Ghosts in the machine
In ‘A Christmas Carol’, Charles Dickens’ famous tale of a cold-hearted, miserable debt collector Ebenezer Scrooge, there is the acting out of alternative scenarios in his future. Scrooge’s life unaltered delivers dreadful if unsurprising damnation for all eternity. A miserable adult life whose misery compounds over time and, in this tale, extends to absolute misery and pain after his death. Scrooge has a mystical psychotherapy session facilitated by some ghosts.
Scrooge’s perception is subject to a profound reframe! In his dream, future-hallucinations present possibilities. Including the possibility of redemption. Future redemption is only possible if there is major change. Scrooge can avoid pain by adopting pain. He must make change in order to live a good life. Change often involves pain.
In much of Dickens’ work there are happy endings. Ebenezer Scrooge is frightened into understanding and acknowledging his
cognitive distortions (“stinking thinking”) and making a total, transformative, recovery. In a single session or three! Tiny Tim benefits greatly as does the rest of his family and all is so well past misery is wiped away and the new era of blessings cover Scrooge-World.
A really scary obituary
in change-work, there is sometimes recourse to projection into the future in the absence of present-time shift from unhelpful behaviours. This can prove disturbing for some clients and this is not the main game. After all, they are clients because they want help to function well and live normally. Or, as Freud set out to turn “hysterical misery into ordinary human unhappiness”. The experience of ‘future pacing’ (imagining future consequences of unchanged patterns) can stimulate active reorientation. New directions can be entertained and acted on.
Give it a try…
Of course, you may not need to change anything and on New Year you could proudly declare; “another 12 months since I didn’t need to become a better person!”
If however, like the rest of us, you may be exploring New Year’s resolutions or even some strategic planning, you may give the process some thought…
Imagine, pretend, even visualize yourself having successfully resisted any inclinations to change unhealthy behaviours. Imagine how things get worse as you get older. Imagine, just before you die, you’ re required to write your obituary. Your most feared obituary. Having lived a long life with no positive change in attitudes, values, expectations of self or others?
Now is the time to let your friends and family know all, as your obituary is read aloud to the congregation assembled for your farewell. It may even reach a wider audience through social media! What will they hear? What will they learn? What will the world know?
Imagine having made the choice to step into change-work! You did this because it just makes sense to be the best you can be. Imagine then, a life doing good, well lived, and a now imminent death. You’ re invited to write your obituary. What will the congregation hear as they participate in your farewell?
This is intensely personal and idiosyncratic of course. It can be quite helpful also. Imagine both scenarios. A life lived with little or no concern for personal improvement or, a life lived with frequent, even daily, challenges to be your best. An imminent death with a kind of inventory report at the end. At one level, there is nothing of importance here. Consequences are the same. Death comes to us all. This is certain. Whether we might be assessed, then rewarded or punished afterwards, is not.
So why bother?
If the outcome is the same why bother with inconvenient change? After all, by definition, change means a form of departure from our normal self. It usually means work and even pain.
Eric Maisel among others has argued we have freedom to choose. Stay the same and lead a life that has it’s moments of joy, grief, and a substantial bit of bland in between. In his ‘Life Purpose Boot Camp’, Maisel suggests that making the effort is a more worthy choice.
Freedom to choose
Once made, the free choice to decide to find meaning in day to day activities can reframe daily experience. Making meaning, deciding to have the psychological experience of meaning, then deciding to live a live of purpose, is a worthy undertaking. To live a life where there are options to decide on a number of life purposes and to hold these purposes as a sort of compass guiding and directing us on our path to our end.
And, at the end, there has been a life of value, contribution, goodness even.
A life of meaning.
A life of purpose.
A life well lived.
Bye Rita, and thanks for all you taught me.
Respect to Rita Keogh, RIP.
My sister, whose recent passing involved a both release from pain and sad loss.