Wednesday, August 10, 2011

The Future

“I used to think about the future and then it became the present, so I thought about it quite often then and then it was in the past, so I didn’t think about it that much.”

Father Ted

One of the things that has frequently tripped me up over the years is the notion of future. It’s easy to get lost in it and for concerns and insecurities about the future to overwhelm us, causing untold stress and turmoil. In fact, when it comes to mindstuff, the ‘future’ can be like a gaping black hole, ravenous, all-consuming and virtually impossible to escape.

The ego loves its security and in a world where security is ultimately an illusion (after all, anything at any moment could compromise your sense of security), that can be something of a problem. The future is the great unknown and that is something that utterly terrifies the ego!

To minimise this sense of unease we adopt all kinds of strategies for trying to control circumstances and outcomes as much as possible. Again, going back to what I wrote previously about control, that can only work to a limited extent. We can pursue the things that we think will bring us fortune and security and we may even succeed; but even when we do, it’s rarely enough to dispel our fears and insecurity. This is because our insecurity is a structural component of the ego.

In a sense, our insecurity over the future is a legitimate concern, because we really don’t know what the future holds. Bad things can and frequently do happen. I think it’s likely our fear of the future/unknown is a survival mechanism that’s developed to protect us from potential harm by always keeping us on our toes. Yet in our modern world, where our immediate physical survival isn’t usually an issue, this survival mechanism has become a stress mechanism.

In this media-dominated information age, it’s virtually impossible to escape the news and the news is rarely good. We don’t just leave it at that though. We take what’s happening and project it into an imagined future, playing out all kinds of horrific scenarios in our minds. Sometimes it’s necessary to project ahead in this way as it allows us to make prudent choices that avert unnecessary catastrophe. If I’m walking along a train track and a train appears in the distance, it’s prudent that I project into the future and realise that if I don’t step aside, I’ll get squished.

There are times when this is a useful practise and times when it becomes highly dysfunctional. For we tend to get lost in our imaginings, creating entire alternate realities in our minds. We forget that it’s just fantasy and actually believe that what we’re imagining is real. I believe it’s this tendency that creates much of our anxiety and fear over the future.

Two things have helped me to deal with this. The first is the recognition that the future is actually an illusion of the mind; and so, for that matter, is the past. The only thing that actually exists is the present moment and that present moment NEVER ENDS. In spite of this concept we have of past, present and future, there’s never an instance where the present becomes the past, or becomes the future. It’s a continuing, unbroken, unfragmented whole.

The present moment just IS -- and it always will be. Of course the CONTENT of the present moment is always changing and it is from this that we’ve derived the notions of ‘past’ and ‘future’. But past and future don’t actually exist. However hard you were to look, you could never actually find them because the only place they exist is in the mind; the past as memories and the future as imagination, expectation or anticipation.

What a terrible mess we get ourselves in over something that exists nowhere other than our own minds! However long we wait, the future will never arrive. All we have is this moment, this timeless, eternal moment, the form of which is continuously shifting and changing.

The second thing that’s helped me deal with this structural insecurity is the recognition that I’m not what I think I am. Along with the concept of time, another core human assumption is that we are our bodies. I’m not going to go too deeply into this for now and I’ll assume that if you’re reading this you’ve already got some sense that what you are is something more than just a bag of bones, tissues and liquids.

But even when, on a conceptual level, we know that we are something deeper than the surface-level appearance, it takes a while for us to fully embody and integrate that realisation. In other words, we usually still act and react as though we are just our bodies. And because we know that ultimately our body is going to die, we have a fundamental insecurity that underlies every second of our existence, whether we’re aware of it or not. I’d even go so far as to say that the root of our fear of the future is fear of the termination of the body.

