Our family sometimes fights over who has to use the drinking glass with a picture of Jesus on it and the caption, “Jesus is coming. Look busy!” Can you blame us? It’s scary, and only occasionally moves to the front of the cupboard when other glasses are dirty. Another wave of scary end time prophecy has moved to the front of the American media cupboard in the last month. You thought you had until 2012, but it turns out that our days are literally numbered….. to 4. According to a movement of Christians convinced by their reading of the Bible, the world will end on May 21, 2011. To spread the word, they’re using billboards and bus stops, RVs and pamphleteers on street corners to strike the fear of hell into passersby. Apparently, there will be earthquakes starting at 6pm on May 21 in the Pacific Rim and moving through each of the time zones. Believers will be raptured, i.e. taken to heaven and non believers taken to hell. 153 days later the entire universe will be destroyed forever.
Are beliefs like this quaint but harmless? Is this a light hearted distraction from more pressing issues, or do they take our eyes off the prize of fearless living? I will never forget the story about a Little Rock woman who was killed after leaping through her moving car’s sun roof. Her husband, who was driving, described it as a mistaken rapture. It led to a 20 car pileup and 13 other injuries, as a mass of cars tried to avoid the woman who was convinced that she had seen 12 people floating up into the air at the same time as seeing a man on the side of the road she believed to be Jesus. Her husband later told the story – “She believed it was the rapture,” he said, “She was screaming ‘He’s back! He’s back!’ And she climbed onto the roof of the car. I was slowing down but she wouldn’t stop.”
As it turns out the Jesus look-alike on the side of the road was on his way to a toga party. He had stopped his truck by the side of the road, when the tarp became loose and released 12 blowup sex dolls filled with helium which floated into the air. The man who had been told by several friends that he looked like Jesus pulled his car over and lifted his arms in the air in frustration. Seeing the Jesus lookalike standing by the road reaching his arms to heaven while dolls floated up into the sky was too much for the woman. The dead woman’s husband gave his statement, and finished by saying- “My wife loved Jesus more than anything. She believed that was the end. She wouldn’t miss out on being with Jesus in heaven for anything.”
There are people who truly believe these end time prophecies and lives are ruined when the dates come and go without incident. People give up their jobs, stop planning for the future, and become obnoxious in their evangelical zeal to save as many of us as possible. What do you make of this? How would it change your life if you knew the world was going to end at a specific time and date?
Here are some of my thoughts-
1. The World is Always Ending
The end timers have a partial truth. The urgency that comes with an expectation of a short lived future can be a healthy motivation for living fully in the present. Surely it’s a far healthier motivation to live with urgency because you don’t want to miss a moment of what life has to offer, and you want to be all that you can be in the world, than to live with urgency because you are afraid of eternal punishment.
The partial truth is that the world IS ending on May 21…and it will have ended on May 20….and it will end again on May 22….and you will get up on May 23 to a new world to do it all over again. The 1980s REM song said it well, “It’s the End of the World As we Know It. And… I….. feel…. fine!” Every moment involves an ending and a beginning because the old has gone, the new has come and it’s okay. You are fine. You have changed with the moment. Your consciousness is evolving, transcending and including everything that brought you to this point. You are becoming a new creation along with each moment.
The world ends with the passing of every moment, however long that is. The past only exists as memory. It’s over. It often intrudes in your life like a thief in the night, robbing you of a full experience right now. As if the present moment is not enough on its own, we so often engage in mental time travel. We travel back in time, at least our mind’s best effort to reconstruct the past. We try to live through a rear view mirror. The problem with rear view living is that objects (and memories) appear larger than they really are. Situations that were challenging in the past might not be so challenging now that you have grown and evolved. Similar challenges may arise, but you are a new person, stronger, smarter and wiser. And this is a new moment. Just because things happened in a certain way in the past doesn’t mean they will repeat the pattern.
A great example of this danger is the story of the Swiss watch; the Swiss created it and then rejected it because it didn’t fit their idea of what a watch should be, with internal moving dials. The Japanese ran with the new watch. Since they weren’t limited by preconceived notions about how a watch should work, they were able to develop this new technology. The Japanese have combined innovation, including kinetic watches that do not require batteries and have built-in cameras, with low cost and become a leader in the time industry.
