Why Does the Future Make Us Suffer?

The future defines the inspiration that gives meaning to personal daily life. It is unlikely that something new can happen in the life of a person without an inspiration that holds it.

I work listening to the landscape that people describe (individually or collectively) to find transformation possibilities in their living conditions. Following the paths of these narratives, I understood that suffering related to the oppression or the burden of the present is due to the emotional weight of the words that define the space where we live. Words are tied to the body through emotions. The body holds the narratives that describe the present, revive the past and project the future. Following this diagnosis, I spent almost a decade investigating the interrelation between symptoms, suffering, and inertia. I analyzed dysfunctional and self-destructive conditions of life, from private groups to large organizations. The pattern that I found was that people were trapped in symptomatic conditions of life when they lose the future, the sense of inspiration that gives meaning to their daily lives.

How we create our conditions of suffering

Mammals need to set their territory to frame their movements. They delimit their space by chemical secretion. These territorial boundaries guide their actions (for example, by defending or protecting themselves). People also define their territory chemically; however, in their case, this reaction is related to emotions. All mammals need to frame their territory to define their actions, but human being had an evolutionary leap. For mammals, the limits of their territory depend on what their senses capture. In contrast, for people, the perception of context is related to the personal interpretation of the situations, the perception of the context that sets the boundaries of the territory.

We develop our own territories through narratives, which give sense and meaning to the facts. We live in an explained world that transforms the line of the time (past, present, and future) in an emotional space. In this intimate landscape, the present becomes a story, the past is recreated in a set of experiences, and the future is expressed in an inspiration.

The significant difference between people and other mammals is that people explain the events they address. For that reason, each person lives inside a story about the facts.

What a person faces daily are the explanations of the situations in which he or she participates.

Thoughts create what we feel. These stories transform an ephemeral emotion (a brain state) into an enduring mood (a mental state). Therefore, the boundaries of the personal territory depend on two aspects: the quality of the emotional connection with the facts and the characteristics of the explanations about these facts.

People are creators of meaning, set the boundaries or their territory with definitions about what they feel and what they see. Framed in these prejudices, they assume that this perception of reality is what happens. Facing the multiplication of volatile situations, the anxiety generated by uncertainty becomes a cycle that feeds of confusing and ambiguous ideas which enhance the feeling of uncertainty and create more tension. As a result, unknown situations become a feared context.

Why is the past still present?

We do not suffer for the past; we suffer because we need the presence of the past to make sense to the present due to the absence of meaning of the present. We do not suffer from the symptoms; we suffer from the inertia of our life. We suffer because of the impossibility of something new in our lives. In this sense, the symptom is only a signal that expresses the impossibility of the transformation; it is an ally of inertia. Although it sounds paradoxical: in fact, it is, suffering is the way we find to deal with inertia.

In the absence of the future, the past orders a present. However, the past is not the culprit of personal destiny. Helplessness, oppression, or suffering are not due to time; personal experiences cause them. This precariousness can have different manifestations: people lose the inspiration of their lives (due to desperation or bewilderment); what inspired them ceases to make sense (they live in a dull and superficial stability), or people cannot sustain their inspiration (they shut themselves up in resignation and resentment).

Suffering is not solved over time; it is resolved by transforming the inertial conditions of the landscape where you live.

Understanding the past, even accepting our history compassionately, does not necessarily generate or guarantee new conditions of life. Understanding our past is necessary to move towards the future, but this understanding does not define what our future is. Think about the verbs that guide you toward the past; they are not the same as those that will lead you into the future. Towards the past you can: know, accept, forgive, understand, heal, dismiss, relieve, among others. Towards the future, you could: create, dream, project, design, start, inspire, among others.

Understanding our history helps us make sense of our present. However, if we want to change the inertia of our lives, we must venture to a new horizon. Our present is conditioned by past experiences, but it is limited by future inspiration. To transform the present, the new must illuminate the past.

Psychologist, Ph.D. in Communication and Master in Neuroscience. Author and postgraduate professor. Emotion researcher www.marcelomanucci.com

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