The word and the concept of hope is pervasive in our society. “Hope you had a good time.” “Hope you’re well.” “Hope to see you there.”
The winning Obama campaign sold people on change (a fact of life) and hope (an aspiration we so desperately needed in 2008). It worked like a charm. Because, as Harvey Milk said, “You gotta give ‘em hope.”
Unfortunately, the flip side of hope is fear. The more I practice, the more clearly I see how hope leads to suffering. Not having hope doesn’t mean you’re hopeless. It can mean that instead of binding your joy to a hope for the future, you can access bliss now and fully experience the power and innate beauty of the present moment.
People need hope; we are attached to it. For many, it is our primary motivation to go on, to survive and prevail. People in dire, painful, insecure situations can use hope. Religion scholar and author Karen Armstrong wrote, “Despair is a dangerous thing, because once people lose hope, they can resort to extreme measures.”
I’m not promoting pessimism. I’m not advocating despair. I am suggesting that putting all our eggs in the hope basket is what ultimately leads to disappointment at best, utter desperation at worst. So. How can we identify, process and kill false hopes?
You guessed it! Mindfulness. Meditation. Reflection. Insight. Notice, moment to moment, when you yoke your attitude to a hope for the future. Seek the root of that hope. Is it fear? Is it distraction? Is the hope true or false? False hope is based entirely around a fantasy or extremely unlikely outcome.
Hope is the belief in a positive outcome related to events and circumstances in one’s life. The brilliant Indian philosopher, J. Krishnamurti, said, “Beliefs separate.” By identifying ourselves with certain labels, certain hopes, we are only building higher walls between us and the vast “other.”
In the context of religion, hope is not an emotion but rather a spiritual grace. The hope of eternal ecstasy in heaven is the single biggest motivator for oodles of Earthbound religious believers. But isn’t it obvious with just a smidgen of awareness that heaven and hell are manifested in each moment by our attitudes toward events, people, things, by our fleeting moods and fancies?
Hell is the inability to access the present due to that daunting pile of worries, plans, bank statements, obligations, task lists, insecurities, difficult relationships, and so forth. Heaven is the is gratitude for the beautiful and the ugly, the ability to give yourself the exquisite gift of presence and self knowledge — through yoga, meditation, a long walk, a mindful meal, writing, reading, breathing… just being.
Attachment to hope is what causes suffering, not hope itself.
This is a lifelong process. It is fearsome and intimidating at first, but as your persist, you’ll find it is so liberating to free yourself from the shackles of false hopes in order to live with less and less fear, less and less disappointment.
Here’s to hopeless happiness!