This article deals with a particular form of escapism hidden in the lives of many.
|Have you ever fantasized about how your life would have turned out had you made different choices?
Without a doubt, the choices we make in life are woven to create the very fabric of that life. Day in and day out we stitch those certain behaviors and directions in which we will walk. In just the mere consideration of a day these choices will set the entire tone of how we feel and behave toward others. Most give no thought that from the moment we sit half-awake on the side of the bed we are beginning to program our feelings of the day, and likewise, our choices.
But what about those fantasies we asked about as we began? Two excellent definitions leave no doubt as to what fantasies are: 1. An imagined event or sequence of mental images, such as a daydream, usually fulfilling a wish or psychological need. 2. An unrealistic or improbable supposition. Considering the clarity of these definitions, it is easy to imagine how easy it would be for anyone to get caught in the sticky web of a fantasy life. And, like that of a spider’s web, any unfortunate caught within has little chance of escape without help.
Truth be known, everyone fantasies at one time or another. For some, however, their fantasy life actually becomes a second life, eclipsing the primary reality. When this happens the mind and body may become consumed by the nether world of daydream and imagination. Eventually choice is no longer exercised as the fantasy takes control and determines to be fulfilled. None of what has been written is an over embellishment of the situation. Years ago it was revealed how many church pastors were living double lives, one in the church and the other in the squalid world of internet porn. As a former pastor I cannot say that I was surprised or shocked. It would not be the first time that the forbidden fruit could no longer be resisted, and it would not be the last.
LEARNING TO LIVE WITH CHOICES
If you were to take an inventory of your life, you would surely give thought to those decisions you made that you wish you hadn’t. You have, no doubt, given thought to these many times, and you continue to do so. You may wonder why you married Kathy instead of Susan. At the time - as you think back - did you really think that love was your motivation? You may begin to ask yourself exactly why you did marry Kathy. After all, Susan was a sweet and gentle girl that you do remember having affections for. So, why didn’t you marry her instead? Now, she seems to come to mind more and more often. She may indeed be part of a budding fantasy life that has kept you second guessing yourself for several thoughtful years. The more you think about it, you realize that the single choice you made has set the course for your entire life thus far, and you wonder, did I make a mistake? Well, no one can really say whether you made a mistake or not, or whether the idea of a mistake even plays into the situation. The one thing that can be said with certainty is this, that the more you think in those terms the darker the path before you will become.
The truth is, most people learn to live with the choices they have made in life. They don’t become neurotic or obsessive. They don’t walk out on their families in search of a new life or a lover they wish they had chosen. I say that most people live with their choices, but not all. I know a man, a friend in fact, who walked out on his wife and four kids in order to start another life with a woman whom he had been having an affair with. I can assure you that he fantasized about the possibilities of this new life for some time before he actually left his family. In any case similar to the one described, there may be long standing fantasies about another life, or at least an escape from the present one. The result can be devastating and abhorrent collateral damage.
Philosopher, Soren Kierkegaard, wrote: “Life is not a problem to be solved, but a reality to be experienced.” If a man and woman marry, that is a decision they have both chosen to make. Unless there is violence or abuse within that relationship, there is usually no reason to go in search of what may lie over the far horizon. You may come to believe that your life would have been so much nicer if you had taken the right fork in the road instead of the left. The reality is, you chose your way, and you must get down to the business of making the best of it.
HOW IS YOUR THINKING?
What do you think, or better yet, what do you think about? Do you ever daydream? Of course you do, but what do you daydream about? What we think and daydream about has a lot to say about us.
My favorite ancient philosopher was the Roman Emperor, Marcus Aurelius. He was from the stoic school of philosophy. We should know that philosophy in the ancient world was much different from the often circular ramblings we hear from most modern philosophers. The central theme of Marcus’ belief system was that we are what we think. Doing follows thinking. Our freedom - or lack of - begins in our thinking. Marcus, wrote: “Very little is needed to make a happy life; it is all within yourself, in your way of thinking.”
In the 1980s, Doctors, Frank Minirth and Paul Meier released their book, “HAPPINESS IS A CHOICE” This book proved invaluable to me in my counseling work within the church. The doctors write: “As one becomes depressed, his thinking becomes more and more painful. In other words, he feels more hopeless, helpless, worthless, and guilty.” I refer to what the doctors said about depression and painful thinking because of the central role both can play in the life of anyone who begins to regularly slip into fantasy as an escape mechanism. Whenever a man or woman begins to fantasize about what their life could have been like if they had chosen differently, married their soul mate, or even decided not to have kids, they are building a foundation for painful thinking in that these thoughts exist outside of reality. Such thinking can become a torturous cycle of increasing disappointment and frustration.
