Addiction and fantasy can often go hand in hand. An alcoholic friend of mine will often say that there are times when he “gets stuck in his head.” I know what he means. While I have never craved the bottle, I know what it feels like to get stuck in my head, too. Many of us do.
We can get stuck in our heads imagining all sorts of things, depending on our strongest attachments. If it’s money or things, then we’re thinking about the next paycheck and how to spend it, or the dress at the mall that will make us look stunning. If it’s work or achievement, we’re anticipating the next deal or book contract. If it’s affection from someone we love, we’re fantasizing about being in their arms. For those of us with especially active basal ganglia, we’ll find just about anything to obsess about, whether it is the meeting with our boss or our next interaction with the guy at the gym who is always ogling us.
In such instances, when our imaginations run wild, we can find ourselves increasingly untethered from ourselves and from God in the present moment. Because we are stuck some place else. In a place that is not real.
Below are five tips for staying grounded when fantasy calls, inspired by philosopher Simone Weil’s Gravity and Grace:
1. Recognize your thoughts as illusions not reality. How do we do this? “We must prefer real hell to an imaginary paradise,” Weil writes, and goes on to provide a litmus test. “A test of what is real is that it is hard and rough,” she writes. Ouch.
2. Which leads to the next tip. If our fantasy represents an escape from something in the here and now, like pain, hurt or sadness, don’t be afraid to stay with the feeling and wait it out. It is here, where we behold our own unfulfilled longings, emptiness, and frailty in their nakedness and in the light, that God will become realer to us.
2. You don’t have to “stuff” your fantasies but you need not indulge them either. You do this simply by thanking God for the truths God is revealing through the needs and personal imperfections that underlie these fantasies.
3. Don’t make illusory future perfection an enemy of the present good. In other words, whether you dream about a perfectly just society or a perfect sex life, don’t let yourself be robbed of appreciating aspects of that justice or relationship in the present moment and actively living into them.
4. Pay attention to the goodness that is real and right in front of you in the present moment. Give thanks for these things.
5. Gently remind yourself of God’s love for you and let it be the thing that you mindfully return to when you begin to seek escape in fantasy. “Love needs reality,” Weil writes. To which I would add that reality needs love. Love and reality need one another like a lover and her beloved.