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The Trap of Psychological Time

Psychological time is the preoccupation you have with the past and future which interferes with your availability to be here now, where life is actually happening.

How to get the most out of these Wisdom Quotes:

  1. Put aside everything you think you already know.

  2. Open your mind and heart to receive something new.

  3. Take your time going through each point.

  4. Return to any points that particularly touch you.

  5. In the coming days, listen carefully to the wisdom within you.

*All quotes by Eckhart Tolle, The Power of Now

1. See the Illusion of Time

Eckhart Tolle quote

“You haven't yet grasped the essence of what I am saying because you are trying to understand it mentally. The mind cannot understand this. Only you can. Please just listen.

Have you ever experienced, done, thought, or felt anything outside the Now? Do you think you ever will? Is it possible for anything to happen or be outside the Now?

The answer is obvious, is it not? Nothing ever happened in the past, it happened in the Now. Nothing will ever happen in the future; it will happen in the Now.

What you think of as the past is a memory trace, stored in the mind, of a former Now. When you remember the past, you reactivate a memory trace - and you do so now.

The future is an imagined Now, a projection of the mind. When the future comes, it comes as the Now. When you think about the future, you do it now.

Past and future obviously have no reality of their own.

Just as the moon has no light of its own, but can only reflect the light of the sun, so are past and future only pale reflections of the light, power, and reality of the eternal present. Their reality is "borrowed" from the Now.

The essence of what I am saying here cannot be understood by the mind. The moment you grasp it, there is a shift in consciousness from mind to Being, from time to presence. Suddenly, everything feels alive, radiates energy, emanates Being.”


"The mind cannot understand this. Only you can."

  1. We have come to believe that what we call the past and future are real entities existing on a timeline. However, they have no reality outside of the present moment. They are simply thoughts about what has happened (memories) and thoughts about what may happen (imagination).

  2. "Nothing ever happened in the past, it happened in the Now. Nothing will ever happen in the future; it will happen in the Now." Consider the logic and wisdom of these words.

  3. Remember them.

2. Clock Time and Psychological Time

Eckhart Tolle quote

"Learn to use time in the practical aspects of your life - we may call this "clock time" - but immediately return to present-moment awareness when those practicalities have been dealt with. In this way, there will be no buildup of "psychological time," which is identification with the past and continuous compulsive projection into the future.

Clock time is not just making an appointment or planning a trip. It includes learning from the past so that we don't repeat the same mistakes over and over. Setting goals and working toward them.

But even here, within the sphere of practical living, where we cannot do without reference to past and future, the present moment remains the essential factor: Any lesson from the past becomes relevant and is applied now. And planning as well as working toward achieving a particular goal is done now.

The enlightened person's main focus of attention is always the Now, but they are still peripherally aware of time. In other words, they continue to use clock time but are free of psychological time.

Be alert as you practice this so that you do not unwittingly transform clock time into psychological time."


Understanding the difference between clock time and psychological time empowers you to honor life's journey without missing out on life itself in the present moment.

  1. Psychological time is the preoccupation you have with the past and future which interferes with your availability to be here now, where life is actually happening. When you play conversations you had over and over in your head, or you stress about what will happen with your work situation or relationships, you become trapped in psychological time.

  2. Clock time, on the other hand, allows you to function effectively in the world by making appointments, learning from the past, setting goals, and planning for the future, all without getting caught up in these things.

  3. Notice when you tend to dwell on things that have happened or worry about what may happen. Recognize this as psychological time and return to honoring the present moment.

3. Notice When You Create Psychological Time

Eckhart Tolle quote

"If you made a mistake in the past and learn from it now, you are using clock time. On the other hand, if you dwell on it mentally, and self-criticism, remorse, or guilt come up, then you are making the mistake into "me" and "mine": You make it part of your sense of self, and it has become psychological time, which is always linked to a false sense of identity.

Nonforgiveness necessarily implies a heavy burden of psychological time.

If you set yourself a goal and work toward it, you are using clock time. You are aware of where you want to go, but you honor and give your fullest attention to the step that you are taking at this moment.

If you then become excessively focused on the goal, perhaps because you are seeking happiness, fulfillment, or a more complete sense of self in it, the Now is no longer honored. It becomes reduced to a mere stepping stone to the future, with no intrinsic value.

Clock time then turns into psychological time. Your life's journey is no longer an adventure, just an obsessive need to arrive, to attain, to "make it."

You no longer see or smell the flowers by the wayside either, nor are you aware of the beauty and the miracle of life that unfolds all around you when you are present in the Now."


This quote is packed with insights that can transform your daily experience of life. So let's unpack it...

  1. Start by rereading the first paragraph. This will empower you to notice what's happening when you're dwelling on the past. Every time "self-criticism, remorse, or guilt come up," you're creating psychological time and reinforcing your false sense of self (your ego).

  2. "You are aware of where you want to go, but you honor and give your fullest attention to the step that you are taking at this moment." This is the healthy way to approach goals. Notice when you "become excessively focused" on your goal and lose yourself in the promise of a better future. Notice that, when that happens, you're creating more psychological time.

  3. As you become aware of your tendency to create psychological time throughout the day, you will spontaneously stop doing it so much. When you catch yourself dwelling on the past and future, remind yourself: "I'm creating psychological time," and come back to the awareness "of the beauty and the miracle of life that unfolds all around you when you are present in the Now."

