One of the most common problems I see with people is what I might call “struggle without context.” It’s the tendency to become absolutely consumed with challenges which feel meaningless, when our present day problems seem to be preventing us from living the lives that we believe that we deserve to be living. This existential pain feeds on itself until an emotional reaction of some sort ensues, providing what feels like temporary relief, but which is, in fact, only a release valve for feelings which creates more problems than it solves. Every attempt to deal with challenges in this manner ends futilely.
I attribute this anxiety-producing struggle partly to living backwards. Most people experience the present moment as a byproduct of their past experiences, including all the stories and judgments that they have told themselves over the years about who they think they are and how they either fit in or don’t fit into the world. Most of what our minds associate as the “self” is actually a complicated and often paradoxical mishmash of unconscious thinking created from our half-assed attempts to make sense out of the world from the time we were born. But what if we have it backwards? What if we are not actually who we think we are based on our past creating the conditions of the present moment? What if we are actually our future selves, yet to be created, pulling us in the direction of greater self-realization?
This puts an entirely different spin on the nature of reality, because, while we have no control over what has happened in the past, we do have the ability to consciously shape our futures.
Let me use a personal experience to illustrate what I am referring to. A few years ago I had to undergo several surgeries and spend two months in hospitals and an additional two months bedridden at home. This was not the first time I’d had an experience like this. I have been bedridden for over three years of my life, two of which were in hospitals. Without going into unnecessary detail, suffice it to say that I was not only physically, but emotionally, challenged. I was married and I was in the process of creating a business which was just getting off the ground. This was going to put an enormous amount of pressure not only on me, but also on my wife. The situation was devastating. The first thing that happened was I began to be haunted by all the insecurities I had thought were behind me about how my entire life might be destined for failure. I acknowledged the fact that this might destroy both my marriage and my career. I felt stupid and weak, like this was something that I should’ve been able to avoid.
After this initial stage of remorse and self-pity, it became clear that I needed to step up my game in practicing what I preach about the power of intention. Our lives are shaped by intention. So what kind of intention would have me going through this personal hell? I realized that this was not something that could be explained to me by God, but something that I actually had the power to decide for myself. I turned my attention towards the three main areas of my life, namely, my personal health, my relationship with my wife and my career. I made myself commit to the intention to use this challenge to improve all three areas of my life. In essence, I imagined where I wanted to be in the future and let everything that was happening in the present moment be framed as an opportunity for growth in that direction.
While being hospitalized is not typically associated with building a career, I made it so. I decided that this was going to be continuing education for Zen Warrior Training. I coached nurses and other patients while I was hospitalized, honing my skills at supporting people in challenging situations while going through my own challenges. I set a clear structure with my wife, Meghan, about how she could and couldn’t support me. For instance, I told her that she was only to visit me in the hospital if she did so completely on her own volition without feeling some kind of pressure to do so when she didn’t have the time or energy to be present and supportive. And I committed to taking even better care of myself through nutrition and exercise, which was going to be essential for making me healthier in the future. I let my intentions for the future create the context for everything that I was going through, and the more powerfully my mind was committed to that direction, the less I suffered and the more I learned. These intentions created structures that were necessary for me to get to where I am today.
When I was finally given the doctor’s approval to sit in my wheelchair and go out again after four months of bedrest, the first thing I did was go to lunch with a couple friends. They remarked on how unbelievably healthy, vibrant and present I was after going through such an intense ordeal. Without minimizing the challenge, I pointed out that it was now all in the past, and my reality was not being created by my past, but by my future self.
If I had not chosen to choose how I wished to perceive the circumstances of my life by intentionally framing them in a positive context for the future, things would’ve turned out quite differently. The suffering that I would’ve gone through would likely have set me back months or even years.
I suggest we all take a look at whether we are living backwards.