“But what if, this time?”, the question echoes in my mind.

The silence in response is the same echoing kind.

I can ask the same question in half a dozen repetitive ways. “Why not, this time, this love, this job, this circumstance?”

I’ve given up on trying to get the question right because I’ve figured out it’s the wrong question to get an answer for. I’m beginning to accept the Universe doesn’t need for me to understand why not, at least not yet. And the day may never come, as so many of us who live with unanswered questions know. If there was an answer to be understood or learned for why my ‘What-Ifs’ have not become ‘What-Is’, I would have found it by now.

I’m not mad about it, just sad about it. It’s Anticipation Sickness, the same illness the ancient prophets and poets wrote of. Hope deferred makes the heart sick but unavoidably, Hope rises and the question, this time just a whisper, echoes again.

“What if, this time?”

An Optimistic Idealist.
We are our own worst enemies at times. A consumption generation collecting toys and experiences, living in a near-constant state of ‘What-Next?’ I, a Futurist and optimistic idealist, am guilty of living always with one eye on the future. It means hope and anticipation of What-Next is constantly simmering away within me, because I wonder if each step is taking me closer to this time, being the exact time my dreams fall within my grasp.

There is a lot of terrible, unhelpful advice available on the subject of dreams.

You have to be bold and grab hold of them. 
You have to be patient and let them go. 
You have to make them happen for yourself. 
Network with people and influencers who will help you. 
You need pray harder/meditate more / visualise more.
Do everything you can do and then do more. 
If it’s meant to be, it will happen. 
When you stop trying, that’s when it will happen. 
Just relax and let it be. 
Just accept yourself / your circumstance and then you’ll find peace. 

I have done all of these things – bought plane tickets and chased my dreams halfway around the world. I’ve done it over and over again. I’ve let it go and let it go again, burning candles and memorabilia. Not just one dream, but several of them. But I’m still left sitting with the question and with that unbearable feeling of Anticipation Sickness welling up within me.

What if, this time? What if I’ve finally learned the lesson that would make me ready, climbed the obstacle that kept me stuck or I’ve become good enough or strong enough or pretty enough. Maybe, finally this mysterious timing and God’s good will has finally caught up with me.

Hope is not a joyful feeling – hope is the gut-wrenching, white-knuckled sigh of the heartbroken, brave and vulnerable to look up, to say ‘Okay, let’s go again.’

A friend said sometimes we are presented with our hope over and over again because in our despair, loss and heartbreak, we learn something we needed to know. She’s right and yes, I have learned deep and good lesson from the heartbreak of hope lost. I know there is truth in that statement but I struggle to accept it as the entire truth – because it doesn’t ring true with my experience. Sometimes all I have learned in the losing is to persevere. But how many times do you need to learn that lesson, before it turns bitter? Surely the Universe has gentler, kinder and more creative ways to teach us that destroying us over and over?

Still, we teach resilience and embrace courage to be vulnerable and to try again, despite our heart-pounding and questions. I am facing my own heart-pounding What-If questions again. Hope comes racing back to the surface and emerges in my late-night sub-conscious, as if the day-dreams weren’t unmanageable enough.

This combination of hope and anxiety can be crippling. And that’s anticipation sickness. Knowing the risk you take to hope at all, knowing what losing hope will feel like, how our way of seeing the world will be again challenged. It’s the fear and anxiety that overshadows joy. Hope is not a joyful feeling – hope is the gut-wrenching, white-knuckled sigh of the heartbroken, brave and vulnerable to look up, to say ‘Okay, let’s go again.’

It’s anxiety in disguise, the kind only known by those who have experienced loss and disappointment. If you have lost hope and yet hoped again, you know what anticipation sickness is. You know the dread feeling of all you might lose again. So it’s hope and heartache all over again and the world clamours at us, with bad advice and little empathy.

It’s lonely, because everyday hopeful circumstances for everyone else , are not that simple or black-and-white for us. 

Montaigne sings “Heartbreak / Feels like an old dream / Feels like a demon / I cannot shake him / I’m not afraid to fall / I am still standing here after all / I didn’t die / That’s my consolation prize / I am alive / That’s my consolation prize.”

At times in my life, I have found myself unable to live in my current reality because it felt hollow and empty in comparison to the dream. But the dream is just a possibility. No matter how I reach for it, I cannot touch it or make it a real thing. No matter how I have tried. In my darkest moments, life has felt like a consolation prize, a next-best-option while I wait for the real thing.

Ask A Better Question.
Replace ‘what if?’ with ‘what now?’ and you’ll find a pathway to living in What-Is, the Present.

‘Whatever you have in your hands, that’s your responsibility.’
Nothing more, nothing less. What you have in your hands is now. You cannot hold the past, you only carry the lessons with you today. You cannot hold tomorrow either. What you have is ‘now’. And that is all you need, it’s all you actually have capacity for. Just today. Nothing more, nothing less. That’s what is in your hands.

What-Is stands exacting when What-If is hard to define. My heart, sick yes, with hope deferred and endless wondering of “what if?”, is not so inclined to trust. My disappointed heart is coaxed back to trust again by the experience of the present. I fiercely drag myself back to that brightly-lit day. What now, today?

How To Move Forward
The best strategy is just a plan, with a little understanding behind it. I’ve learned a strategy for being present today while moving towards the future is to break everything down into the tiniest steps. Most dreams will take months, years, even decades to eventuate. So when living day to day, it’s easy to feel dejected and that you’re not moving forward at all. But you can take a tiny step in a day. Today, you can do one thing to move you closer to where you want to be. A piece of research, downloading an application form, reaching out to the one you’ve been waiting to hear from. Making the call you don’t want to make. 

The Creative Spirit does not jest with us, not once, and understands the fragile human heart. The Universe does not crush our hopes nor tease us without mercy, nor hide themselves from us. We just go looking in the wrong place for God in the future, when God is present in the Now, in the What Is. Present is the only place to find peace in the wake of Anticipation Sickness caused by what we hope for, what we long for, what may yet be.

What-Is is I Am, I Was, is Ever Will Be
What-Is the moment and the day, present
pressing us closer to the Light revealing masterwork 
still barely seen, the ripples in each day
but at a distance of some What-Was,
the vast, expansive movement of Love is bright.

What-Now becomes again joyful, no consolation prize.