Take the Teeth out of the Future
Be here now. Live in the Now.
These truisms have circulated for centuries, and authors Ram Dass and Eckhart Tolle, elaborating eloquently on these approaches to life have helped us spiritually, as well as in modern pop-psychology and practical living.
I often carry on conversations with the shower head in my bathroom when I bathe. The act of cleaning is a time for a few minutes of reflection: another kind of cleaning. Today was no exception.
As warm water cascaded onto my body, I heard, "If you want to lay claim to future moments, you must be present to the current."
The focus of the thought was upon the nature of the future. I want to act in respect of my gifts and future is one of them. There's always a future. Just as sayings like, "Be present to the moment," are truths, the future is a truism—a fact that is forever. We are eternal beings. There's always the next moment. That's what I believe. So future is not something I want to shy away from. But I'd like to have a better relationship with it.
Nearly every day I have to reassess my circumstances in light of the present and the future. How I behave with Meena today, how I manage her care, what I expose her to today, will affect her in the future. Every day I'm faced with thinking about how I will interact with a member of my family or a friend. It seems all day long I have opportunities to check in with my heart, to stay close to it, so I have more chance of connecting with another's.
How we live in the present affects, even directs, the future—ours and other's.
Because "futurizing" is so deadly to mental health, we're wise to avoid it. My mother is fond of telling me not to "futurize" because the tendency creates anxiety. Well, that's an understatement. Eighteen years ago I developed a full-blown panic disorder that took seven years to bring under control.
What are we going to do about the future?
Ignore it? Are we prepared for it? Do we need to be? How do we approach the future in a way that doesn't rob us of sanity?
I have this off-again-on-again love affair with the future.
For me, the rub about the future is not that it exists, but I don't know anything about it. None whatsoever. Sometimes not knowing really pisses me off; sometimes I live with the reality dispassionately; sometimes I can barely stand not knowing and I lie awake at night or my stomach twists as I cook a meal.
The little saying that came to me as I showered this morning didn't pop into my head out of nowhere, though it felt like that because the words and meaning behind them were so clear and loud. The clarity was an inner knowing that surfaced in response to weeks of wrestling with the Future: what I want out of it, my struggle toward claiming it, trying to muster patience for what may not be, and what I was going to do with the conglomerate of my thoughts about Future.
An email from a friend in Goa, India, clarified a layer of my thinking.
Don't you find this? When you're wrestling with, or contemplating, a subject, gradually pieces of an answer assemble. Sometimes slowly, sometimes with enervating speed, oftentimes with a synchronicity that leaves me convinced that life is intelligent.
While thinking during the in-between-moments of a hectic week, a picture began emerging (it's appeared before) in the back of my mind. The future, the next moment, only presents a problem when I want to exert my will on it. This is always the case.
Inevitably, Future throws its own ink onto the drawing of my future I have desperately hoisted up. I guess I think that creating a vision of the future is all that is required from me to create my future. Or perhaps more accurately, I just want to draw the picture; I don't want to act in a way that manifests the picture—I don't want to work so hard. And worse, my pictures are never multi-dimensional and able to take in the variety and importance of interconnectedness with all life.
But day after day, unknowingly—or more accurately—unconsciously, I repeatedly construct my dream picture: events, relationships, body, career, environment. Actually, more than drawing pictures, I write and direct full-color, full-length movies to roll on the screen—become a reality—at the precise moment I say, "Go!"
I could just stop doing that. I really could.
When I lived in an ashram, my friends and I repeated a saying to each other when we were discussing some gnarly thing about our life. Usually we compared austerities we were undertaking in our meditation vows or other practices. "Just make up your mind," was shorthand for, "The only thing separating us from what we want is making up our mind." We had discovered that in facing whatever our enemy was, the most difficult aspect was just making a decision to enter the ring. It was harder to think about jumping into a cold shower than jumping under the cold water. So much agony is just a mental battle of conflicting voices. Life dishes out enough real suffering. We can choose to control the inner conflict.
This week, I was deciding on a yet deeper level than I have before, to let go of expectations. It's a lifelong process. But I see that each effort exerted to become a non-demanding member of life, to become an accepting participant, deepens my sense of freedom and happiness.
I can't deny, hide, or ignore the future, but I can define my relationship with it.
Back to Goa. My friend is at the warm coastal town in southern India to recuperate her health from the northern, cold climate of her home in Vrindavan, a holy place near Delhi. Having spent a lot of time in Vrindavan, I'm familiar with the freezing winters. The cold cuts to your bones even with several layers of clothes and space heaters on high. And she lives in a hut where putting a space heater on is nearly the equivalent of plugging it in and standing it up in wide open space.
Her email was a response to mine, in which I asked her what illness she had. She said her specific illness was "identifying with and giving significance to bumps on the road" of her life. She and I know it's only a bump if we don't like it or wanted something different—if we had expectations.
This morning's inner advice, "If you want to lay claim to future moments, you must be present to the current" does more than ground me in the Now. It acknowledges both present and future—something I must have—and in so doing encourages me in a practical relationship with both.
I can't draw the future to me by writing and directing my home-made movie of it. The future comes in response to what I do. What I do depends on what I think. Whether I see events and relationships as a blessing or a curse depends on my perspective. Perspective is a gift of self reflection and action.
I draw the future to me by my acts and thoughts right now.
Little acts control the big, unknown future. In fact, everything falls into perfect place when I focus on the little acts in my life with conscious awareness, while aligning with the nature of my spiritual Self: to love and be loved.
"Be here now" is not only an awareness, not just a mental adjustment of perception, but is consciousness and action. That is devotional love.
What is the state of my heart as I talk on the phone, write, sweep the floor, cuddle Meena, drive the car, fold the laundry, answer an email, hold Nog's hand, or send another Query letter to an agent who will probably never answer or will reject my offer?
When I set aside my ideas of the future, and focus on my heart and what is directly in front of me, I'm peaceful. I'm small and I accept that. It's quite liberating to be small. To be a child. To face our tininess and know this truism of our nature. More than liberating, acting from a clear perception of our smallness is empowering. It frees us to be simple and do what we can: choose. Choose the only thing we really have choice to make: between love and hate or varying shades in between. I want to go with sublime love. That's starts with choosing to act in little ways of goodness, in little ways of loving.
Then the future we really want manifests.
To our future, with love,