“You cannot prevent what you cannot see coming. You can only do what you think is right at each moment as you live it. We can plan, hope, and dread the future. What we cannot do is know it.” – Qui-Gon Jinn
We spend a lot of time “time traveling”. We reflect on the past or project in to the Future playing out scenarios, ruminating or dreaming. Most of the time our minds are focused on getting to a destination in time, place or circumstance. Rather than living in the moment we focus our mind on plans and outcomes at some point in the future while not ruminating on the Past.
Unlike the past which cannot be altered or changed the future is not set. Every decision made every moment shifts the forward trajectory. We often marvel at the serendipity of events or their complete and utter chance and circumstance. The insignificant choices that you make, what you decide to do or say at any given moment can have an impact that carries on for years and decades. It can affect your life in innumerable ways and the lives of others too.
The daily decision to remain sober for example is a good example. I choose sobriety and in making that decision I influence the future. Not only my future but also those close to me and perhaps someone I have never met before. If I chose the opposite and took a drink I would set in motion a chain of events in consequence to that decision. I would likely get drunk, upset those close to me, fail in my duties and possibly, even, get in to a car and have an accident that cause the death or life time injury to another. All of these things can flow from the decisions I choose. I have partial control over the future and therefore I have an inherent responsibility in the outcomes.
Power over the Future
I partially disagree with Qui-Gon Jinn on the first note “you cannot prevent”. It is true that things will happen that are completely out of our control. For example, the economy can turn sour and mass unemployment can directly impact on us. The Government can change policies which affect our ability to pay for Health Care or Education. A freak accident can occur on our way to work. Some things are completely out of our control, some things aren’t. I can still take action now that prepares me for the unforeseen. I still have a degree of control over how I choose to respond.
We can prevent what we cannot see coming. We are not powerless in recovery or in life or anything. I may not have control over most things but I do have partial control over some things.
Where my own thoughts and conducts is concerned, I do have full control. I have control over my mind. In the event that I get drunk however I forfeit much of that control. Once I take a drink I lose my choices. I am no longer responsible or competent but tragically I still have an impact on the future.
One of the ways I deal with the “things I cannot change” is to practice the Stoic exercise of Premeditatio malorum* or negative visualization. Without slipping in to morbid contemplation I will visualize scenarios that “might occur”. For example I will entertain losing my job due to redundancy, getting in to arrears on my mortgage and losing my house. This of course leads to stress on my marriage which might culminate in separation and divorce. Rather than causing anxiety and panic for something that seems rather common today, I train myself mentally to accept the outcome in advance and continue to do my best in life. I accept that it will suck and it will hurt and cause a lot of hardship but I also know that I’ve been through worse and things will turn out OK.
The exercise also reminds me to be grateful for my job, car, house, marriage and life. All of these things being transient and impermanent. They are still important at least to me, however I have to be prepared for the worst.
In my line of work we are constantly doing risk assessments. “”What If” scenarios are used to factor in unforeseen outcomes and hidden hazards. We cannot premeditate every thing but we take the time to think things through, develop a plan and add flexibility to account for surprises. We plan to succeed but we also prepare for failure. This is something that any one can apply in to their lives. Being sober is accepting that life is not going to be “happily forever after” all the time.
The Power of Now
We have the power through our own choices to affect our own lives and the lives of others. Powerlessness suggests the opposite and being recovered, being sober is being empowered.
“ I am powerfully recovered” – Anne Wayman ”Powerfully Recovered”
The best we can do is to live moment to moment in accordance with our principles. It is true that we cannot not know the Future. I personally don’t believe that a crystal ball or the morning paper horoscope reveals anything credible. I don’t use that to plan my day.
“We can plan, hope and dread the future”, but perhaps it is better to focus on how we can make a better future through the choices that we make in the present. You can make goals and plans and dream of a better future but action happens in the now. Get to work and adjust your sails when you need to as the winds of fate will change. Embrace that.
“Do not dwell in the past, do not dream of the future, concentrate the mind on the present moment.” – Buddha
*Further information on Negative Visualization can be found here