You might be wondering what I mean when I say ‘flashforward’ so let me explain.
You know a flashback? That characteristic, often dramatic plot device, especially prevalent in crime films or thrillers. That device that takes a character back in time to a scene the audience didn’t know about, that now illuminates some feature of the character’s present predicament.
Not just a feature of films, but a very real, often tangible feeling we get as a memory from long ago comes flying into the present.
Triggers. A cat walking across the road. The smells from a bakery on a busy high street. The sounds of a bicycle bell, careering past.
And suddenly, we are back. Transported to a place we had not been to in forever, and a time we had long forgotten.
And sometimes flashbacks are trying to tell us something. They may indicate a desperate need for resolution. They may highlight a spiritual conflict that exists in the present. They may guide us to answers that solve our present predicaments.
But what then of flashforwards? Less thought of, but equally as important to reflect on.
Often the domain of anxiety and existential fear, the flashforward can paint an image of our future selves to us, which, unless we pay attention to, we may in fact inevitably become.
When I fear that I may become old and ill and alone, that I may die with nobody by my side, that is my soul warning me of a future I must work to re-write.
So I may project an image of decrepit isolation into my future, but that is merely a stencil of all of my unresolved fears, pushed forward through time and space.
This is the outline of my pain, the sharp curvature of my shadow-self which aims to rule my present and claim my future.
And like most things that are born out of fear, they have no more power and solidity than we choose to give them. Instead, as I have suggested, we should use this outline to understand our fears better, to address them before we meet that shape in the future and sink into it predictably.
Why do I fear illness?
Because it is painful? Because it is disabling? Because of the lack of control it threatens?
Is pain to be feared if it is inevitable? Is a loss of function really a loss of purpose and agency? Is giving up control always something to be feared?
Thinking about the shape of our flashforwards can guide us to happier futures. This silhouette shows us the edges of ourselves that hem us in in the present and constrain us. Through exploring our projected fears, we learn how to prevent them from becoming our future. We can change our relationship to them and so reshape our reality.
So, though often less mentioned, flashforwards are as important to becoming who we were meant to be, as the flashbacks that define who we are in the present.
It’s a psychic resonance with the future that is a gift, though often it feels terrible. Those of us who are sensitive and thoughtful tend to experience temporal shifts the most and we must embrace it if we are to become the best versions of ourselves. I imagine, like the oracles of old, this is a latent power in many of the more emotionally sensitive and it should not be feared, but nurtured and utilised for good.
Here’s an exercise you can try at home:
Cut out a paper man, just a basic template, a head, two arms and legs.
Write all of your fears around the edges of his/her body, the biggest ones, the ones that really hold you back in the present.
Then, in the middle, write all the ways you can begin to address these fears. You may want an A3 sheet so you have lots of space.
Sometimes, just getting your fears down on paper and creating a physical shape with them, can give you the perspective you need to begin to tackle them.
Or you can journal about them, writing down your most potent anxieties, especially the ones that enter your imagination and project a version of yourself in the future which you desperately wish to avoid.
It’s proven that writing down your fears actually decreases their hold over you. As if the transference from pen to paper offloads some of the burden on your mind. Think of Dumbledore in Harry Potter. Constantly he visits the pensieve to empty his memories into it using his wand. You are doing the same thing when you write down your anxieties.
When you begin to perceive flashforwards as nothing more than the shadow of who you are right now, you can begin to push at the edges and open up your future to brighter possibilities.