Dreaming about the future is part of who we are. We are apparently the only species who has the ability to do this (that we know of). It gives us hope and expectation and for many, keeps the flame alive for a better lot than they have. However, looking to the future can also be irrational when we allow it to be. Letting our mind wander into darker places will affect the very place where we can make a real difference : the present.
These days, I don’t tend to look much at the future. I am at an age where there is more past than future to look at. It wasn’t always at way. As a younger man, I had great imagination of what life had in store for me with all the excitement, trepidation and fear that vision brought along with it. However, like most people who create an imagined future (let’s face it, there is no other kind), I allowed the trepidation and fear to dominate. This had the effect of making my then present fearful as well as I ruminated about things to come. Of course, this was all based on false evidence. Much as we try to convince ourselves we can see into the future and predict our fate, it is seemingly one ability that has until now, largely escaped the human race. It doesn’t stop us trying with all the panache of a psychic or crystal ball reader! For some reason, when we are having stress or issues in the present, our ability to see disaster and catastrophe in our future is finely honed.
I see this very often in my clients who lose the ability to think rationally about the future when their present is threatened. “It will be a disaster” “I won’t be able to do it” ” He/she will surely leave me”, they cry. When questioned and challenged with the notion that no-one can read the future or predict such events with absolute certainty, they agree. However, they fail to recognise that they have done just that. That is, predicted the worst scenario possible without a counter argument or sufficient evidence to back it up. Maybe it is part of our “fight or flight” mentality that we have to steel ourselves for preventative action or maybe it is a mindset but it can be damaging. I have seen clients raging and very traumatised over an imagined future. One such client comes to mind that I worked with many years ago. Living overseas, she had convinced herself that she would at some stage have tp return to her homeland to look after her sick parents. It affected everything she did, her views on work, relationships and herself were all distorted by this impending decision. The trouble was that her parents were in very good health and the only issue was what she would do “if” if ever happened. We can get very trapped in “what if” questioning that promotes rumination. Of course, what it does promote is anxiety and panic about what we think will happen. Anxiety is very often a symptom but the cause is usually another underlying belief or disorder which robs us of the ability to look rationally at the future and stay in the present. Of course, there are also those who find solace in an imagined future if their present is not as good as it could be in the form of escapism but is also extremely unhealthy.
The solution is to use the very thinking that instigated the situation in the first place. The bottom line is that we have very often thought our way into the dysfunction that conjures up such a clear future in our minds. Changing those irrational thoughts in the present will give us a much clearer idea of where we truly stand. The evidence we need is all around us to do this. We just cannot see it. Challenging damaging thought patterns, limiting rumination and finding ways to keep thinking conscious will always help and it becomes as automatic as catastrophic thinking in the end, as it must. It is hard work. It is much easier to listen to the voices in our head from the inner critic who will always deal in disaster scenarios but this statement from the teachings of the Buddha sums it up very nicely :
“The secret of health for both mind and body is not to mourn for the past, worry about the future, or anticipate troubles, but to live in the present moment wisely and earnestly.”