I have abandoned hope. Not to worry- I’m not despairing, and I’m not like, “giving up on life,” or anything like that.
It’s just this: I’m forsaking hope, and its cousin, fear, and its nerdy cousin, obsessive planning (he wears a pocket protector, I think).
You’re shaking your head. What’s wrong with hope? Don’t we want things to be better? Don’t we long for a better life, an end to suffering? Of course we do- it’s human to want to experience pleasure and avoid pain. The problem is that in clinging to hope, we’re creating more suffering. We’re avoiding our own lives in lieu of a fantasy future.
Pema Chodron, in When Things Fall Apart, reminds us that “hope and fear come from feeling that we lack something; they come from a sense of poverty. We can’t simply relax with ourselves. We hold on to hope, and hope robs us of the present moment.”
So what do we do instead of hope? We practice staying present in the moment, living each uncomfortable breath one at a time, until we learn that, as Geneen Roth* says, “It is possible to be with what you believe will destroy you without being destroyed.”
I am, by nature, a worrier and a planner. When my husband and I purchased our house and I submitted our financial records to the mortgage lender, he was initially impressed by my quick ability to provide the statements to him. He soon became lost, though, as he tried to make sense of my obsessive transfers from account to account. My way of managing financial stress is to micro-manage funds. “I’ve never seen anything quite so confusing,” he said. Confusing, yes- but it sure distracted me from feeling the financial pain at the time.
I wrote recently about Christopher Baxter‘s workshop on Yoga of the Subtle Body, and here it is again (Hey, it was really good). Christopher told a story of his own in which he was struggling to create a sound plan for his future. No matter how he tried to finagle it, he could not come up with a safe plan, and it was really bothering him. When he mentioned the dilemma to a Buddhist friend, the friend told him gently: “There is no safe plan. Something will always happen. Even if you could come up with a plan that worked for you, it would still just be a fantasy belief in a fantasy plan.”
This was one of those great light-bulb moments for me. When I left my safe 40-hour-a-week job this year, I planned as best I could for our financial security. I rearranged finances, cut back where we could. My husband and I even got married (after 11 wonderful years of “who needs marriage” relationship) so that we could share his health insurance. I felt nervous, but glad that I had such a safe plan. I quit the job and began teaching yoga full-time.
(cue dramatic music)
Until… Danny lost his job. Unexpectedly. After 14 years- who would have thought? We had no health insurance. My income was less than half of what I had been making. And my careful hoping, worrying, and planning, like a house of cards, fell to the earth- fantasy belief in a fantasy plan. @#$%^@%&#$&!!! <–( represents actual, non-yogic cursing)
In the face of lost hope, I was challenged to really live my yoga. This was an opportunity to practice what is known in Buddhism as “The Lion’s Roar.” Trungpa Rinpoche describes this as: “the fearless proclamation that any state of mind, any circumstance, any part of ourselves, including the most difficult emotions, is a workable situation, a reminder in the practice of meditation.”
Today we are still not “safe” and secure. The future is uncertain, and my work life changes drastically from week to week. It feels as though I am standing on trembling earth and cannot build a house. And yet…
I know it is possible to live with what you think will destroy you without being destroyed. I know that hope is false, and planning is a distraction, and when I worry, I am cheating myself of all the beauty in my daily life.
I am roaring like a lion, in this and every breath! I have hurled the pocket protector of planning into oblivion! And I am learning to be courageous in the present moment.
One final reading for you. I notice in this poem, the author uses the positive word, “Allow,” rather than the negative phrase, “Abandon Hope.” Embrace that instead, if you like.
Allow – Donna Faulds
There is no controlling life.
Try corralling a lightning bolt,
containing a tornado. Dam a
stream, and it will create a new
channel. Resist, and the tide
will sweep you off your feet.
Allow, and grace will carry you to higher ground. The only
safety lies in letting it all in-
the wild with the weak; fear,
fantasies, failures and success.
When loss rips off the doors of
the heart, or sadness veils your
vision with despair, practice
becomes simply bearing the truth.
In the choice to let go of your
known way of being, the whole
world is revealed to your new eyes.
*Geneen Roth is the author of Women, Food and God, which I imagined at one time was too unbearably silly for words, and now, I find, has become an important book in my life. Thank God for change.