Emotionally intensive events that we experience as part of our lives, by their nature, are neither good nor bad. Our experience is colored by our interpretation of these events, and every emotion that we experience is a direct response to a thought (the way we think about them) and not to the events. Do you remember Forrest Gump movie? Forrest was born with very low IQ which nearly prevented him from being accepted into a public school. Through his life, Forrest faced a variety of setbacks and misfortunes, but he maintained a compassionate and forward-looking attitude.
How did he do it?
He didn’t give the meaning to the events or he looked at them from a positive side: “My momma always said, ‘Life was like a box of chocolates. You never know what you’re gonna get.’”
Most of us would say that he was stupid, but the question is whether a smart ass would be able to survive emotionally everything that happened to Forrest. Although Forrest is a fictional character I am sure that you had a chance to meet people who are able to face life’s difficulties much easier than others. These people have a unique skill not to label negative life events, but to put them in a positive frame.
Re-framing negative experiences or avoiding any labeling and sticking to the facts are two ways to keep emotional calmness in difficult times.
These strategies can be applied both for the past and future events. Basically, if the reality is defined by sensory-based experiences than anything but the present moment doesn’t exist. Our past and our future are equally real. They exist only as our memories and our projections.
Why is projecting future important?
One reason is really obvious… goals. As Cheshire Cat, Lewis Carroll’s fictional cat from “Alice in Wonderland”, says: “If you don’t know where you’re going, any road will get you there.” Goals give us life’s directions; they help us to connect with our purpose.
The other reason is, in my opinion, even more important. Projecting future helps us create a balance with our past and better experience present moment. Without future images, we have an imbalance in our (internal) experience. Our bank of memories becomes richer and richer as life goes on and we get older there are less and less things we see in front of us. Even if you believe in Heaven, I am quite sure that you are not looking forward getting there. That’s why, as we get old, we talk more and more about our past, and at one point some people start to live only in the past. No matter how positive past experiences were, focusing on “good old times” usually brings negative tension.
It’s not so common, but I had a chance to meet people who behave completely opposite; people who live mostly in the future.
I have a dream, and when I fulfill it I start dreaming another one… an another one…
This approach usually brings positive tension. No matter what kind of results we get, full focus on the future rarely brings peace… and when it does it lasts for a short time.
Good balance between accepting the past and keeping the focus on the future can help us to experience peace in the present moment. Actually, the present moment is all we have, and we can just be in it. Activities like prayer, meditation, yoga… can help us experience it fully and completely. But unless we make a healthy balance between the inner experience of our past and projection of our future it will be very difficult to progress in the desired direction. Some people tend to stay in “zen-mode” for a long time, basically, until unexpected life stream takes them to the unknown shores. The question is if this strategy is really useful in the modern world. Just 30 years ago life was much slower than today, and this strategy was more convenient to apply.
Whatever strategy you choose, the most important thing is to maintain your happiness, which is completely subjective category. What works for others might not work for you and vise-versa.