The Role of The Future Self in Personal Development

“The Zen Buddhists believe […] that an oak tree is brought into creation by two forces at the same time. Obviously, there is the acorn from which it all begins, the seed which holds all the promise and potential, which grows into a tree. Everybody can see that. But only a few can recognize that there is anther force operating here as well – the future tree itself, which wants so badly to exist that it pulls the acorn into being, drawing the seedling forth with longing out of the void, guiding the evolution from nothingness to maturity. In this respect, say the Zens, it is the oak tree that creates the very acorn from which it was born” – Elizabeth Gilbert

It sounds rather silly doesn’t it, to talk about a ‘future self’ ? How can we possibly have a future self in the present? Let’s start with our DNA; that’s kind of like our acorn isn’t it? Programming us to develop in certain ways? Merging its potential with the morphogenic field of our culture to produce genotypically, phenotypically and culturally sound humans? Right now what about the future self..

“It’s a poor sort of memory that only works backwards” – The White Queen, “Alice in Wonderland”

I think at this point in time we can all agree that time is not linear, right (excuse the totally unintentional  pun:))? Einstein’s Theory of Relativity demonstrated the elasticity of time. Quantum physics has shown that light particles seem to know what lies ahead of them and will adjust their behavior accordingly. Experiments at prestigious institutes of study have shown that precognition is fairly common among humans, both induced (example here) and spontaneous (examples here). Julian Barbour says “Time as such does not exist but only change”, and indeed subjectively time certainly doesn’t feel like a stable continuum.

So if time is not linear, the idea of a future self reaching backwards to draw us forward into our own potential is perhaps not that far-fetched. What do I mean by a future self? I mean that quiet knowledge that resides in you from when you are a fully differentiated individual about who you want to be, what kind of person you want to grow into. This is why children are so fascinated with adventurers and heroes; not so much because of what they do, but because of who they are.

The value-shift in Western society over the last century from internal to external has meant that instead of encouraging our children to think about what kind of man or woman they want to be, we encourage them to think about what they want to do as a profession. This has led to generations of people who gave very little regard to what kind of person they became, and has also had the effect of encouraging us from a very young age to project our attention into the future rather than being present. As Lodro Rinzler says, we should start asking our children who they want to be rather than what, and in this way promote reflection on core values and internal identity, rather than on external image and cultural biases; these were useful benchmarks for personal development in the past, but given our current rate of evolution what is relevant today may well not be 5 years from now.

Getting back to the issue of the future self, humans being somewhat more complex than trees, the concept requires a little more elucidation. The future self does not come from ego; it is a combination of our highest potential as self-reflective humans and our unique individual talents. As such, it has nothing to with our self-concept; however having a fluid self-concept facilitates our subliminal awareness of the future self. Self-concepts which are restrictive, as well as our habit of reflecting only upon external values greatly limits our ability to feel the impulses that the future self sends us.

Your future self may not know WHAT you want to be, but it does know WHO you want to be. So many people feel lost nowadays, but if we can remember to sit in silence every once in a while and ask for some direction, insight will come. In that sense we don’t need to worry; our future self has got us covered.