What I am about to say may shock you, but other than those times when you are looking forward with joyful anticipation to an upcoming event, practically all of the thoughts you entertain about the future are in fact rooted in fear. In particular, the desire to know what will occur, and the urge to make detailed plans to ensure one’s own security down the road, are both related to the ego’s need for safety as a result of its deeply held fear of death. You can deny the truth in this, arguing that it is only prudent that a person plan for the future. However, if you are able to look deep within yourself, you will realize that it is indeed an accurate observation concerning human nature. To varying degrees, every single one of us is apprehensive about the future (i.e., the unknown), and so we burn amazing amounts of energy trying to get a hold on something that quite simply is impossible to grasp. According to Fr. Anthony DeMello in “Awareness”:
“So why are you anxious? Can you, for all your anxieties, add a single moment to your life? Why bother about tomorrow? Is there a life after death? Why bother about tomorrow? Get into today. Someone once said, “Life is what happens to us while we’re busy making other plans.” That’s pathetic.”
These certainly are powerful words, and yet it is really tough to challenge DeMello’s observations. Think about it carefully for a moment or two. What possible benefit can be derived from feeling anxious about the future? The answer is none, unless of course you happen to enjoy experiencing the feeling of anxiety. Moreover, what is the payoff for spending a great deal of time planning one’s life in minute detail? Perhaps all of this preparation helps people to assuage their fear of the future to some extent, but it quite obviously prohibits them from truly enjoying their present moments.
In truth, detailed planning for the future is not nearly as important as learning to keep your powerful thought and feeling energy concentrated in the present. The key to having the future you want is to clearly set your intent today, and then make your best efforts to focus thoughts and feelings each day on what you do want rather than what you don’t want. This sounds like simple advice, yet most people are inclined to let their fears get the better of them, and subconsciously allocate more of their “currency of creation” (i.e., thoughts and feelings) toward concerns about not getting what they want.
Getting out of this trap is very challenging, because the ego’s desire for security is so strong that your mind tends to automatically gravitate toward ‘future-thought’. From my own experience, a key to freeing yourself from this tendency is to work towards becoming a conscious observer of your thoughts. This means cultivating the ability to step back and acknowledge your thoughts as they crop up, and then doing your best to give the minimum amount of energy to those that are based in fear. As with any skill we work to develop within ourselves, remember to be patient with yourself, and also keep in mind the old adage that “practice makes perfect.” One rather thought-provoking way to overcome our inclination toward ‘future-thought’ is described in this additional quotation from Fr. Anthony DeMello:
“Visit a graveyard. It’s an enormously purifying and beautiful experience. You look at this name and you say, “Gee, he lived so many years ago, two centuries ago; he must have had all the problems that I have, must have had lots of sleepless nights.” How crazy, we live for such a short time. An Italian poet said, “We live in a flash of light; evening comes, and it’s night forever.” It’s only a flash and we waste it. We waste it with our anxiety, our worries, our concerns, our burdens.”
The next time you find yourself concerned with the future, visualize yourself looking down at your own tombstone, lamenting about how much time you squandered worrying about what might happen someday. The question is, do you really want to experience such feelings of regret after you depart this earth? Of course you don’t!! So one thing you can do when you find yourself feeling fearful or anxious about the future is to recall that image of your own gravestone, and use it as a reminder to keep your thoughts focused in the present moment.
Taming one’s trepidation about the future ultimately requires that a person muster up the courage to face up to his or her fears. What you will find as you embark upon this course is that it is kind of like confronting the neighborhood bully when you were a kid, in that those fears are not nearly as intimidating as you thought they would be.
Before closing this article, I will share with you this insightful quotation from “The Quest, A Journey of Spiritual Rediscovery” by Richard and Mary-Alice Jafolla:
“What about the future? Can you believe that if you keep on thinking the same thoughts, saying the same words, doing the same things, going in the same direction, the future will be any different than now? To look to the future as a savior without changing the present is to think an orange tree can grow from an acorn.”
Each moment of your life you have the unique opportunity to plant new seeds of thought, seeds that have the potential to someday sprout into all that you desire. In light of this reality, do not waste time fretting about what may occur, rather make full use of all of your ‘now’ moments by choosing to consciously create your ideal future instead.