Coming back to that other time industry, the religious end times industry. Sure, the world will end on May 21. Same as it does every day. This is good news. May 22 will arrive as a fresh start, with a new you ready to innovate and continue your evolving journey.
2. The Future Only Exists As Projection
Anyone who thinks they can predict the future is delusional. Do you remember the Y2K scare that computers would crash when clocks rolled over to 2000? It was amusing to be in Australia, one of the first time zones to see the New Year. January 1, 2000 arrived without incident and yet people in other parts of the world still fretted about what would happen to them. We love to worry, don’t we? As Charles Schulz (creator of Charlie Brown) said, “Don’t worry about the world coming to an end today. It is already tomorrow in Australia.”
The future is nothing but projection, often casting a shadow over life like storm clouds. You hold your breath, for fear of allowing yourself to fully embrace the moment. Just as we time travel to the past, we also travel forward in time, at least our mind’s best attempt to guess the future. It’s the same problem. You think about the future from the level of wisdom and courage you have now, forgetting that you will be different, wiser and stronger by the time the future arrives. Mental time travel leads to such a distorted sense of identity, and so much unnecessary suffering.
Take all predictions about the future, whether the end of the world or the expectation of some personal calamity, with a big pinch of salt. Cash in a reality check and bring yourself back to the present moment where life truly happens. You can bank on the present moment, but not the future.
3. The Future Is Open
Of course, it’s essential to do SOME mental time traveling. That’s how you learn from the past and anticipate the future. It’s right to reflect on the past and plan ahead. Just don’t dwell there or concretize your conclusions.
There is an alternative to reliving the past, obsessing about the future and reacting to the future in a passive way. On this point, I have been influenced by the ideas of management guru, Otto Scharmer. Basically he suggests that instead of only learning from the past we should also learn from the future. More specifically, we should learn from the emerging future. You don’t predict the future because the future is not yet decided. You pre-sense the future. You intuit your way forward and live the future by sensing it as it arises.
We’ve all had those spectacular moments when you sense the next move and don’t even know how you knew. You hold your child’s hand on the sidewalk just moments before a car speeds past. You sell stock on a whim that change is afoot. You preemptively heal a conflict before you really knew it was even flaring up. We have more intuitive wisdom that we give ourselves credit for.
It’s not that you make change happen singlehandedly. Its more that you sense what change is emerging and you help to co create it. In order to pre-sense the future, it’s helpful to suspend the many voices of judgment and fear that become small self fulfilling prophecies and respond in a new way, from your higher self that intuitively knows its connections with others. From this higher self, you can see through multiple pairs of eyes at the same time. It’s as if you’re playing both sides of a chess board, or coaching both teams on a sporting field. From this perspective, you inevitably sense the best interests of many parties. Once you have opposing perspectives working together at a higher level than competition, you are pre-sensing the patterns that hold it all together and allowing collective genius to manifest.
I put end times prophecies in the same category of small self fulfilling prophecies. They operate on a need to know basis. You need the prophecy to be true to justify a narrow interpretation of the Bible and to validate the theories of charismatic leaders. No one knows the future, but we all have intuition about the direction of the future. From an intuitive perspective, whenever the future arrives, you’re already there. Whatever the future demands, you’re already doing it. Wherever life needs you, you’re in position.
So how does this relate to May 21 prophecies? They have a partial truth. On the one hand, don’t fall for the delusion. Author Zadie Smith offers a beautiful turn of phrase when describing the passage of time in her novel White Teeth. She says; “don’t fall for ‘the myth, the wicked lie, that the past is always tense and the future, perfect’.”
Grammatically, the perfect tense has a neat relationship with the present tense. The perfect tense implies that everything that needs to be done is already done. It all collides in this moment; everything necessary for contentment comes together in this moment. The past is what it is, and what your memory makes of it. You make the future perfect by living fully in the present.
Don’t fall for the end times lie and rob yourself of a full and fulfilling present. Live your life in the perfect, present tense. You lack nothing in this moment. You need nothing in this moment. All is in perfect order right now.
At the same time, take on the partial truth of the end times. You don’t know the timing of futureevents. You don’t need to fear any particular day. But you can sense the future as it is emerging through you and others. This is the higher self fulfilling prophecy where the good of the widest number is included.