4. Shift the Focus of Your Life to Now

Eckhart Tolle quote

"Why does the mind habitually deny or resist the Now? Because it cannot function and remain in control without time, which is past and future, so it perceives the timeless Now as threatening. Time and mind are in fact inseparable.

If you no longer want to create pain for yourself and others, if you no longer want to add to the residue of past pain that still lives on in you, then don't create any more time, or at least no more than is necessary to deal with the practical aspects of your life.

How to stop creating time? Realize deeply that the present moment is all you ever have. Make the Now the primary focus of your life.

Whereas before you dwelt in time and paid brief visits to the Now, have your dwelling place in the Now and pay brief visits to past and future when required to deal with the practical aspects of your life situation.

Always say "yes" to the present moment.

What can be more futile, more insane, than to create inner resistance to something that already is? What can be more insane than to oppose life itself, which is now and always now?

Surrender to what is. Say "yes" to life - and see how life starts working for you rather than against you."


Now that you understand what psychological time is, you want to stop constantly creating it. But how can you do that when your thought-filled mind has been running the show for so long?

  1. Firstly, don't feel discouraged or compare yourself with anyone else. That's not helpful. And don't pay attention to any concepts or beliefs about it being difficult to live in the Now.

  2. Eckhart tells us to "realize deeply that the present moment is all you ever have," and to "make the Now the primary focus of your life." So how do we do that? You simply notice when you're thinking yourself out of the present moment. At any moment, ask yourself, "Where am I?" Have you been lost in thoughts about the past or the future?

  3. Reread the first paragraph. Here we have the perfect explanation about why we find it challenging to be fully present. The mind feels threatened by the Now "because it cannot function and remain in control without time, which is past and future." So pacify your mind, and reassure it that it's going to be okay and it doesn't need to freak out. Let it know you're just going to be present for a little while, and see if it calms down enough to let you do that.

5. Become the Silent Watcher

Eckhart Tolle quote

"So break the old pattern of present-moment denial and present-moment resistance. Make it your practice to withdraw attention from past and future whenever they are not needed. Step out of the time dimension as much as possible in everyday life.

If you find it hard to enter the Now directly, start by observing the habitual tendency of your mind to want to escape the Now. You will observe that the future is usually imagined as either better or worse than the present.

If the imagined future is better, it gives you hope or pleasurable anticipation. If it is worse, it creates anxiety. Both are illusory. Through self-observation, more presence comes into your life automatically.

The moment you realize you are not present, you are present.

Whenever you are able to observe your mind, you are no longer trapped in it. Another factor has come in, something that is not of the mind: the witnessing presence.

Be present as the watcher of your mind - of your thoughts and emotions as well as your reactions in various situations. Be at least as interested in your reactions as in the situation or the person that causes you to react.

Notice also how often your attention is in the past or future. Don't judge or analyze what you observe. Watch the thought, feel the emotion, observe the reaction. Don't make a personal problem out of them.

You will then feel something more powerful than any of those things that you observe: the still, observing presence itself behind the content of your mind, the Silent Watcher.”


Are you noticing “the habitual tendency of your mind to want to escape the Now?” If so, celebrate! You're breaking the old pattern of constantly denying and resisting the present moment.

  1. Your whole life can now become a process of paying attention to how you respond to life's unfolding. Take your place in the seat of awareness and practice being the silent watcher.

  2. This is the only "work" you need to do to free yourself from the trap of psychological time. It's important to see clearly that this has nothing to do with trying to be positive, trying to change your thoughts, or trying to stop yourself from thinking. All these efforts are forced and usually result in failure and frustration.

  3. You're probably tired of hearing me say this, but just notice. Noticing is a very underrated activity. Actually, it's not even an activity. It's what you ultimately are - the Awareness that spontaneously notices.

6. Problems Exist Only in Psychological Time

Eckhart Tolle quote

"It feels as if a heavy burden has been lifted. A sense of lightness. I feel clear ... but my problems are still there waiting for me, aren't they? They haven't been solved. Am I not just temporarily evading them?"


If you found yourself in paradise, it wouldn't be long before your mind would say "yes, but ..."

Ultimately, this is not about solving your problems. It's about realizing that there are no problems. Only situations - to be dealt with now, or to be left alone and accepted as part of the "isness" of the present moment until they change or can be dealt with.

Problems are mind-made and need time to survive. They cannot survive in the actuality of the Now.

Focus your attention on the Now and tell me what problem you have at this moment."


How refreshing today's quote is, beautifully wrapping up our week of seeing the trap of psychological time.

  1. As a transformative coach, I have had the honor of leading people into presence, watching the anxiety melt away on their faces as they found their true home - freedom from the story of the mind and all its complexities. In those moments, they found an incredible, deep rest that defied all their life circumstances and perceived problems.

  2. This state of mind occurs when you awaken from the realm of psychological time. It's as though you've been watching the story of your life (in which you star) and then you turn away from the screen of projection to discover the peace and tranquility of the room you're sitting in - from complicated drama to simple reality.

  3. "Ultimately, this is not about solving your problems. It's about realizing that there are no problems." Notice how the mind wants to reject this statement and argue with it. "Yes but, what about those people who are in abusive relationships or homeless, etc?" Even those who find themselves in difficult circumstances can be spared unnecessary suffering by coming back to this moment. Being present doesn't mean you're thinking about the events that are currently happening. It's a shift that leaves the busy, opinionated mind behind, chattering away to itself, while the real you emerges as the true, present awareness, right now, in this pure moment, without any added commentary. The subtitles to your life simply fade into insignificance. And the beauty of it is, it's never further away than your next breath.


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