The only thing that is truly real is the present moment.
Neither the past nor the future exist.
The past is a story we tell ourselves about what happened.
Even eyewitness histories and recordings are only inaccurate depictions of the events that transpired.
The future is a story we tell ourselves about what may happen.
Two people anticipating the same event will not share identical expectations, any more than they will share identical memories after the event is over.
The most eagerly awaited moment, as well as the most agonizingly dreaded, can and often will turn out quite differently from the story we have told ourselves.
There is little to be gained from being so nostalgic or so anticipatory that we forget that now is where actual experience is happening and where we can have an effect on what is to come.
In pointing this out, I am absolutely not suggesting that we should refuse to plan for the future; nor should we neglect to learn from the past.
It's clear that if our lives are a path along which we walk, the surface under our feet today is a direct result of how we prepared the ground yesterday - and what we do today dictates how rough or smooth the path will be tomorrow, as well as how bright or dismal the landscape through which we travel.
But we all know people who choose to live in the past.
Everything was better "back then.
"The sunshine was warmer, the birds sang more beautifully, friendships had more meaning.
And we all know people who live each moment in anticipation of what is to come - except that it never does.
The grass is always greener tomorrow; these people will only be happy when some future event comes to pass, only when the event finally arrives it fails to meet their expectations.
Instead, we can choose to learn the lessons available from the past - and not just lessons about things that might have been done better, but also lessons about what was done well, so that we can learn to apply those strengths in what we do today.
And we can choose to live today with care and with thought for how we are laying tomorrow's path, while staying in the present moment and being fully engaged in what we are doing.
Optimal experience is not achieved by longing for or regretting the stories we tell about the past; nor is it achieved by overlooking what is within our grasp when we reach for the stories we tell about the future.
Optimal experience is achieved by being fully present, by experiencing the flow of complete engagement in what we are doing right now.
The smiles of our children are different from day to day; we can only experience today's smile if we are ready to accept the gifts of the present moment.
Likewise, it is only in the present moment that we can respond to the tenderness in our partner's eyes or the need of a friend in difficulty.
How we experience those smiles, how we respond to the tenderness or the request for help, is part of what prepares the ground we will walk tomorrow.
As winter begins to think of spring, and the lengthening days encourage trees and other growing things from dormancy, so too I challenge you to think about how the actions you took today are making ready your avenue into tomorrow.
"Yesterday is ashes; tomorrow wood.
Only today does the fire burn brightly.
"Inuit proverb For more information about optimal experience and flow, read Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi's book Flow:The Psychology of Optimal Experience.