Change and the future

In life, we go through different stages and it is certain every one of us will change. Very few things in life are guaranteed, and change is among those certainties in life. We all have dreams, hopes and aspirations for our future selves. Through hard work, dedication, perseverance, support from others, and yes luck of being in a particular position (ie born into privilege), we can make our dreams a reality. But although we have a vision of what we want to happen for our life, the future itself still remains a mystery.

A mystery can be exciting and the suspense of it can be frightening as well.

I was once listening to a lecture, those type of lectures that are given to graduating college seniors, who are super excited about what the future holds yet fearful and unsure of its secrets. The speaker said many things in that talk, but one particular question caused me to pause. He asked to imagine how you saw your life at the age of 70.

I drew a blank. I thought and thought about that question. I struggled to imagine myself at that age.

I got nothing. Just a blank. Maybe it is just me, I wondered. I have wishes and hopes if I am blessed to reach that age, however I can’t see myself, really see myself that far ahead in time. I was unable to imagine and that was unsettling for two main reasons. I wondered, if I was unable to imagine myself at 70, does it mean I do not exist in that far out of the future? I know it sounds silly, but sometimes we entertain silly thoughts. Secondly, I was disappointed at my lack of ability to imagine. Although 70 these days is the new 50, but surly I could have come up with a picture of a wrinkly old me, sipping good Somali tea, seated on sofa at the front porch surrounded by my beloveds, but I got nothing.

What did happen is that my thoughts quickly turned melancholy. What I could vividly imagine was that at 70, much would have changed in my life.  It’s more than likely that at that age the two people I love more than anything in this world would be pushing 100 if God had blessed them with old age and the probability of ever reaching such an old age is rather slim in the natural process to begin with. I could also vividly imagine with that much life experience, it is almost certain I would have encountered great heartache.

So what about happiness? Could I imagine happiness that far out in the future? It may seem strange and rather unfortunate, but I couldn’t (and can’t) imagine happiness. I hope, pray, and dream of happiness and of good fortune (not just in the material sense, but ie good health, love etc), but I couldn’t actually visualize living it.  This-my inability to picture myself in the future and of happiness still puzzles me.

I am sure a psychologist would do better to dissect the inner workings of these twisted emotions of mine, but perhaps it’s fear. I found no problem vividly imagining the sense of loss that would happen in the journey of life, but I could only hope for good fortune.

Perhaps it’s fear that was inspired by my cultural/religious background hindering my ability to imagine. We are the present type of people.

Since I could remember I have heard the saying, “In the evening, do not anticipate the morning, and in the morning do not anticipate the evening. Take from your health for your illness and from your life for your death.”(Hadith).

This concept was so ingrained into me, it’s become almost like breathing and the reason why I am unable to speak about the future without saying InshaAllah, or God willing. Sometimes I have to catch myself when I am presenting in class for example, and when my tongue doesn’t utter it, my heart never forgets it. InshaAllah it whispers to me, as if not saying it would make the task impossible to occur.

This concept has its pros and cons. The major advantage is the sense of urgency it encourages. See this short clip from a TED talk, which captures the urgency I am referring to. http://youtu.be/8_zk2DpgLCs

Having had this inculcated into my brain over the years, I love hard, I can be very sentimental, sensitive, and attached (I know this has its negatives). It also helps me to overlook certain things, for example shortcomings and holding grudges. It helps to intellectualize things, not saying I am cured, because I can be very sensitive, but I tend to tip the balance to the good side of another rather than the wrong. On the other hand, there are disadvantages. I would even consider it a great disability. It could make the future seem unnerving and hinder the ability to imagine. More importantly to imagine happiness. There needs to be a balance, which I am still trying to find.

At the moment I can only hope for happiness and a good life. Don’t we all? What is certain is change will surly happen. I do believe we have a great deal of control over our life, and while I believe this, I also know there are forces outside of us, a change of circumstance for example that will have an important role in shaping, who we become.

Like I hope for good fortune, I hope to evolve into a better person. I have an idea or belief on what constitutes a “better person.” This idea or belief is dependent on my current state of being and what I think is a “better person” now, may very well turn out to be different in the future.

I’ve been thinking a lot about the concept of change and I’ve come to the conclusion at the moment, that change occurs in two forms, intellectually and in the soul or the core of who we are. I think most changes occur intellectually. For example to use a famous example that has been the focus of the American media lately, President’s Obama’s endorsement of gay marriage. This is an intellectual shift that has occurred for the President. One may argue it’s only politics, but the point is intellectual shifts happen frequently and we have all experienced it. We see things differently after a personal experience or after gaining knowledge. This is what I mean when I said, change for the better is very subjective. Obama’s shift on gay marriage will be welcomed by some and rejected by others. This has always been the case of the world.

For that reason, I believe “better” is for the individual to find peace with the change he or she has made. Intellectual changes like the example above occur far more frequently than soul changes. And it is for good reason that soul changes are more stable (well let’s not get carried away with “evil souls” thoughts). Soul changes would have far more drastic consequences for the individual as it would produce a state of being in which the core of who you are, your deepest of deepest cherished beliefs, the fundamentals of what makes you, the principles in which you stand by, has taken a different, maybe even an opposite turn. A soul change is no longer believing in Islam if you were a believing Muslim, or no longer believing in Christianity if you were a believing Christian. One can imagine why this would be a far more drastic type of change. Soul changes can also be more stable, because the core has more grasp of a person and people are less likely to question who they have always been.

 I know I have had numerous intellectual changes, but I am still thinking if I have ever changed at the core. I don’t think I have. With that, I hope for happiness, good fortune, and to become a better person in this journey of life. And the same for you. InshaAllah.

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