Hope: It’s a good thing, right? Necessary even. To have hope, is to not be discouraged, to imagine something better, to be continually improving personally and imagining better days for others, maybe even for our country. Hope sounds noble. What a worthy endeavor—to create hope, to hold a hopeful place for others. That’s all good, right?
The cancer patient believes, as New Age ideals suggest, that he’s going to live. He just has to desire and believe ENOUGH, say his positive aphorism “I’m getting healthier every day” and voila—he’s a magnet for all his desires to be cancer free. He might even be healed, all via his belief and desire and hope. If healing doesn’t happen, we move on to some other route, but only after the battle and hope is “lost.” Hope is the supposed lifeline we spiritual ones cling to. Then, there’s the woman whose husband is lost at sea. The hours turn into days. The days turn into weeks. Still, she has “hope” and that hope proves she’s a good woman and that she loves her husband, right? We’re taught to hope, and that hope is our salvation and that having hope speaks of our goodness, but is that really true?
Some of us want God to save us, or some substance to ease the pain, or someone to tell us it’s going to be alright. Is it possible we cling to hope, to anesthetize ourselves from our life? Buddhist nun Pema Chodron suggests just that, in her classic book “When Things Fall Apart.”
What is hope really? I wonder if hope is simply imagining some future outcome. It seems hope resides in some other time than now, sometime in the future. Hope is somewhere that is not here, but out there. We believe God will save us; and we try to find rest in an imagined future, which we can never know.
We applaud those who never “lose hope” like hope is something that can be misplaced, then later found under a couch cushion, like loose coins that fell from our pockets.
What if being without hope—say, hope-LESS—was the way to enlightenment and being fully in the present moment, which would allow us to be fully engaged with the person in front of us—and be more fully ourselves. What if being without hope added immeasurably to our joy? Sounds crazy, right? It’s not how we normally think of hope. What if embracing the heart breaking truth of: There is no hope, was actually the path to a more starkly beautiful life—a life that actually exists, rather than one simply wished for?
That cancer patient needs to believe he won’t die—and we need to agree with him. The woman with the missing husband needs to believe he will eventually be found—and we nod in agreement with her too. What would happen if we didn’t agree? What if instead of giving a platitudinous pat, and saying “it’ll all work out,” we helped our dear ones explore the present moment and their own unique, sometimes heart breaking experience, in order to live a deeper, more meaningful experience?
Here’s one for you: If we believe that there is nothing but now, as many us say we do—does hope even exist?
We are all going to die—some sooner than later. Some will not be found—not ever. Everything is NOT going to be okay. There is only NOW.
We are all taught at an early age to crave hope, to believe in the doctrine of hope. We were steeped in it, like soggy tea bags in amber colored hot water, by our families, our society and our religion. Add to that “hope” sounds so enlightened, so positive, so loving and kind. We have to have hope, right? Where would we be without hope?
Let me tell you one of my stories. So, I loved a guy—a nice guy. Our roads trips spanned a couple of states and included soulful talks, soaking naked in hot springs and kayaking many bodies of water, laughing and splashing and exploring. He loves his kids. He works hard. He even admits it when he’s been wrong and is always eager to lend a helping hand. Add to all that—he is sexy as hell—yet, he couldn’t seem to quite manage his life, and he had lots a beautiful suggestions for what we could do “some day,” but some day ended up being too far out for me. Though our Sundays were always beautiful, there were ONLY Sundays. Though he was a great human being, what I had with this lovely man, simply wasn’t the life I wanted. I wanted it real, where “maybe some day” was today.
So, one day I “lost hope.” Like a tub of soapy bath water, it all just drained away, and I sat there in the filmy, emptiness, seeing what I really had—which was still a life, I decided—cold and water logged, but life. I shivered and cried. I pounded my fists like a baby. Then, I stood up, rinsed myself off, and… I started laughing—suddenly grateful. I hadn’t really lost anything after all, I thought. Whatever I had, I still had. Whatever I was afraid of losing, was already gone.
It’s different than cancer, right? Different than being lost at sea. Maybe. All of us hold onto “hope,” a hope that things could be other than what they are; a hope that our salvation resides in a future time, when the other person changes; when circumstances shift; when a health condition is cured. When times get tough, is hope really a lifeline we can to cling to, or be saved by?
What if “abandoning hope” is a good thing? What if instead of “losing the battle” we lay down the sword of our own resistance and pick up instead our glasses—to better see what’s really in front of us? What if by refusing to hope, we gain life, and with it we experience more fully whatever arises—the joy and the pain; the coming together and the ripping apart; the delicious and the distasteful. What if we learn to love it all?
Maybe tuning into experience and the present moment, or the present person, or the present sensation, and abandoning hope becomes the way we become the gift we were created to be, and have the life we didn’t even know we were missing. Maybe there is no hope. There is only NOW.
Love and lettuce–and hopeless in Bend, Kathryn