When we’re in this robotic state, we’re not mindfully aware of what’s going on. We may know on some level that we’re in fear, but we probably don’t realize that we have the option not to be afraid. We fantasize without any discernment of whether what we’re thinking about is making us happy or unhappy. In fact, a lot of the time when we are letting our unexamined, automatic thoughts dominate our minds, we are not making ourselves or anyone else happy – usually its the opposite.
Being in the moment is another way of saying that we are aware of what is. When we aren't in the moment, we're re-living the past or tripping into the future. We might be dwelling on the past – brooding about some past hurt. Or we may be fantasizing about a future were we have won the lottery and are living in some imaginary paradise, or daydreaming about being in the perfect career. Often these fantasized pasts and futures are not even real possibilities but simply fantasies of how things might be or of how we would have liked them to be. As with all unmindful activity, we have no idea this fantasizing is pointless. All it does is reinforce unhelpful emotions that can never truly enhance our lives.
There are ways of mindfully thinking about the past or future. Being in the moment does not mean that we are stuck in the moment. We can mindfully and creatively call to mind past events, or imagine what might happen in the future. We can think about the past and think about how we might have acted differently, or wonder why something happened the way it did. We can think about possible futures, and of how the actions that we commit now will make those futures more or less likely. When we are thinking about the past or future while being in the moment, we are conscious that we are reflecting and we’re not lost in thought. We don’t confuse fantasy with reality. We don’t stray from thinking about the past in order to construct imaginary pasts in which we said or did the right thing. We think about the future, but rather than it being idle daydreaming we’re thinking about the consequences of our actions or maybe thinking about where we want to go in life.
Sometimes mindful daydreaming can be creative. It can be wonderful to relax the reins of consciousness and give the creative unconscious mind the opportunity to express itself. But it’s generally far more useful to have a part of our conscious mind standing by, watching for any sign that the unconscious creative expressions turning into repetitive and reactive expressions of old and unhelpful emotional patterns. The conscious mind can intervene at such moments with a light touch, a gentle redirection of our thoughts so that we stay in the present and be aware, mindful, and creative.