But when the realisation that we are something far transcendent of form takes root not just in our head, but in our heart and our gut, this underlying existential insecurity begins to loosen its grip. When we truly know with the entirety of our being that we are eternal and deathless, then we cease to fear the inevitable dissolution of our form. Our bodies change throughout the course of our lives and the content of our minds and psyche changes from moment to moment. But this timeless awareness that we are remains unchanged.

If you’ve ever explored and moved into this primal awareness, you’ll notice that it at its core is a deep and expansive acceptance. It doesn’t hold life to ransom and it doesn’t have demands or like and dislikes or even goals and directives. It just allows life to be as it is. It remains open, untouched and untouchable.

Knowing what we are and questioning the content of our minds lead us to a deeper and infinitely more secure state of being. Life still happens around us and at times it’s distressing and grim, but when we’ve removed some of our investment of ‘selfhood’ from what is ultimately transient and insubstantial, we experience far greater freedom than ever before.

The need to desperately control the future lessens. We come to see the primary importance of living well in the present moment. We can surrender to a greater intelligence, of which we are an inextricable part, and allow that intelligence to guide us rather than our fears and doubts.

When we surrender to the flow of life, we come to see that that no matter what the ‘future’ (or, rather, the forthcoming configuration of the eternal present) holds, we will be fine. That which we are is ultimately untouchable. Whether our future contains fortune or misfortune, we will be fine. We will always be fine.

When we’ve let go of our insecurities, our attachments and our desperate need to control life, we’ve let go of the very obstructions that make life difficult in the first place. And when we do encounter life’s inevitable challenges, we deal with them with greater ease and grace, always returning to our innate sense of balance and wellbeing.

I believe that when we’re in this Tao-centred state of being, connected with the flow of life and the truth of what we are, then life is often kinder and gentler. Moreover, our state of being has a positive effect on those around us and the world at large.

So why worry about the future when we can instead move our attention inward and allow life to guide us? We can flow gently and smoothly with the current of life and be led exactly where we need to be.

Maybe life really CAN be that simple? Even if I’m wrong, what a way to live!

Friday, August 05, 2011


I’ve been using the Sedona Method technique of emotional releasing for a while now and I’ve found it immensely helpful. It’s the simplest, easiest way I’ve yet come across for releasing negative emotions. What’s especially interesting is that whenever you feel bad, you are urged to trace the emotion back to one of four underlying WANTS: wanting control, wanting approval, wanting security or wanting to be separate.

I’ve found it amazing that just about every negative emotion can be traced to a basic sense of wanting control. It seems to me that at a core, fundamental level, human beings (or more specifically, human egos) are control-freaks. However subtly or overtly this manifests itself, we’re in the business of wanting control just about everything, just about all the time.

I suppose from the moment we’re born we learn that to get our needs met we have to try to control our environment and those around us. When we’re hungry or uncomfortable or have a poopy nappy, we don’t hesitate to make our discomfort known - and the louder the better. This in itself is a basic means of control, because we quickly learn that crying gets us what we need. The art of control is thus learned at a very young age and as we grow up, it continues to develop in an infinite number of ways. Life, and other people, are seen as things that we have to control in order to get our needs met and in order to be happy.

It’s not until we stop and think about it that we realise the countless ways in which we try to control our environment, our lives and other people. Sometimes the ways in which we desire to control things are quite obvious, whereas other times they are so subtle as to be imperceptible. But, make no mistake, it’s going on all the time!

From the moment we wake up in the morning (which is normally controlled with the aid of our alarm clock), we enter each situation in our daily lives with an agenda. We want to do and achieve certain things and we want situations, meetings and transactions to go a certain way, so we invest a great deal of effort to ensure that’s what happens. We want people to treat us a certain way, so we spend inordinate amounts of time and energy trying to control them and influence how they respond to us.

If we look closely enough, we can see how we try to control virtually aspect of our lives: from our bodies, health, appearance, diet and sleep patterns to our activities, jobs and careers and our relationships, social standing and the opinions of other people. What is the average human life, if not an exercise in extreme control-freakery?

