I have been thinking and seeing this process of late. Sometimes I think of using “What if” as a way to explore options or open that portal to imagination. I find “What if” useful when seen from that position of a place of exploration. It certainly has helped spark imagination. As a base for curiosity and creativity I love the whole “What if” question.
But often I get caught up in a whole world of “What if’s” that becomes a source of anxiety and constant worry. That’ s the process of making up “Stories about reality” and what Conditioned personality mistakenly sees as realistic scenarios. In actuality the thoughts are made up possible futures. Someone mentioned that “what if” is a good way to plan for contingencies that may occur. But you could spend and entire lifetime attempting to figure out and resolve all future possibilities. (I think I used to do that!)
This is distinctly different than planing and seeing what might be needed in the future. Planning means I will have useful clothes for that trip to North Carolina where I mountain climb and where the weather changes depending on elevation. (One year it was snowing when I left a mountaintop and 67 degrees Fahrenheit down in the city where I was staying!) But I don’t have to explore all possibilities to plan for that, the extended weather reports works fine.
One “What if” definitely never clarifies anything. It’s the question,”What if” he or she does this or that or responds in this or that way? That one has cost sleepless nights while I try to figure what someone’s response or reaction is going to be ahead of time or after some interaction. The person themselves wouldn’t be able to tell me much less me figuring it out before it occurs. I never have been able to predict anyone’s reactions to anything accurately.
I have been paying attention to these two different facets of “What if” and am amazed at how many times, when it’s about other people, I’m attempting to foresee and manipulate the future. I know that’s not possible for me and it’s one of the reasons I don’t play the game of what if when it comes to others reactions.
If the question is asked in awareness, I find I am seeking options and not entertaining fantasy. I think it’s entirely skillful to take a past experience, say a flat tire, and extrapolate that into a future possibility. Asking “What if I get a flat tire” in preparation for a trip. It happened before and I am simply using an experience to prepare for that possibility again. That kind of thinking is based on experiential intelligence and not guessing about what might happen.
I check the spare, the tools for changing the tire, and make sure of who to call in the event it happens. The thought then disappears and fades. I don’t spend time worrying about a flat tire that “Might Happen” and all the various scenarios I can imagine.
Where I’m starting to find less than skillful is having discussions that are based on “What if” but is problem identification and not really problem prevention or solution. Those discussions present possible futures in the hopes of finding possible solutions for possible problems that are simply made up. As a clinical supervisor I had many long afternoons with various staff members inventing and solving invented problems. Not a good use of time. Here is what I know for sure about the future.
Nothing. For me the future is unknown.
Where I happen to operate from is the present. Where things happen and I can implement useful changes and planning. I am trying to stay there as much as possible. Why? Because I recognize the amazing complexity of the future and how trying to figure out all future possibilities comes down to guessing. It becomes a sort of game of chance and you place a bet on the best guess. Maybe it’s just me but I can’t see trying to live like that anymore. It lends itself to worrying about things, the what ifs, that I have absolutely no control over so cannot possibly change.
In my view I am simply and constantly falling into a complex and unknown moment we call future. My future is immediate and woven to the moment I’m living. It can’t be foretold exactly as it might unfold. There are simply too many intricately woven, complex, and beautiful patterns being formed every second. The whole universe that I know exists in that mode. It’s beautiful and provides and endless amount of variety in experiences.
How do you relate to your own “What if’s?”