Why it can be good to live in the future:
Traditionaly the emphasis in meditation is to focus on the present. We all live far too much in the future and the past at the expense of the now. As a result often when people get a terminal disease there is this idea thrown around that you should live each moment in the present. Just live for now and let the future take care of itself. I believe this can be a mistake and to explain why I will tell a brief story that I have not told many people.
When I got cancer I was secretly glad. This emotion was so secret I didn’t even really see it myself. I caught glimpses of it over the first few weeks of my diagnosis. When I was in hospital, even though the news I was getting was very stressful I was somehow more relaxed and less panicked than I had been just a few weeks before. It became even more pronounced after I moved down to Melbourne for treatment. Nobody would believe me when I said that I was having an amazing time. I was going out for nice meals. I was catching up with friends. And although I was getting pumped full of noxious chemicals every two weeks I was still loving life. I was stress free for the first time in a very log time. Looking back on it now I can see why. I didn’t have to try to work out what I was going to do with my life. Before I had become sick I had been so stressed about this decision that my body had come up with a way for me to put off this decision. And secretly I loved it.
Now this is all well and good. In fact, as an academic exercise it is quite interesting. But what does one do when one relapses, is told that they are terminal, and embarks on a journey of self-discovery and hopefully healing. Deep down I knew that my mental attitude was not helping. Towards the end of my treatment I started seeing a psychologist because I was becoming so stressed about the future again that my stress levels were perhaps even topping those of before I got sick. I had always believed our mental states played a big part in our health and if I had got sick when I was this stressed before how could I avoid a relapse when I was so stressed again.
But in the end, although I did manage to get my stress under control I never confronted the core of the problem. I never felt like I had a goal in life. A path that I wanted to follow. A future that I could be excited about. And this problem persisted, causing varying degrees of stress until about two months ago.
So here we get to the point of the story; Positive future visualisation.
I can not express how much this has helped me. The story above paints a fairly good picture of my previous mental attitude toward the future. Since I started positive future visualisation I am more confident, I am happier and most importantly an underlying subconscious stress has been alleviated. Before no matter how much I told myself that once I was well I could work out my life path, that I could work out what to do for money, the stress still existed, slowly chipping away at my confidence and belief. Now, although there is no guarantee that I will get to the future, I am excited to try.
So what was the secret for me. Well actually it is so painfully simple that it almost seems redundant mentioning it. However, since it played such a big part in improving my mental state here are the main details.
- Determine what is important for you in a career. Contact with people? working in a group? being able to be your own boss etc. Then come up with a career that fits those goals as best you can. It does not have to be perfect, it just has to be good. Then take this career and put yourself in it in a favorable position. See yourself in 10 years when you have reached a stage when you are enjoying the aspects that you were attracted to. Enjoy the situation you put yourself in.
- Map out a vague path of how to get there. This does not have to be planned to the nth degree, however it has to be planned enough so that your subconscious know that it is truly possible.
- Imagine other aspects of your future. Social activities you will be able to enjoy again once you are well. For me this is being able to return to sports such as climbing and soccer.
- Imagine your ideal house and family. Perhaps invoke a pleasant scene. For me Sunday breakfast is a good one. Or climbing with my son/daughter.
- Imagine how the world will be better off with you in it. As many will know I have become a huge hippy when it comes to ethical treatment of animals and environmental conservation. As a result one of the things I have spent a lot of time thinking about is how the world will be better should I survive. Humans are doing such a large amount of damage to the environmental and being so needlessly cruel to many of the animals that we count as friends that one more human in the world is not necessarily a good thing. So I have spent a lot of time imagining how my survival will result in a better world than my death. This may not be as big for others but it was big for me.
- Imagine your death. For me this is of old age, surrounded by a family that I am proud of, who are doing great things in the world.
So that is it. I don’t know if that will be as helpful for anyone else as it has been for me but I put it out into the universe and leave it up to you to decide. One thing that must be emphasised is that this is not an encouragement to live life in the future at the expense of the present. These visualisations are merely tools to change the way you live within the present. A way to excite you about the possibility of living. A way to allow you to stop worrying about what it is your going to do with your life and start enjoying living your life now. So if you think it will help, spend 15 minutes a day imagining a positive future. Then return to the present and go about the tasks you need to achieve with a slightly lighter heart. Although the future you imagine might not be the one you get, you have a direction, a purpose and a life, and nobody can take that away from you.
I feel like I’m using this word too often, but this is amazing. Not only is it an incredibly brave and honest post but, for me, reading your thoughts about what to think about in/for a positive future was like being calmed and soothed. Thank you for helping us other anxious bees out here find a way to work through the stressful thoughts!
Thanks Hannah. Its nice to know that something I write is helpful. I mean I would have written it anyway but if others get benefit then that is great 🙂 Catch up soon.