Public Domain
Emily Dickenson
Source: Public Domain

I recently discovered that for 2,500 years, philosophers, writers, humorists, scientists, and people of wisdom all over the world have been writing about mindfulness—just not using the word. Practicing mindfulness holds the promise for us to find peace and well-being because, when we’re fully engaged in the present moment, we’re not lost in feeling remorse (or nostalgia) for the past and we’re not fretting or anxious about the future.

These quotations on mindfulness come from unexpected voices—they’re not from Buddhist teachers or from those who are part of the modern-day mindfulness movement. I offer them to inspire you to practice living in the present moment. In my experience, each moment that we’re fully present for our life as it is, as opposed to how we want it to be, is a moment of peace—even if it’s a moment of pain or sorrow.

Not Dwelling on the Past

Don't let yesterday use up too much of today. —Cherokee Indian Proverb

I tell you the past is a bucket of ashes. —American poet, Carl Sandburg (1878-1967), from "Prairie," Complete Poems

When one door closes another door opens; but we so often look so long and so regretfully upon the closed door, that we do not see the ones which open for us. — British scientist and inventor, Alexander Graham Bell (1847-1922)

It's but little good you'll do a-watering the last year's crops. —British novelist, George Eliot, aka Mary Anne Evans (1819-1880), from Adam Bede

In the carriages of the past you can't go anywhere. —Russian and Soviet author, Maxim Gorky (1868-1936)

Living the past is a dull and lonely business; looking back strains the neck muscles, causing you to bump into people not going your way. —American novelist and playwright, Edna Ferber (1885-1968)


Waste not fresh tears over old griefs. —Tragedian of ancient Greek, Euripides (circa 480-406 BCE), from Alexander

We seem to be going through a period of nostalgia, and everyone seems to think yesterday was better than today. If you're hung up on nostalgia, pretend today is yesterday and just go out and have one hell of a time. —American humorist, Art Buchwald (1925-2007)

Old times never come back and I suppose it's just as well. What comes back is a new morning every day in the year, and that's better. —American literary critic and poet, George E. Woodberry (1855-1930)

Not Anticipating the Future

If you wait for tomorrow, tomorrow comes. If you don't wait for tomorrow, tomorrow comes. —Senegalese Proverb

I never think of the future. It comes soon enough. —German and American physicist and pacifist, Albert Einstein (1879-1955)

The best thing about the future is that it comes only one day at a time. —American President, Abraham Lincoln (1809-1865)

God made the world round so we would never be able to see too far down the road. —Danish author, Isak Dinesen, aka Karen Blixen (1885-1962)

It is only possible to live happily-ever-after on a day-to-day basis. —American science fiction writer, Margaret Wander Bonnano (b. 1950)

Slight not what's near through aiming at what's far. —Euripides

I got the blues thinking of the future, so I left off and made some marmalade. It's amazing how it cheers one up to shred oranges and scrub the floor.—British novelist, poet, and playwright, D.H. Lawrence (1885-1930)

Living in the Present

With the past, I have nothing to do; nor with the future. I live now. —American essayist and poet, Ralph Waldo Emerson (1803-1882)

Seize from every moment its unique novelty, and do not prepare your joys. —French author, André Gide (1869-1951) from Nourritures Terrestres

Rejoice in the things that are present; all else is beyond thee. —French essayist, Michel de Montaigne (1533-1592)

Finish each day and be done with it. You have done what you could; some blunders and absurdities have crept in; forget them as soon as you can. Tomorrow is a new day; you shall begin it serenely and with too high a spirit to be encumbered with your old nonsense. —Ralph Waldo Emerson

Nothing ever gets anywhere. The earth keeps turning round and gets nowhere. The moment is the only thing that counts. —French novelist, poet, and playwright, Jean Cocteau (1889-1963) from Professional Secrets

Nothing is worth more than this day. —German writer and poet, Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (1749-1832)

Concentrate all your thoughts on the task at hand. The sun’s rays do not burn until brought into focus. —Alexander Graham Bell

The living moment is everything. —D.H. Lawrence

Let us not look back in anger, nor forward in fear, but around in awareness. —American author, cartoonist, and humorist, James Thurber (1894-1961)

Children have neither past nor future; they enjoy the present, which very few of us do. —French essayist, Jean de la Bruyere (1645-1696)

The past is a ghost, the future a dream. All we ever have is now. —American actor and humorist, Bill Cosby (b. 1937)

Life is all memory, except for the one present moment that goes by you so quickly you hardly catch it going. —American writer and playwright, Tennessee Williams (1911-1983)

Why not just live in the moment, especially if it has a good beat? —American actress and director, Goldie Hawn (b. 1945)

And my personal favorite:

Forever is composed of nows. —American poet, Emily Dickinson (1830-1886)

And there you have it: 30 quotations from 2,500 years ago…to the present moment!

Note: The second section of my book, How to Wake Up: A Buddhist-Inspired Guide to Navigating Joy and Sorrow is devoted entirely to mindfulness.

© 2012 Toni Bernhard.Thank you for reading my work. I'm the author of three books:

How to Live Well with Chronic Pain and Illness: A Mindful Guide (Fall 2015)

How to Wake Up: A Buddhist-Inspired Guide to Navigating Joy and Sorrow (2013)

How to Be Sick: A Buddhist-Inspired Guide for the Chronically Ill and their Caregivers (2010) 

Visit www.tonibernhard.com for more information.

Using the envelope icon, you can email this piece to others. I'm active on FacebookPinterest, and Twitter.

You might also like, “6 Benefits of Practicing Mindfulness Outside of Meditation.”

Recent Posts in Turning Straw Into Gold

How to Mindfully Turn an Unpleasant Experience Around

Using mindfulness, you can turn an unpleasant experience into a pleasant one.

4 Tips for Dealing with Unsolicited Health Advice

Handling unsolicited health advice with grace is a challenge.

Which Buddhist Teachings Might Be Most Helpful?

A personal take on how to decide what’s valuable in Buddhism

Denial Only Makes Chronic Pain and Illness Worse

Pretending you’re not sick or in pain adds an additional layer of suffering.

Give Your Mind a Rest: Practice Not-Thinking

Mindfully quieting your discursive thinking is restful, calming, and restorative

14 Tips from 14 Years Sick

Making the best of 14 years of chronic pain and illness