I must confess, I am slightly obsessed by the future.
I think about it all the time. Both mine—how I’m going to achieve all the dreams I have, and what it would be like to live that future? And ours—how on earth are we going to make it through this very odd moment we’re in the midst of? And what will the world my own children live in look like?
The obsession seems part of me. The driving force that counters my instinct to hunker down, go back to sleep and hope it’s all better when I wake up.
But this is my nature. Indeed, it is our nature.
We are beings who live in time—who can choose to forgo the impulses of the present, in service of a brighter future that exists only inside the dream.
For any of us who seek to walk the soul path, and to manifest the potentials we hold, the dream of the future is what we travel toward. The work cannot be done without this. It’s a fundamental dimension that we exist within.
The problem is that the journey toward the future we dream of, is one that is not well managed by the rational mind, and our conventional ways of making plans and goals.
For me, the conventional goal-setting approach provides mountains of fodder for the hungry bear inside whose goal it is to ensure I stay anxious and painfully watchful:
“Am I on track? Am I doing enough? Am I good enough? Is there a silver bullet that would make it all come true? What’s the strategy? Damn it Ewan—you need a strategy!”
It doesn’t work.
Rather, the practice of dreaming the future is one that must be approached in a different—indeed, mystical way.
It is a practice of embodying the future self.
The amazing transformation of the butterfly
The butterfly has long been help as a symbol of the transformative process. With good reason. The journey the little caterpillar makes, from its innocent munching of leaves, through the magic of the cocoon, into its emergence as a beautiful new being, is an amazingly apt metaphor for the journey that you and I make as we transform our own consciousness.
We move from the innocence of our younger self, through the magic of metamorphosis, into the majesty of one who can now soar higher than we were previously capable.
However—as I discovered some years ago when I studied this biological process—there are even richer layers of symbology that reveal critical aspects of our own transformative process. I want to share those with you, for they set up the idea of the future self beautifully.
Do you know what you would find, were you to slice open a chrysalis just a single day after the caterpillar had entered it?
You may think, as I did when I was first asked, that you would find a caterpillar slowly growing wings and antennae.
You would not.
In fact, were you to look, you would find that the caterpillar is no longer there. What you will find instead, is goo.
The little leaf muncher has decomposed into slime.
Before the new can grow, the old must disintegrate. The potential of the future must be grown from the materials of the old. But for that old material to fertilise the new, it must decompose. It must turn into goo.
For you and I to become a fuller and truer manifestation of our soul’s potential, we must allow the old self to disintegrate and die. For it is from this decomposed self, that the new is born.
This is not a pleasant process. For it is experienced, literally, as death. It hurts. Who you considered yourself to be—the identity you held as “you”—ceases to be so.
I have long railed against the fashionable glorification of the transformative process, as if it is something that can be enjoyably enacted during a weekend workshop. While in truth, it is a slow, destructive process which ushers us through pain, grief and disorientation—inevitable feelings when in the proximity of death.
The caterpillar’s disintegration into goo is a powerful image for the death of the old.
But the symbology of this amazing process of the butterfly does not end there.
If you were to cut open the caterpillar itself, before it enters the cocoon, you would discover something else incredible.
Already inside the caterpillar are proto-wings and proto-antennae
In other words, the future butterfly is already present inside the caterpillar.
And so it is with you and I.
Your future self already resides inside you in potential form. It is not simply something that is created—manufactured from nothing according to your own will and determination. Your future self—in proto-form—is present in this very moment as you read these very words.
And if the future self is already inside us, then it is one who can be contacted and indeed, felt.
This practice—of feeling the future self in my own body-mind—has been one of my most important practices over the last couple of years. It’s worked me on deep, deep levels.
Imprinting the Future Self
One of the most ancient practices we have, reaching right back into the pre-religious shamanic traditions of the world, is that of merging with other beings. Or, if you need secular language for this—embodying archetypal forms.
In the tantric lineage that I’ve studied in with one of my teachers Michaela Bohm, it is called deity yoga—inviting the archetypal form of a particular deity into your body, and sitting or moving as that deity.
I have practiced this with Jesus, sitting as Jesus, allowing his nervous system to replace mine, so I can feel as him. Replacing his thoughts with mine, so I conceive of the world as he does.
And where I have also practiced this deeply, is sitting as my future self.
It’s quite a trip. I can do it now.
Despite thirty-six-year-old Ewan sitting here in this seat in this coffee bar on the Beethovenstraat in Amsterdam, I can call in “future Ewan”. He enters my body-mind, and without conscious effort, things move.
My spine straightens.
My eyes soften and take in more of my visual field.
My lips curl into a little Buddha smile.
I involuntarily take a big juicy breath.
And when I stop and look around, the world is a different one than that I saw but a minute ago.
It’s so much more beautiful. The background music becomes something I playfully move to in my seat, rather than the distraction it was previously.
The colours get richer.
My work feels more like a gift—a container for my own curiosity and expression, rather than an onerous yoke that I must carry without whining (something I’m not generally predisposed to do).
