei Wu Wei ('Why Lazarus Laughed'):

‘Past and Future are a duality of which Present is the reality. The now-moment alone is eternal and real.’

Matthew Flickstein (* The Meditator’s Atlas. A Roadmap of the Inner World p. 157*:

‘The greatest enemy to the conditioned mind is the reality of the present moment. The mind is always trying to oppose this experience, since the mind only lives through thoughts of the past and the future.’

and Thich Nhat Hanh' ('Thich Nhat Hanh on the Practice of Mindfulness'):

‘Most people are forgetful; they are not really there [in the present moment] a lot of the time. Their mind is caught in their worries, their fears, their anger, and their regrets, and they are not mindful of being there. That state of being is called forgetfulness -you are there but you are not there. You are caught in the past or in the future. You are not there in the present moment, living your life deeply. That is forgetfulness.

The opposite of forgetfulness is mindfulness. Mindfulness is when you are truly there, mind and body together. You breathe in and out mindfully, you bring your mind back to your body, and you are there. When your mind is there with your body, you are established in the present moment. Then you can recognize the many conditions of happiness that are in you and around you, and happiness just comes naturally.

(...) Mindfulness is the energy that helps us recognize the conditions of happiness that are already present in our lives. You don’t have to wait ten years to experience this happiness. It is present in every moment of your daily life. There are those of us who are alive but don’t know it. But when you breathe in, and you are aware of your in-breath, you touch the miracle of being alive. That is why mindfulness is a source of happiness and joy.’


I think there are two separate things here - being and thinking. Thinking about the future is still a 'thought' like any other thought. Being in the present moment is a state of being, not a state of thought. Mindfulness includes thought, but is bigger and wiser than thought and probably kinder. The practice is not an attempt to stop you making plans, but to cultivate mindfulness where your plans have an overall ecology with your state of being, and therefore with those around you, with your environment or however your plans extend beyond just thinking. Just thinking about plans is really easy, but usually isn't good enough.


if one is in the moment one shouldn’t be thinking about the future

With mindfulness,Thinking about the future happens in the present moment.

is it actually possible to be present but to think about the future at the same time?

Yes.Just be aware.

Be aware when your thinking of the future.This means that you are aware of the present moment.If you have a hard time doing this think out loud.Saying the words will help your mind stay in the present moment.And stop it from wandering around and making connections with other thoughts.Being aware (no matter what the subject is) takes place in the present moment.Not the future.

I know you might think it's impossible to think and be mindful at the same time.You think that your in the present moment, then you have to pause to take a break and think.And this is not true.You have to train your mind,Mindfulness is like a muscle.You can be in the present moment while your thoughts are arising and to stay in the present moment while you watch your thoughts,your will,your intentions etc.It's just hard if your mindfulness is not trained.So don't think the two are separate.

How does one reconcile having goals or making plans for the future?

When you are in the present moment you see things clearly.Your grounded.You can make better plans for the future.When your not mindful of the actual process of planning what happens is,things go under the radar (subconscious) its taken over by force of habit,impulses,etc IGNORANCE. If you don't bring your thinking or planning into the surface of consciousness this means you are letting your future go with the flow of subconscious which at times isn't very rational.In fact it is planning your future in ignorance.Mindfulness is your clarity.

It seems difficult to not plan for having children, planning a career, etc.

It is difficult.Do not stop.Your goal is to plan things skillfully and you need mindfulness to do that.There's almost nothing you can not be aware of except for maybe deep states of sleep.

Be aware of planning and thinking.


You notice that your sink is leaking. Right now it is Sunday morning and a plumber would not be available. So you plan instead to call a plumber the next day. So here, you are making a plan for the future.

Is it right to make and execute this plan? Yes. After all, you must solve the problem.

Then when is it not right? It is not right if you spend the rest of Sunday worrying or dwelling upon your leaking sink. This is where you need to practise mindfulness.

Similarly, I don't see why one cannot make and execute plans for career, family etc. It is just that one cannot keep thinking about it over and over with attachment and with emotions like passion or aversion.

Of course, if you have to make plans regarding career, family etc., it means that you still have desires for a worldly life (instead of the monastic life), which by itself is not wrong if it follows the Noble Eightfold Path, including Right Livelihood.

Planning and doing something is different from having one's mind always obsessed with that something.


No. It isn't.

Thinking about the future, past or any form of ideation (false thought) are opposite of becoming present. Becoming truly present automatically causes things to empty out and detach. The mind clears.

In a practical sense it is not possible to be full of thought and be empty (present) at the same time and in an ontological sense as well because there is only ever one thought, one phenomena happening at any moment in time.

After a high level cultivation, the cultivated person can "think without thoughts" by using a type of direct perception called prajna but that is an advanced discussion that is not directly relevant to your questioning.

The thing you are talking about "thinking about the future", planning, and the process of making right of your life... this is called the 1st training.

It is very important to have the 1st training down well.

Nonetheless, it is very different from the purpose and method of the other two trainings that the Buddha espoused: the 2nd and 3rd training, the development of which brings you even deeper into the present... so deep that you find the heart of reality and many Good Things Happen.

There is a mutual beneficial interaction among the 3 trainings and respectively with the whole idea of planning for the future and learning to live in the present namely because if you do not plan for the future, the future--when it does inevitably arrive--will be quite uncomfortable and not conducive to Enlightenment.

For the most clean and detailed emphasis on the Three Trainings and other crucial Buddhist sets, I reccommend the free book Mastering the Core Teachings of the Buddha. 99% of what people do is the 1st training (planning, thinking, reflecting, thinking about what to do how to do it).

The 2nd and 3rd training are what Buddhism is truly about and is mainly involved with coming to the heart of reality: the present moment. In order to do it one doesn't plan or think... one just does it. Just be present. With practice, this becomes very enjoyable. With more practice this automatically becomes jhana/vipassana practice.


If I may answer your question by disputing the premise. In his book Antidote (not a Buddhist book) Oliver Burkeman questions the wisdom of goal setting itself. He takes the dramatic example of the 1996 Everest disaster to illustrate goals and goal setting gone badly and fatally wrong. In a more general and easy going passage he asks why shouldn't one be more like a frog on a lily pad. You sit for a while, enjoy the view, eat a few insects, get bored then move onto another lily pad. You don't set a goal to be on the biggest lily pad by the time you're 40 (in frog years).

Mindfulness in the present moment might well be incompatible with goals. It probably is. But if it is then it's the goals that are the problem not the present moment.

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