The End is Nigh, Look Busy

December 21st, 2012

Our family sometimes fights over who gets the Jesus glass with the caption, “Jesus is coming. Look busy!”  Can you blame us? It’s scary. His eyes follow you while you drink.

Another wave of scary end time drama has been looming as we wait to see if life can survive the end of the Mayan calendar.

Is this a little light hearted distraction from the devastation of the past week, or is it a dangerous way of thinking. There is a story, retold in the TV series Six Feet Under, 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 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. She thought it was the end and didn’t want to miss out.

Here are some of my thoughts about the end of the world:

1. The World is Always Ending
The end of the world is a partial truth. The world is ending on December 22, 2012…and then again on December 23, 2012…and again on Dec 24. The world is always ending……and beginning 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 fine. Everything changes, nothing stays the same.

The world ends with the passing of every moment, however long that is.

Acknowledging that time is always moving on sometimes makes you live more urgently. If the idea of the end of the world makes you live fully in the present, then that’s healthy. But there is a world of difference between urgency and anxiety. Urgency empowers. Anxiety paralyzes.

2. The Future Is Always a Projection

As Peter Drucker says,

Trying to predict the future is like trying to drive down a country road at night with no lights looking out the back window.

It can be dangerous to try and predict the future, as anyone who gave up a job before landing the new job, or anyone who climbed out of a moving car, knows.

Do you remember the Y2K scare that computers would crash when clocks rolled over to 2000? It was fun to be in Australia at the time, 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 worried about what would happen to them. 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.”

I take all predictions about the future, whether the end of the world or any upcoming disaster, 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

Einstein created a thought experiment when he was contemplating relativity. He posed the question: If you were literally riding on the edge of a light beam and you held a mirror in front of you, could you see yourself? And the answer is no. If nothing travels faster than light, light can’t get to the mirror to reflect your reflection, so you would see nothing.

That’s a brilliant metaphor for change. There’s nothing in the future to see. It doesn’t exist yet except as potential. This is why change can be so scary and also why change is SO exciting. You look in the mirror of the future and see open space. No matter how much you wish for certainty, life doesn’t work that way. That’s the scary part. And yet, accepting that the future is unknown is also incredibly empowering. You get to help create what you want to see in the future. You get to help make change happen.

I love the ideas of management guru, Otto Scharmer. He talks about pre-sensing the future. Human choice and the evolving future exist in a symbiotic relationship. The future happens as we create it, and yet we also respond to life as it emerges. You intuit your way forward and live the future by sensing it as it arises. Its like a dance, and you can’t usually tell who’s leading.

We’ve all had those spectacular moments when you sense the next move and don’t even know how you knew. Something just feels right. You hold your child’s hand on the sidewalk just moments before a car speeds past. You decide to call a friend on a whim that something is not right. You end a business relationship because it doesn’t feel right. We have more intuitive wisdom that we give ourselves credit for, but we don’t know the future.

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. 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 all relate to end of the world prophecies? 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 life 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 more than this moment. All is in perfect order right now.

At the same time, take on the partial truth of the end times. Life IS ending, and none of us know what the future holds. So live, live, live, now, in the only time you have for certain. Do what needs to be done, now, with urgency but not anxiety.

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