Abandon all hope of fruition
Avoid the trap of hope and fear
-Shambhala Buddhist teaching
Isn’t hope a good thing? When we bump into these teachings on “hope,” we trip. It can be really confusing — aren’t we taught that we should be hopeful people? Yes and no — “hope” can be both expansive and, in another context, severely limiting, so working with hope can be challenging.
For starters, hope is always about our wanting to change the way things are right now. If we’re stuck in a terrible situation, hope, in the form of allowing for the possibility for change, can be quite positive. This positive, expansive manifestation of hope can be an antidote to our habitual tendency to solidify our present experience. Life sucks, so it will always suck, from now until the end of the world (which, of course, seems to be immanent.) If we sit in this fixation, despair arises. Yet with this species of hope, we can at least allow for the possibility that our situation can change; this kind of hope is a modest step toward recognizing the impermanence of all things, including our present situation, our suffering and ourselves. It can be a door out of fixation and into the future.
But at the same time, we’re afraid of this future. We can’t control it; it may not turn out “well.” So we earnestly hope for a specific outcome – “if only I get this job (or girl, money, award, fill in the blank….) then everything will be terrific!” We’re uncomfortable with the fundamentally ungrounded (unguaranteed?) nature of the future, so we send out our emotional tractor beams and try to drag the future into a specific outcome that we, in our wisdom, deem to be acceptable. This is the “trap of hope and fear” referred to above.
With this limiting kind of hope, we essentially decide today the conditions by which we will agree to be happy tomorrow. We’re in a sort of negotiation with the universe, this swirling mass of cause and effect — “if you let me win, I’ll be ok.” But of course, this can’t work. We’ll get what we get, so why decide in advance how we’ll feel about it? Moreover, do we really even know what’s best for us at a given moment? It may be years before we know for sure (if ever.)
The first kind of hope derives from aversion (get me outta here!) The second kind of hope derives from grasping, or passion (I specifically want THIS.) Both derive from a reluctance to engage with the world as it is, moment-by-moment. Both emerge from trying to control our experience, rather than simply experiencing our lives.
And what huge energy we put into trying to control all of this, energy we could better use to engage with whatever emerges. And, of course, we ourselves are constantly changing, just as impermanent as the shifting world we’re trying to control (indeed, how could it be otherwise?)
So even if we could put a rope around the world, there’s nothing solid to tie it to.
Here in these mountains, we’re in the second year of drought, but it’s rained a lot in recent weeks. It’s cold this morning, but the sun has finally broken through the clouds. Spring can take its time at these altitudes, often just a brief respite between the deep snows of winter and the dry heat of this high alpine desert.
Which direction this day will tip is anybody’s guess, but for now at least, the hills are green, the flowers are ripe, and the streams are all running full.
© Old Bones, New Snow/ J.A. Fink 2013