Life’s Elusiveness and Finding Your Future In The Here And Now
To see your future, you must immerse yourself in daily actions. Your future will eventually show up. Only your actions can mold and reveal it to you. We typically try to predict our future by piecing together fragmented memories, hopes, and fears. These fragments are elusive, incomplete, and keep us from seeing the full landscape before us. This essay is about Hannah’s quest to find her future, and how finding it in the here and now can help all of us mold our lives.
The couch in my office looked like it engulfed Hannah that day. She seemed smaller and frailer than actual, as if shrinking. She said that she was recently thinking about her mortality. She has been recovering from a stroke that buckled her life, and she feels anxious about her future:
“I have been thinking about my death one day and whether all of this will amount to anything. After my stroke, my husband left me, I can’t work yet, and I physically hobble like an old woman. I want to see my future but I can’t form the images in my head.”
Hannah’s struggled to imagine her future reminded me of Tobias Fike’s contemporary art below of a woman in fragmented images. Our mind has a natural ability to align images and fill in white space to imagine a unified picture. Fike provides just enough visually to cause the viewer to imagine a third dimension and form a unified whole. That is what Hannah was trying to do about her future, but could not.
Like viewing Fike’s fragmented woman, we mentally try to align partial images of our past and future to interpret and predict our lives. Most people want one simple truth to define life because piecing together fragmented memories and hopes are too elusive. We are eventually disappointed by our search for a single truth because life is subtle as expressed by philosopher Emil Cioran :
“Men’s minds need a simple truth, an answer which delivers them from their questions, a gospel, a tomb. The moments of refinement conceal a death-principle: nothing is more fragile than subtlety.”
Fragments That Distort Who We are
Before our cortex grew more advanced, our prehistoric ancestors were primarily digestive thinkers. They were consumed with finding food and water for survival. Then, their brain’s cortex grew larger than other mammals. This gave humans surplus mental power beyond their gut.
Our preoccupation with the search for food was no longer enough. Our advanced brain needed other things to satisfy its robust capacity to think. We developed more advanced mental abilities to reflect on the past and predict the future. These capacities were critical for our migration across continents, survival, evolution, and creation of cultures.
However, we see only part of our true selves based on random memories never fully unified. They are like unstitched pieces of cloth for a quilt partly completed. We also imagine our future based on fragmented images of our hopes and fears, and never quite see with vivid clarity. Our ability to imagine and re-imagine the past and future can cause us to distort our self-perception— who we are.
Only Now Creates The Future
Predicting the future is vital for us to be safe and prosperous, and especially important for Hannah after her stroke. She could not imagine her future because she couldn’t put pieces of her life together, a life of with trauma, to create a unified picture. This resulted in her feeling more anxious, as if standing on a cliff’s edge surrounding by a heavy fog. She was rebuilding her life after a stroke and needed to see the other side, or future, of her journey in order to stay motivated and feel safe, but she could not.
Hannah needed to immerse herself more thoroughly in immediate actions of daily life. She realized that the present moment enables her to manipulate concrete pieces of life to eventually create her future. Immersion in small, daily behaviors will help her feel in control, and reduce anxiety. She needed to build her future moment-by-moment, not in her head filled with imaginary, distorted, and elusive images.
At the end of our session, Hannah said:
“I am going to go home and replace my ex-husband’s art he selected when we were married with framed pictures of my brothers and sisters. I am going to start redecorating my basement to create an office for myself. I am going to get a dog. A big dog. My future will eventually show up.”
“Bravo Hannah”, I said.
Your Future Eventually Shows Up
Our daily behaviors, loves, and creations accumulate to form our real future. A warm, inspiring example of this accumulation is the short film memoir (featured below) by Gemma Green-Hope of her beloved grandmother called Gan-Gan.
Green-Hope got the idea for her film after Gan-Gan passed away, and she asked herself “How do you make sense of all the other things that someone leaves behind, the things nobody sees, boxes full of photographs, and bits of string?”
This touching film illustrates how her grandmother created her future through imaginative moments each day. The same can be true for you.
Your future doesn’t reside in your head. It is not in the fragmented images of your hopes and fears. Your future rests in the actions you take in the moment to mold your life. Immerse yourself in action and your future will eventually show up.
After watching the film, ask yourself: “How can I immerse myself in immediate actions of daily life to tailor my future, inch-by-inch, stitch-by-stitch until the quilt is complete?”