Monday, July 22, 2013

Something To Look Forward To

A long time ago, when I was an eager college student on the threshold of adult life, I took a class in basic psychology from (the now late) Dr. Kennedy at FSU. One of the lectures he gave that stuck with me the most was about Dr. Milton Erickson and the African Violet Lady. What I took from it was that everyone needs a purpose in life - something to make them feel a part of the big world. So many times I've thought about that lecture over the past 30 years. But, I think I have realized something new about it.

There is tremendous power in having something to look forward to.

It's not always good. When "something to look forward to" is bad for you, it can be called an addiction - cigarettes, alcohol, gambling, junk food; there are all manner of things in the world to look forward to that aren't particularly life enhancing.

I really don't know why it took so long for it to all make sense. It's something I've known deep down all along.

I have an elderly mother whom I look out for and help so she can be at least semi-independent for as long as possible. She used to travel cross country and camp in a tent. She used to climb mountains. She used to walk three miles fast every morning. Then she had a few health setbacks. I never expected her to give up and sit down in a chair in front of a television set. But, she did. It seemed to me, from what she said, that if she couldn't do all the things she had long ago decided were the only things to look forward to in (her) life, then there was very little left for her at all. She developed a tendency toward depression.

I started trying to get Mum out as much as possible. She won't travel out of town because she is afraid to be too far from her doctors. I am not bossy and overbearing enough to tell her we are just going and pack her things and make her go. And, she is also stubborn enough that it would be miserable to try. So I came up with things to do around town. I bought a wheelchair so we could go to parks and gardens. But that just wasn't enough. What she needed was something regular, something scheduled, something reliable that she could look forward to short term whether it rained or she had a head-cold or her digestive system was wacky-nu-nu. That's when I came up with Movie Night. Every Saturday I fix dinner and we watch a movie or an episode of something interesting and entertaining to her. I knew exactly why I originally started doing it - I mean the theoretical or even clinical type reason - other than because I love her. It was to give her something to look forward to. It works so effectively that she has trouble changing plans, even for something more interesting.

Consider where we come from as humans. Ancient people were looking forward all the time, and much of their focus was sequential and somewhat dependable - seasons, times for different foods to be available, length of days, warmth... Maybe they lived mostly in the present, but they counted on certain things and looked forward to them for their survival.

It seems that humans have been working from pre-history to create things to look forward to, like holidays, birthdays, and anniversaries. It's the reason we have hobbies and sports. It's the force behind every kind of ambition. It's even why my daughter serves coffee to mostly the same customers every day.

I also think this is why addictions are never really cured. A smoker looks forward to their next cigarette. A gambler looks forward to their next bet. An alcoholic looks forward to their next drink. When they give up the addiction, they give up something they looked forward to. And it's one more reason why chemical dependency is so insidious - it's the need for something to look forward to coupled with the physical inability to resist that particular thing.

But what about hoarding? That's an addiction, right? What is there to look forward to about a house filled with junk? Or, too many pets? It all makes sense if you've ever known a hoarder and listened to them talk about it. They always have a plan for the future. "I'm going to deal with this before I die." That's the hoarder's mantra. Something to look forward to, postponed.

So, now that I have convinced myself that needing something to look forward to is the reason for almost everything human, and maybe even convinced you to partially agree, what is to be done with this all-encompassing seed pearl of wisdom?

1. Use it to understand yourself and others.
2. Use it for building compassion.
3. Use it to help people.
4. Use it to help yourself.

My prayers and intentions now are for you to have wonderful, delightful, healthy, fulfilling things to look forward to. I wish for you that you can look at your life and see all the things that you look forward to for what they are, both good and bad. And when something you look forward to doesn't happen just right, I pray that you will quickly let it go and replace it with something else.

Of course, the best thing is always and forever to fully experience the present, if you can. Because looking forward to something might be what makes us feel that we have a reason, but experiencing what we have looked forward to in the present moment is what makes it all worthwhile.