Looking back over the year that has been I would like to bring our attention to a Stoic practise called Prospective Retrospection. It is a practise that cultivates an urgent and intense sense of gratitude for our life exactly as it is. It is not a pedestrian gratitude practise that you may already know is good for you to do, but rather a stark recognition of the outrageous amazingness of your life.
Just notice the fact that right now your life is someone’s dream life.
Take a moment to let that land. You could imagine that someone else, living in substandard conditions, in another part of town or another country, with no access to clean water, no loving family members, no sense of day to day safety and autonomy, this person could look at you and could only dream upon the faintest star that they could live your life.
Just a simple change of mind can make your life your dream life.
This is practical philosophy. This is using our faculty of imagination, not to merely make up a dream reality that makes life somehow bearable, but rather to point us to the fact that our current reality is already a dream come true. Our interpretation matters and we can choose how we interpret our reality. That is not to say that we cease to make changes where necessary but rather that we cease to stop noticing the myriad of things that are already going so right for us.
Prospective retrospection is a tool to reorient our awareness to the wild fortune that is our life.
Imagine that your neighbourhood became a battleground as your nation descended into civil war. Imagine that as a consequence of this you lost your limbs, lost your partner, lost your parents, lost your children. Imagine you no longer had access to clean water on tap, supermarkets no longer existed to serve your everyday needs, our social systems no longer functioned to serve your rights to healthcare, welfare or even the basic need of security.
You are the offspring of a hard won evolution of peace, ease and security.
Here is another thought experiment, a less grim one, to support this recognition. Imagine the life of your great-great grandparents. Perhaps they were farmers and spent their whole lives working the land. Without any modern tech to support our everyday needs, let alone running water to simply wash the dishes. Getting up before dawn to light the fire and collect water to boil for breakfast. Virtually every you do is limited by limited resources. Simple living, yes, but no doubt, very, very hard.
Our great-great grandparents would not want us to take all of this for granted.
Don’t let yourself be fooled into thinking that your problems are bigger than they are, or that the problems of the world are a sign of the worlds decline. That is not to say that there aren’t problems that desperately require solutions but rather that we are in continual adaptation to the world as it evolves. And that we are being called to respond to this constant evolution, not only by correcting course when we go off balance but also by celebrating our wild fortune along the way.
Things are going so right for us that we oversee providence all around.
If you would like to experience a guided retrospection then follow the link to our latest MEDITATION. This blog was inspired by the podcast Prospective Retrospection by William Irvine, and the Psyche blog post How to Change Your Self-Limiting Belief by Rebecca Roache.
“Our lesson here can be: we view the world through a filter. That filter comprises our deeply held beliefs, among other things. And once we recognise this… we open up the possibility of using a different filter to view the world, and the question of how different the world might look if we did.” - Rebecca Roache.