It’s funny how some conversations stay firmly with you, surrounding you like a mist but not the kind that clouds things up, the kind that makes you see clearer than you ever did before. I was fortunate enough to have such a conversation recently and this post is a residue of that mist.
Imagine you’ve arranged to meet up with an old friend whom you haven’t seen for a very long time. You are so excited to be seeing your friend that you run through in your mind all the things you want to tell them and perhaps even in what order. You imagine what they might say back in return and how the conversation will generally flow between you. Before you know it the whole thing has already happened in your mind. What a shock then when you meet your friend and discover that they are not responding the way you had imagined, that the conversation is going in an altogether different direction, in fact your friend is saying things you hadn’t thought about at all. Your expectations, imaginings and preparations have fallen flat and the meet up that you were so looking forward to has become a big disappointment. Sometimes the disappointment is so high that it stops us from enjoying the actual situation because we are still grieving the loss of the one we’d fantasized about. This is just one example of many many scenarios whereby we attempt to live the future in the present and in doing so set ourselves up for all sorts of let downs. So what is going on here?
Let’s start with the ‘F’ word. Fantasies. Fantasies are such a double edged sword, on the one hand they provide an escape and a respite from the real world but on the other they take us away from the reality of life and encourage a sort of magical thinking where on some level we believe that our fantasy will and should come true. What a high price we have already attached to it because once the bubble bursts, and it inevitably will, we are left with less than we started with. Not only has the fantasy not been realised but the reality is nothing like the fantasy either, a double kick in the teeth. Fantasies raise expectations, that’s their job and often they raise them impossibly high so when the reality of a situation does not meet the fantasised version we are massively disappointed. As a result we may take an angry vow not to participate in that part of reality again because as we’ve experienced, it never works out. But our vow is slightly misaimed. Perhaps it is the fantasy itself that we need to curtail as that is what gets us in this mess in the first place. Why do we do this, why do we set ourselves up for such disappointment time and time again?
What comes to mind before anything else is how irresistible it is. We just can’t seem to help ourselves and on top of that it is also the easiest thing in the world to do. We can conjure up a fantasy in seconds and do it anywhere anytime without having to express it to anyone else. It is all in our own head as they say. Stopping an action is one thing, stopping a thought is an entirely different matter. A fantasy also serves an important function; it allows us to see the world from our perspective and ours alone. It is a solitary pursuit no matter how many people our fantasy involves and therefore we have sole control over what happens within it. We do not have to take into account other peoples thoughts or feelings because we’ve already done their thinking for them. And of course our thinking of their thinking is perfectly aligned with ours, how convenient! This is the point where the fantasy is set up at its highest peak later leading to its biggest drop because we can never really and adequately rob someone else of their own responses and swap them with our own. We sure like being in the drivers seat don't we; managing all the controls, choosing the destination and generally being the only one on the road. Maybe it has to do with something most powerful and most necessary in an unknown world; it gives us a sense of certainty and security. If we can pre-empt the outcome of something then we know where we stand with it and this is very reassuring. A fantasy is a way of controlling a reality that has not occurred yet, it is our way of making the ambivalence of not knowing what the future holds more tolerable. But the security/certainty it gives us is not a real one and we learn this the hard way each time things don’t work out the way we’d imagined they would.
I’m not for a minute suggesting that fantasies are bad and should be eradicated from our thinking, that would be the most impossible fantasy of all. No, I’m wondering whether we can have our cake and eat it too. Can we live in the real world and alongside it enjoy our fantasy worlds as well? There is nothing wrong with fantasies, the problem lies in their lack of separation from the actuality of our lives. When we believe that our fantasy could be or should be more than what it is then we’re heading for trouble. If we are able to have the fantasy but then come back to our lives as they really are, a bit like holding on to the string at the end of a kite so it doesn’t get carried away, perhaps with time and practice we may be able to bypass the set up altogether. A fantasy does not have to result in actuality, in fact it rarely ever does. A fantasy does not have to be created as a one-way moving bridge to what we hope will take us to reality on the other side. But I don’t think we need to burn our bridges either, perhaps we can create a sort of two way traffic of thinking; one lane for our fantasies and another lane to bring us home again.
For LM, with thanks.