Now I suppose you could argue that it’s necessary to try to control such things, otherwise our lives would spiral out of control and implode in a catastrophe of chaos and disorder. That’s the way the ego sees it and that’s how it justifies its pathological need to try and micro-manage the universe.

But I’ve come to see that control is ultimately an illusion.

It’s a fiction the mind gets hooked into, a mode of functioning that underlies every nuance of its operating software. It fails to see that its perpetual attempts to control are akin to a hamster running in a wheel. No matter how much energy and effort it invests in trying to control every aspect of life, it’s not going to get you that far.

Because just how much can we actually control in life? Honestly?

I’d argue that ultimately there’s very little we really have control over. As valiantly as we might try, we can’t control other people - at least not completely, and not all the time. Aside from ensuring we give it the proper fuel, rest and exercise it needs, we don’t control our bodies; our bodies do what they do and they’re inevitably going to get grow old and die. We don’t have much, if any, control over our environment and culture, or the circumstances in which we find ourselves.

And here’s the thing: the more we try to control anything, the more we suffer.

We suffer when we don’t get what we want. And we often suffer just as much when we do get what we want. Perhaps this is because we’ve created so much tension and resistance in ourselves that we’re unable to relax enough to enjoy the fruits of our labours. In any case, the mind is rarely satisfied with what it’s got and is immediately ready to fixate on its next object of conquest. It’s a vicious cycle. The more we control, the more we’re dissatisfied and the more we suffer.

Yet letting go of control is a truly heinous notion to most people. The thought of being out of control is unthinkable and is tantamount to a kind of death (and it is a kind of death in a way; death of the ego!). Yet if we take an honest look at the ways in which we try to control life, the ultimate futility of our efforts, and the way it causes us pain, we might find the courage to adopt a totally radical and quite revolutionary approach: letting go of our control over life.

What I’ve discovered is that the moment I let go of wanting to control anything, I feel free and at peace. I believe letting go of the need to control is one of the greatest keys to freedom and peace of mind. Paradoxically, when I know that I’m not in control of life, I feel at one with life and things just seem to flow; no stress, no worry, no resistance!

Whenever I feel bad, or whenever things have become sticky and messy, it’s usually attributable to trying to impose control on things. This has happened with my physical health. The more I’ve tried to improve my health, the more determined I’ve been to get better and the more regimented I’ve been with my diet, supplements, and so forth, the worse I’ve actually become. I can only assume it’s because the more we struggle with things, the more tension and resistance we create within us. This tends to close us down, cutting us off from the innate flow of life, whereas when we relinquish the need to control, it releases tension and promotes lightness, ease and flow.

I invite everyone to experiment with letting go of their need to control life. If something’s been causing you pain or suffering, it’s a sure sign that instead of trying to exert more control over the situation, you need to do the opposite and practise letting go. It’s so simple yet miraculous in the way it shifts our energy and reconnects us with our innate sense of wellbeing and flow. At the very least, whether the situation changes or not, you’ll experience a deep sense of relief, release and inner peace. But don’t take my word for it - try it for yourself!

When we let go of our attempts to control life, life takes over: and life can do things infinitely better than our precious little egos ever could. It’s as though a deeper intelligence springs into action and gets things back into balance again. When we’re no longer creating obstructions (and our obstructions almost always originate in the mind), things naturally settle themselves and come into harmony. This can be seen in nature. As long as there are no obstructions, a lake remains placid and still, for that is its nature. Our attempts to control creates waves in the water, shattering the calm and stirring up all kinds of muck and debris. Pretty soon the water is choppy and muddy, as a result of our desperation to impose our will. Just letting go is enough to allow the water to naturally balance and settle itself. There’s nothing we need to do. Why not let go of control as much as you possibly can and allow life to flow? You might be amazed at the results.

“Let go of your hold on life and allow life to simply flow around and through you.” John C Parkin

Ahhhhhh. The sense of relief is amazing!