The fact of the matter is, there are a great many people suffering such torture because they are continually convincing themselves that they have made terrible choices, that, as they see it, have made a mess of their life. So many keep going back to the thought that they just don’t have the life that they really want. Percy Shelley, wrote: “We look before and after, and pine for what is not.” So many are pining for what they don’t have because they chose something else, and now they no longer want what they chose. The only way they can even get close to having what they think they want it is to fantasize about it. In this case, fantasy can be a drug of choice, but like all drugs, the addiction only grows stronger and more demanding.
OUR COMMITMENT TO REALITY
George Orwell, wrote: “Happiness can only exist in acceptance.” For our purposes, this acceptance is our acquiescence to the reality of our life the way it is. That doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t try to improve and correct those things that need correction. But, when it comes to our choice of mates or the decision to have children, those are things that you don’t trade in for the younger or the better, although some have attempted to do just that. Of course, you see such heartlessness and insanity in the world of the rich and famous. However, that world is far and away as much a fantasy as any you can imagine, and usually not in any good way. With their millions they can live out any fantasy their mind can envision.
But our focus is on the average man or woman walking down the supermarket aisle trying to figure out what’s for supper. They’re just normal people, except for one thing, they have a secret life that no one knows about but them. When the stresses of daily life begin to be heavier than usual they retreat to those catacombs of the mind, their fantasy life. They dream of living in that perfect house and making love to that girl of poignant memory, and of being in love as only a fantasy can create. But more than anything, they think about how life might have been if they had chosen differently.
Another great book from years past, and one that speaks to the longing dreams of many, is “THE ROAD LESS TRAVELED” In one section of his book, Scott Peck says that, “The truth of our lives is our reality, and that part which is false is unreal. The less we see clearly the reality of our world, the more our minds become befuddled by falsehood, misconceptions, and illusions.” It has been written that, the pursuit of happiness is the pursuit of reality because illusion never leaves us ultimately happy. So many think that if they could just change their reality they would be happy. The irony is, if they would embrace and pursue their reality with a fresh and positive vision, they might be surprised that happiness would naturally follow. Nikos Kazantzakis, wrote: “Since we cannot change reality, let us change the eyes which see reality.” The ancient Philosopher, Seneca - another favorite - wrote: “True happiness is to enjoy the present without anxious dependence upon the future.” Those who make a habit of fantasizing - in whatever form it may take - would rather live in the world they have created than reality. The Chinese philosopher, Lao Tzu, said it well: “Life is a series of natural and spontaneous changes. Don’t resist them - that only creates sorrow. Let reality be reality. Let things flow naturally forward in whatever way they like.”
So much of life can be squandered by being unsatisfied with life the way it is. But, if you are married and have children, take a moment to really look at them. Our memories may seem merciless in maintaining those pristine images of our carefree youth. But time cares nothing for that in that it moves on, and so our youth fades with time’s passing. No, your wife is no longer that lovely young girl you married, and neither have you remained the same. Of course, time changes us all, and not always for the better. It your thoughts are continually drawn to the foggy moors of fantasy among those specters of what might have been, you will never be happy. Your mind and heart will always search for that place where it might live outside of reality. And not only will you suffer, but those closest to you will drink from that same bitter well.
YOU CAN’T LIVE A FANTASY
Our lives are, indeed, what they are. None of us live in that Hallmark movie where the handsome guy catches his beautiful and true love just before she catches her flight to New York to take the perfect job offer. Those plots, and many similar may deplete a box of Kleenex, but they are, after all, movies. Real life, for the most part, just doesn’t work that way. In the world of reality, happy endings are usually on backorder.
In conclusion, take a good look at your life. If you look deeper than the superficial you may discover blessings you never realized were there. If you could see into those lives you always envied you may find the same rotting boards on the fence, and a clothes pile that has never been folded in the middle of an unmade bed, and dog hair on the sofa. And those who were the popular kids with their pictures in the yearbook for prettiest and most likely to succeed got fat and bald, and some fared far worse. For you see, that is the very way life is. It most often falls far short of the airbrushed version we have been mislead to aspire to. There was a popular song - I believe it was in the 70s - that said, “If you can’t love the one you want, then love the one you’re with.” If you are married, then take a new look at that face that you have seen countless times, and make a determination to love that one as you promised. Making such a decision to express love is always a life-energizing experience. And, most assuredly, making a choice to do that to a real person is more enjoyable than to any shadow of the past which can give nothing in return. You’ll be a lot happier person when you realize, YOU CAN’T LIVE A FANTASY.