Discover more from Love Letters by Laura Leigh Bean
On the trap of future-oriented thinking
Thinking myself forward.
One of my eternal challenges (“growth opportunities”?) is in staying present.
I believe I’ve always been a future-oriented thinker, which generally speaking, has served me well. My ability to envision and get excited about what’s to come can lift me up and out of tough situations in the present, and help me avoid getting stuck thinking about challenging or negative things that happened in the past.
When my parents told me they were getting divorced when I was 10, I was of course sad. But I also distinctly remember—the same day—trying to cheer everyone up by dragging out the newspaper, looking at for sale ads for houses, and drawing floorpans of what my future room could look like.
I fully credit last year’s move with getting me through Covid quarantines and lockdowns with my sanity in tact. Making to do lists, searching for houses, packing, looking for new furniture, researching schools—who has time to worry about airborne particles?
At the moment, I’m reading two different books about dog training and saving monthly schedules for puppy house-training for Project Puppy.
Fortunately for me and my squirrel brain, this particular time in my life with young children and a career to build is a veritable oyster of opportunities to plan, dream, and research. Where will we live next? Should we have more children? Where should I focus my business? Where should we go on our next family trip vacation?
There’s also the added benefit of almost never thinking about the past: I don’t dwell in feelings of guilt, shame, or sadness for what’s come and gone. This has been particularly helpful in the last five or six years, which I’ve just realized lately have been a pretty intense period of my life. I’ve lost loved ones, navigated changing family dynamics, and have basically come out an entirely different person than I was circa 2015. I don’t mourn what is gone—I simply do not allow myself the time.
In good company: motherhood and future-oriented thinking.
I would guess that I am far from alone in my future-oriented mentality, especially in the company of fellow mothers. With children, there is always, always, something—usually many things—to be done. Tackling that eternal list can become a badge of honor, for me, and focusing on the to do list and managing the schedule is a full time job.
Optimism vs avoidance
But thanks to a more consistent meditation practice and spiritual study over the past few years, I’m starting to realize that for me, these tendencies are actually not the result of an eternally optimistic and hopeful disposition—but that often, I am actually driven by fear.
Anxiety and worry are my go-to emotions when I’m not at my best, and I like to greet these intruders head on, with a firm plan. Crime is up in Chicago? Let’s move. The public schools are a mess? I’ve got four school tours scheduled within a week.
Forward, forward, always forward.
There are plenty of positives in living this way. Generally speaking, I am grateful for my figure-it-out abilities because I get a lot done.
But I’ve started to realize that my constant, future-oriented planning is actually driving three unintended consequences:
Pushing down worry, anxiety, and negative past occurrences without exploring or healing what’s really behind those feelings
Setting me up for disappointment when my extensive planning inevitably does not match reality
Stealing from the present moment
Future-oriented thinking to avoid processing and healing from our past
On point #1—there is basically zero chance that I’m really escaping processing the inevitable challenges of life. No one does. It’s going to show up one way or another.
My freak injury that resulted in a torn ACL and meniscus comes to mind here. My injury story? I reached for my cat. That was it. Nearly a year later, I have no doubt that was God loudly telling to me to take a seat. To sit, literally, for about 6 weeks, and be with myself and my thoughts. Pretty much a nightmare, and without question the psychological battle was far more challenging than the physical rehabilitation.
My worry and anxiety about things that could happen are easier for me to deal with than what has happened. Future-oriented fear I can address with a Google Doc and a vision board. The fear that I feel processing what’s already gone down? Well, there’s only one way through that. And that’s… through it. Not over it, under it, around it, but squarely through it.
When the best laid plans fail.
For all of my planning and dreaming, I realize that I cannot actually control my own future or that of my loved ones. Despite best intentions. This reality can lend itself to some emotional blowback.
A classic example of this that all mothers will relate to: sleep training. I was ready for those babies—during pregnancy, I read all of the books, did the courses, had the velcro swaddles and the sound machine and even construction paper blackout blinds for our floor to ceiling windows in our old condo. For my first baby, it kinda worked. The second baby slept like an absolute champ. (Thankfully, in that order. Had it been the reverse and the first baby were the champion sleeper, I would have been ridiculously smug.) While imperfect—my boys, as babies, slept. And so did we.
But you know what happened after that? It all went to complete hell when they were toddlers, started rearing their very large Leo personalities and decided they had their own opinions about when and where they would be sleeping.
And guys, I had to really let some ego go after all of that work that I did right, gosh darnit! (I’m in the process of it right now with the second one, in fact.) I had made the plan, followed the plan, the plan had worked—until it didn’t. It’s hard not to be resentful of my willful boys who should, as far as I can see it, be sleeping quietly and willingly in their own beds for 12 hours a night until they’re out of this house.
I’m beginning to see that this is pretty much the whole ride of parenthood, and the lesson that we are all meant to take from it: let go of your expectations and your ego, and don’t you dare write that plan in permanent ink. I see now that I’m likely to be revising as I go, on repeat.
The gift of this very moment.
Boy, have I been missing out on right now. My guru-who-doesn’t-know-I-exist, Isaiah of the Downdog Meditation app that I use daily, gave me the biggest gift the other day. Basically, he said: when you are stuck in negative emotions, focus on being grateful for each breath. He suggested that in your head, you say, “I am thankful for this breath in. I am thankful for this breath out.” Rinse and repeat. I’ve been employing this tactic the last few days and have realized: I AM thankful for each breath. And I should have been, all along. (But let’s not dive into regret here, friends. I am grateful for this breath in, I am grateful for this breath out.)
All spiritual teachers, for basically all of time, have said the same thing: right now is all you’ve got, really. The past is history and the future is uncertain. And in the words of a great, contemporary spiritual teacher, Mr. Kanye West, my presence is a present, kiss my ass.
By focusing on the incredible gift of each breath in, then each breath out, I’m able to carry that feeling of gratitude to the rest of the world around me. I’m thankful for my healthy, crazy boys and the beautiful home and community that we live in. I’m thankful for my husband, eternally supportive and the calm, steady presence to balance the rest of our crazy around here. I’m thankful that my work allows me time to be with my boys right now. I’m thankful for quiet summer morning walks and the leaves on the trees.
Slowly, I will find the courage to process past occurrences so I can move on for real, not just on to the next thing. And I will keep trying to stay focused on the present, both for the fun of it and because it’s the only real thing I’ve got.
And because I know myself—and truly, I don’t want to change this— I will always keep dreaming and planning, I hope until the day that I die. But I also hope that as I learn better, I can do better, and I can recognize my dreams and plans as what they are: hopes for the future. And hopes are great, but right now is even better—and it’s a sure thing.