Too Much Concern for the Unknown Future
The extent of attention that one directs to the future or the present greatly affects one's spiritual well-being. There are some people who give an extraordinary importance to the future; as a result they miss the opportunity to benefit from the present. Even if no danger should threaten them presently, they are afraid that some unpleasant accident may befall them. They are overwhelmed by a fear, which is as strong as they would feel in the face of a real danger.
However, one must remember that the past has no influence on the present and the future too is unforeseeable. The future events that should make one worried and concerned are those which are definite. But it goes without saying that such events are few and rarely do events turn out according to one's forecasts. William John Reilly, a researcher belonging to the Carnegie Institute, writes: If you reflect you will see that amongst your friends, and even within your own family, those who have a positive way of thinking fascinate you more than the others. You like to be with them most of the time. Of course, there are also cynics amongst them who create trouble and headaches for you. Those who have a positive way of thinking are happier, livelier and more active. They get things done and make them work. They might make many mistakes, but then they have the perspicacity to acknowledge their mistakes and correct them. They have the determination to start all over again. They don't waste time worrying or getting upset over something that will never happen. In every twenty-four hours about more than twenty million meteorites enter the earth's atmosphere. But there is no reliable record of any person getting killed anywhere due to the falling of any of these meteors.
Mark Twain said, "I am an old man and I know many calamities and misfortunes. But most of them have never happened." Life is a continuous stream of problems, and these have to be confronted with a determination. Many of the problems that engage out mind, which we allow to upset us and spoil several hours of our life, and at times a whole day, are actually insignificant and of no consequence. The difficulty is that at the time we are not capable of noticing their insignificance. 3
And then whether these probable dangers really take place or not, the present anxiety has no result except diminishing one's physical and spiritual capacities. In different stages of life one may encounter events that block the way of success. These events are not exceptional and happen for every one. We cannot alter the eternal laws of nature and make things happen according to our wishes. That was in relation to external dangers. As to the dangers that threaten man from within, they are no less significant than the external ones and sometimes are of a more serious character. There is a destructive force in every individual that threatens his life. This danger that accumulates within man's being is the same as anxiety and anguish, and the person who carries it within him may be unconscious of its presence. Should the physical and mental energies that are consumed by fear and anxiety concerning imaginary dangers be spent in fruitful tasks, that can yield valuable and brilliant results. Everyone can recall the amount of precious time that he has spent musing about the ways of encountering possible accidents. Exceptions aside, one may say that the actual hardships and misfortunes that most persons face are quite insignificant in comparison to the imaginary calamities that torment them. Kronin writes: Make a list of the things that you consider the causes of your worries and anxieties. When these causes are down on the paper you will see that, in general, most of them are vague, indistinct and unimportant. Most of the time the balance sheet of our worries and cares appears as follows. Forty percent of them are such calamities as will never take place. Thirty percent of them relate to the past or the future sorrows, which not even the sympathies of the whole world can alter. Twelve percent of them consist of unfounded fear of loss of health. An eight percent may really be causes for worry and anxiety. A realistic examination will lead us further to drop some of these latter causes. Then, we will see that that which we usually fear most only happens rarely in actual reality. Many are the woes that trouble our hearts on account of melancholic self-pity. There is only one remedy for the disease of egoism. We should bring about such a change in our world that we cease regarding ourselves as its centre and axis. Rather, we should take others into account and realise the fact that our being is a part of the human society and that our life depends upon and is subject to the welfare and misfortune of the family, community, nation and group to which we belong. After these difficulties are finally analysed and no solution is found, to immerse oneself in sorrow and grief is a kind of faithlessness; for such a despair signifies the absence of faith in the need for God's help. No wisdom or philosophy, however sublime, can be of benefit to a man who locks himself in the prison of sorrow and grief. If we employ wisdom by following the lead of reason, we will be able to elevate our lives to a height beyond the reach of our inner number-one enemy, and attain a real spiritual peace. 4
Mental anxiety visibly affects all the tasks one performs and sometimes lead one unconsciously into deviant paths and to make irrational responses. Another harm caused by mental worry is that it deprives one of self-confidence. Many people make it their habit to constantly complain regarding their ill fortune and fate and are never satisfied with their life. They imagine that they cannot prosper in life unless all their affairs are set in order and unless they possess considerable wealth and all the means of comfort. They look for happiness in the distant horizons of the future while they squander the great asset of life, the precious moments of today, for the sake of the future's dream, whereas if they really care for their happiness they would discover it in plain and peaceful lives; because that which is of basic significance in life is the present, and the future, which appears to be a heaven in their eyes, would assume the appearance of a frightful hell as soon as they reach it.
One who is tired and fed up with his present state of life and awaits better days that lie beyond the dark and uncertain horizon, must wake up from the slumber of nescience and seek his lost ideal in these wearisome days of today, not in an imaginary and unknown future. The obstacles that he sees in the way of realisation of his goals may be the product of his own thinking, and his success and triumphs may lie hidden in the present itself. If the seed of today should remain unsown, tomorrow will not yield its fruit. Life cannot be lived twice so that one may make amends for his earlier mistakes.
A wise human being derives the maximum benefit from the passing moments of life, which pass quietly and soundlessly like rain drops falling into the dark ocean of extinction and annihilation. He does not let them go in vain. As a result, with each day his situation improves, the horizon of his life becomes more radiant, and his soul becomes vaster.
He remains steady and unmoved like the centre in a wheel in the face of accidents and unpleasant events. Should the wave of a calamity pass over his head, he is not swept off his feet. He draws benefit from pleasant events and takes lesson from undesirable incidents. He does not expect the world to change in order that events happen according to his wishes. Finally, he spends the hours of his life in such a way that at the end of the day he does not have any regret or remorse.
There are some others who care neither for the present nor the future. The today does not interest them and they expect nothing from the future. Rather, they live in constant agitation due to the regret of having lost the opportunities offered by the past and which now lie buried in the graveyard of non-existence. Instead of pursuing their way with earnestness and composure on the plain of life, they always look behind themselves like someone lost in a vast desert. They keep reviewing the errors and inauspicious happenings of the past and waste their lives. What is surprising is that while they let the present slip, they regret for the moments of the past.
There is no doubt that ruminating over the mistakes and unhappy episodes of the past and burning oneself in the flames of sorrow and regret does not do any good. Moreover, it exhausts and debilitates the soul and lets one's vital powers go waste so that one remains no longer capable of choosing the right course in life in conformity with his interests.
What we have said concerning giving attention to the present does not mean that one should do something today without paying attention to its evil consequences in the future. What we mean is that one should not let one's peace of mind be disturbed by regret for the past and fear regarding the future.
3. William John Reilly, Twelve Rules for Straight Thinking, Persian trans. Tafakkur-e sahih, p. 108.
4. Danestanihaye jahan-e 'ilm, pp. 48-51.
Adapted from: "Ethics and Spiritual Growth" by: "Sayyid Mujtaba Musawi Lari"
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