"the illusion of when"

The Illusion of When
by Sarah Militz-Frielink

“The people in the West are always getting ready to live.” This Chinese proverb describes our dependence on the illusion of when. We often think about when as a soothing comfort out of the present moment. We ruminate in when thoughts to deal with our vulnerability to the changes in life. We might think that when we take a vacation, then will we will relax, or when we retire, then we can travel around the world. We also might dwell on whens about our government (my personal favorite): when we elect a new president, then our country’s problems will disappear. We focus on getting ready for some future moment and lose the present one. The illusion of when has stumped the human race for centuries, particularly those who live in the West.

This illusion is one I have wrestled with my entire life. Although I know the truth about this illusion, I still struggle with it. My childhood was full of when thoughts. These thoughts consumed me as I allowed them to rule my life. When I finish college… When I publish this…When I get married…When I have children…The truth is after I accomplished all the whens I never felt satisfied. The same empty feeling engulfed me because I just focused on the next when.

The illusion of when manifests from the most simplistic everyday thoughts such as “when I get out of this traffic jam,” to the more superficial thoughts such as “when I buy a new pair of shoes.” All these whens just take us out of the present moment and into the land of avoidance. Do we notice the songs the birds sing or experience the beauty of nature when we hide in this illusion? Do we listen to our family while we brood in our thoughts of when? No! We are not really living. We must live in the now and dissolve the illusion of when.

How can we dissolve the illusion of when? We must stop living in our thoughts and connect with our body and our spirit within. Yoga is one way to help us connect deeply to our body, our spirit and the present. My yin yoga teacher Linda often shares these wise words after a pose, “Just feel what you feel without judgment or attachment.”

We must also learn the act of surrender. Instead of dwelling on when an uncomfortable situation will end, such as a traffic jam, we must let go of our deliberations. We must try to live as the observer without an opinion about our situation. We must also let go of our attachment to the desired outcome—such as a new president or a dream vacation. Then we are free to go within, in the stillness of our divine self.

Even in the midst of a chaos, we have our five senses. If we focus on each breath in and out, we can stay in the present. If we focus on the gentle caress of the wind, the feelings and sensations of our everyday routines, we can center ourselves. Most importantly, we must remember to stay conscious of our breath. Each conscious breath ends our mind chatter and our constant thoughts about when. Each conscious moment allows us to take in the beauty of the present. In these moments, we are awake.

I have made an intentional effort to live in the present for the past four years—-ever since I found Eckhart Tolle’s inspirational book, The Power of Now. Living in the present is a challenge at times. Most moments I wrestle with when. I still trick myself into believing the illusion of when. However, there are beautiful moments I stay present and experience joyous laughter with my children or the splendor of a sunset. There are times I stay present and feel every sensation while I wash the dishes. There are traffic jams I surrender to and stay in the present. These are the precious moments of the now; the only thing I am. The only thing we are. We are the now. Our mind is not us. It is merely a tool. Our true self transcends all thoughts and welcomes every moment without judgment. Let us live in the now and embrace our true self within—-free from the illusion of when. Let us begin this, now.


Sarah is my yoga student and she wrote this for the local new-age magazine The Monthly Aspectarian. Unfortunately their website has not been updated since 2005, but you may find some articles of interest to you.

If you like Sarah’s style, contact her at sarah(at)leavingdark.com if you need a writer. Getting paid would be a good thing, too!


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