In 1985 I joined the eager followers of Marty McFly as he got lost in 1955 and tried to find his way Back to the Future. I remember waiting in breathless anticipation for the sequels, and laughing when movie critics struggled to keep track of the time travel paradoxes. But, my favourite part of this amazingly fun series of movies (apart from Michael J. Fox – love him!) was seeing how small, seemingly insignificant actions in the past had massive consequences in the future.
REAL TIME TRAVEL
While physical time travel is still a long way off, human beings have been using their complex mental processing to traverse time for millennia. Right now, scientists are projecting themselves into the future as they create models for the spread of COVID-19. And they have returned to past health crises to gather information that informs their projections. On a daily basis we instinctively take in data about our environment and make predictions that guide our responses.
Which is why the idea of “living only in the moment” can be problematic (this post explores the problem in more detail). In my last post, I suggested that ignoring the past harms us in the present. In the same way, refusing to engage the future hurts how we live in the now.
When we ignore tomorrow:
We cannot predict the consequences of our actions;
We miss important information that could guide our current choices;
We are blind to the trajectory our current decisions set us on;
We lose the bigger picture which enables us to accurately assess the value of different options.
THE GIFT OF SEEING THE FUTURE
Engaging with the future has its own temptations. Being aware of the dangers that could lie ahead enables us to prepare and protect ourselves. But too much focus on potential disaster can paralyse us with anxiety. Imagining positive futures can be highly motivating. But too much focus on potential benefits can make us reckless and blind to possible threats.
This is why learning to work well with the future is such an important spiritual practice. All spiritual paths include visions of the future to inspire us with hope and energise our prayer in tough times. To resist injustice we need to be able to imagine the just society we work for. When we mindfully imagine the future, we become wiser and more intentional in our living.
BRINGING THE FUTURE INTO THE PRESENT
Healthy imagining of the future requires some basic skills. Here’s how to start developing them:
Learn to read the “signs of the times.” It’s a powerful thing to be able to identify the forces at work in our world and how they affect our lives. For example, some future-aware scientists have been predicting a pandemic for years. If only they’d been heard.
Seek trustworthy news sources and analysts for data. Avoid fringe purveyors of fake news. Use these guidelines from FactCheck.org to identify most fake news and conspiracy theories.
Know yourself. Let your past teach you about your decision making, values, and probable future trajectory. Your past is not destiny, and the future is not certainty, but self-awareness can help us set our course with greater confidence.
Try to be intentional even in small daily actions and decisions. Going with the flow is easier, but it doesn’t allow you to shape your own future.
Stay awake and be aware that things change and adjustments need to be made. A consistent spiritual practice can be invaluable in navigating life’s uncertainties.
WHERE ARE YOU GOING?
How have you worked with imagining the future in your own life and spirituality? What specific practices would you recommend for being more mindful of the future? How has future-sight made your present life more meaningful?
Please share your insights, thoughts, and questions in the comments below, and let’s learn together.
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