And from this place, I can examine questions, or decisions, that thirty-six-year-old Ewan is struggling to resolve.
The angst over my own stuttering writing practice is easily solved from here.
“Just write” future self says.
“Sit down. Turn off your phone. And write.” He’s kind, wise and penetrating.
“Stare into space when you get stuck. Don’t think about the quality of the completed piece.” He instructs.
It’s more than his words that touch me and change my state. It’s the truth of them, the truth that is not arrived at through careful rational consideration. But one that just penetrates me instantly, because I know it to be true.
“Thank you.” I say.
And he goes back to his ephemeral home in the potential of things. And I come back to the present. Thirty-six again. Mildly angst ridden again.
But the smile remains.
And the back is a little straighter.
And I know what I have to do. The words flow.
The transformative power of the future self
The caterpillar doesn’t have to worry about whether it will fulfil its potential and become its destiny. It instinctively enters its chrysalis. It becomes the butterfly without conscious effort. It simply follows the biological path laid down by its billion ancestors.
But the path is rather more fraught for you and I.
This is the great gift and curse of humankind. Our potential is not predetermined, nor biologically constrained. But neither is it inevitable.
The process of becoming the fully manifest soul is the work of a lifetime, or indeed many.
The future self inside—the potential you hold in proto form—is but a blueprint. It does not prescribe its ultimate form. But it does carry a unique archetypal imprint. That is, when I tune into my future self, he does have a particular quality. He’s recognisable. He’s like this, not that.
And somewhere deep inside I know him. I recognise him. For I can see the innocent roots of his brilliance in my childhood. I can feel the seeds of his power in myself, here in this moment.
Knowing him enables me, whenever I choose, to short-circuit my egoic programming, and align with a deeper truth. I can call him in, in those moments when confusion and self-doubt are blinding me, and look instead through his eyes.
“Oh, this is what you want me to see?”
“Yes” he replies. “Got it?”
And that momentary peek through the veil gives me my compass reading, and I know how to proceed. And he’s here with me, gently, subtly.
As I practice this over time, I find myself moving more directly toward his actual manifestation in my life. He sets the direction, pulling me toward his beauty and power. And the alternative navigation—the one that stems from my egoic desire to “be enough” or “get recognition” is gradually weakened. The path toward soul becomes clearer, the path of egoic justification led trodden.
For as I wrote in The Game of Soul Goals, it is the setting of goals that set you down the path toward soul manifestation are what keep you playing the infinite game of life. But to do so requires a compass reading of the soul. Or, as I am suggesting here, an imprint of the feel of the future self.
How to meet the future self
Perhaps you already feel them inside you. Perhaps through your own practice and path you know the feel of the one, who lies in the future, as a glorious embodiment of all that you are.
If so, then the practice is one of inviting them inside. Allowing their imprint to fill you from the within, like a ghostly form stepping into your body and filling you up. Do this as often as you remember. For doing so builds those proto-wings and turns them from potential into reality.
If you cannot feel your future self—if you have no reference point for the proto-wings inside, then there are a host of practices that will help you do so.
The methods I find most powerful are gnostic or shamanic practices which I will not describe here, since they require a deeper transmission and instruction than I can convey in a few words.
However, there is a practice that is more easily performed, and which I have found very potent.
In her interview with Tim Ferriss, Debbie Millman shares this wonderful practice. You can do it alone—it’s not technically challenging, though it can be psychically challenging. I’ve done it with a number of clients. If you engage with it deeply, it will give you a sketch of the future self.
The practice goes like this…
- Carve out some quality solo-time. A calm and beautiful setting helps.
- In a notebook, write the date of today, 10 years in the future. For example, 29th January 2030. I find the simple contemplation of that number catalyses something potent.
- Then write—in the first person—an account of that day in the future, when you have soul-manifested everything you could have dreamed of in the preceding 10 years. This is not an exercise in envisioning what is appropriately attainable, or based on ego-goals. It is the realisation of your sacred dream.
- Give it lots of detail. Where do you wake up? What do the bedsheets feel like? What occupies your mind and heart upon waking? Who are you with? What does the world look like through the eyes of this self? What’s exciting you? What are you working on? Who do you pray to? What do now understand, that your self 10 years ago did not.
- You write something like a novel, where the protagonist is your dream self—the one you fantasise about becoming. And in this story, you get to paint a picture of that dream world. Remember, you must write in the first person.
- Don’t aim low. You write to get on the inside of this future self. Don’t play it safe. Write out a day in the life of your dream self. Don’t use your mind. Let it come through the heart.
- Write as much as you can/want. 10 pages is better than 1. Write 100 if you’re moved to. More depth and detail means more psychic impact.
This exercise will give you a picture of the future self. When you allow the writing to come through your heart, you let your soul speak.
For the one that comes through the dream is the one that is already inside, in proto-form. And when you are able to put a pin in the map of the future, and know, in symbolic form, toward whom you are travelling, it changes the journey fundamentally.