We have this powerful imagination and it’s mostly used for envisioning futures, and that allows us to plan, coordinate, cooperate. But when we believe our imagined scenarios to be reality we can suffer them too. I believe the great challenge of our species is to learn to manage this mental functioning, to be able to discriminate better what is real and what is imagined. Because it sounds simple and obvious but we really have trouble with it.
Often when we really start to look and inquire into the nature of our ‘problems’, almost invariably it’s not about what’s actually real in the moment, it’s that we’re relating to an imagined situation or a concept as if it were true now. When we discover that it’s not true, when we re-establish a direct relationship with the reality of the present moment, the ‘problem’ as such goes away.
Now the faculty of imagining futures is a human super-power and not something to be demonised or discarded. It’s eminently useful. But believing an imagined scenario to be true is like watching a movie and taking it to be real-life. We enjoy movies precisely because we believe them just enough to feel the drama, the excitement. We ‘suspend our disbelief’ and this gives us some room to explore imagined worlds.
But when we constantly weave narratives in our minds and imagine possibilities and invest them with our belief as if they were real or will become real, then we get into trouble. We have to be careful what we believe to be true, and just because some future vision in our own or our collective imagination seems likely, possible, or probable, it still doesn’t make it real.
The fact is we’re terrible at predicting the future even while we imagine so many variations of it. And we often get possessed by vivid visions that despite their plausibility are no less unreal and bear no resemblance to what is or what will actually come to be.
But we love our visions and our imagined futures. They orient us and give comfort because the alternative is not-knowing. In regard to the future, we truly and simply don’t know what will happen. Anyone who says they can predict what’s coming are lying or deluded. Our best extrapolations are based on pathetically limited data and modelling. But we get fixed on certainties because the alternative is terrifying to a mind that wants to ‘know’.
And then we collectively orient around ‘credible’ visions because the more people who are on-board, the more credible it seems and the more comfort that gives. I’m not suggesting we throw away our capacity to deal with possible future scenarios, but like forecasting weather, they’re extremely limited in their predictive power. So we need to be extremely cautious to what degree of CERTAINTY we attribute, and be mindful of our tendency to blind ourselves to reality in favour of comforting illusions, the illusion of certainty in this case.
Again we’re back to this essential issue that causes most of our trouble — that we have trouble distinguishing reality from imagination or conception. We believe things to be true that aren’t for all sorts of reasons. Often those reasons aren’t because we lack the capacity for discernment, it’s rather that we’re invested in some delusion because it serves a psychological or emotional purpose.
It’s a sad fact that our relationship to truth and reality suffers because there’s something we don’t want to face or admit, because somewhere in us we FEEL STRONGLY about something, and we don’t like that. We can’t handle strong feelings. So we’d rather avoid reality than face our feelings about it. It’s as simple as that, we’re scared. And if we’re not convinced then just go and prod some of our certainties and see how we react.
Political views, religious views, social views. How do we react to others who challenge them or have opposite views? Often it’s defensive, like we’re being attacked. Angry, which is often more defensiveness as anger is often unmet fear. So there’s fear at the bottom of it, no matter how we frame it to ourselves. And the more attachment and clinging we find, the more reactive defensiveness, the more anger — the more fear is underneath it all.
So what are we frightened of? Of losing something, of experiencing something?
Bottom line it’s the fear itself. We spend our lives avoiding it, denying it, we warp reality itself just to not face it, to not let it in.
Mastering fear is about humility rather than control. It’s about acceptance not denial. Fear is a response to the unknowable and uncontrollable nature of reality. But it’s also just a feeling. And to allow a feeling to direct our every action is to miss out on so much life.
The answer is to make friends with fear. When it comes we let it in, we let it be, and when it’s ready, we let it go. Like all feelings, even fear doesn’t last.
So we can practice — let it in, let it be, let it go. All in its own time. And notice any resistance as it appears, not trying to control anything. Let it be. This is how we can deal with all strong emotions and feelings. We practice this allowing and noticing. We might notice the inclination suppress or avoid, or to act out. We just notice.
In this noticing we find that we’re the vaster space of being in which the feelings come and go. We don’t have to push or pull, we just notice, and in noticing we’re bringing awareness to what’s here. And in bringing awareness we find that we ARE that open awareness that’s the space for all to come, to be, to go. Even resistance is part of that coming and going.
It’s like this we learn that fear and anger and sorrow come and go like weather in the vast open sky. So mastery of these strong and often afflicting feelings is the very opposite of control. And when they arise they cease to afflict us. Even if they’re turbulent and strong we know they can be allowed to be and they will pass away.
When we no longer need to avoid ourselves, when we no longer need certain feelings or emotions to be absent, then new possibilities open up for us in life. Places, people, situations, ideas, that we’d have denied and avoided open up to us. Life becomes a wholeness again, a continuum of possibilities that we’re free to experience.