On the benefits of being hopeless…Quoets for Poets, 7/31/13, and rambles for a Crab…

“What?!?! Is he serious?! How cynical! What a pessimist!  What a Downer!”
Wait, wait…hear me out.  This is not some nihilist rant, though it may sound like it.
I’m not saying I’m not cynical, only that perhaps you may not understand what I mean by “hope”.
Let me explain.
With some quotes (Yes, more quotes. Yes, from Stephen Batchelor again.)
And some rambling from a Crabby John…
Buckle-up and bear with me.  This may take a while.

“Places to which I am instinctively attracted are places where I imagine suffering to be absent.  ‘There,’ I think, ‘if only I could get there, then I would suffer no more.’  The groundless ground of contingency, however, holds out no such hope.  For this is the ground where you are born and die, get sick and grow old, are disappointed and frustrated.”

When I was growing up and complained about some perceived injustice in my life, saying, “It’s not fair!,” my mother would always say, “Dear, life isn’t fair,” and then she would hug me.

Life doesn’t have to be fair.
Life doesn’t have to make sense.
Life doesn’t have to make you happy.
When you stop expecting it to do any of these things, life’s own implicit possibilities open up to you.  Once you stop expecting life to be or do any thing in particular, you are able to see its ability to do any thing in general.

“To know, deep in your bones, how everything you experience is fleeting, poignant, and unreliable undermines the rationale for trying to grasp hold of, possess, and control it.  To fully know suffering begins to affect how you relate to the world, how you respond to others, how you manage your own life.  For how can I seek lasting solace in something that I know is incapable of providing it?  Why would I stake all my hopes for happiness on something that I know will finally let me down?”

Your past is just a story.
Once you realize this,
it has no power over you.
Regret has no hold on you.

Your future is a also a story,
but hope is not its author.
Hope has no hold on you.

Hope seeks better answers.
Stories seek better questions.

“You come to a point when you know for yourself, without a flicker of doubt, that your response to life need not be driven by your craving for things to be the way you want them to be.  You realize that you are free not to act on the prompts of craving.”

My oldest sister died when I was twenty-four and she was forty-two.  It was sudden.  No-one knew it was coming.  There was no reason for it.  She was healthy as far as anyone knew.  She had a hidden ticking time-bomb in her chest.  It picked Friday, October 28, 1994 to go off.  Why?  There was no reason.

I found it fascinating that other people—veritable strangers—were more uncomfortable with her death than I was.  I found myself sugar-coating it for their sakes.  Saying “My sister passed away,” instead of “My sister died.”  Using all the usual euphemisms.  But really, she died.  She was dead.  She was gone and I was still here.  Don’t get me wrong.  Of course I was sad.  I cried harder at her funeral than I think I ever had before and possibly harder than I ever will, and, some twenty years later, I have now lost both of my parents, and I still don’t think I have cried that hard.     Death became a thing like the rain.  It simply happened.  It did not care whether I was hurt by it.  It did not care if I was scared.  It did not care if I understood or not.  LIke the rain, it simply happened.  In accepting this simple but difficult fact, I was reassured.  I found peace in not searching for a reason; in simple acceptance.

“An eternally vanishing world will never stay fixed in place long enough to satisfy the desires of a self or society for permanent stability and well-being.  Yet we instinctively look to such a world as though it were capable of providing such happiness.  This deep-seated utopian longing would appear to have biological as well as psychological origins.  The evolutionary success of human beings is in part due to our conceptual capacity to anticipate and plan for a future in which we, our kin, and offspring will thrive and prosper.
“The success of this strategy requires the notion of an enduring self that is not destroyed by the flux and turbulence of life.  Only in this way can ‘I’ and ‘we’ still be around to enjoy the fruits of our efforts when the future arrives.  But as we carefully examine the unfolding patterns of life within and around us, no such self can be found.”

As to the future, I will not hope.  I will either do what I can now if I can do anything or I will not do what I can or there is nothing that I can do to change it anyway, and if there is some thing I can do and I do not do it then I will accept the consequences of my not-doing when the time comes and I know that there will be no one to blame but myself for what I did or did not do or perhaps there is just no one to blame.  “Hope for the future” is as much about blame and recrimination and self abuse for what will not have gotten done when of course it didn’t get done because all you did was hope, you did not do.  This is when and how hope changes into regret.

“After all, people desire immortality and do not wish to embrace the inescapable reality of death; they long for happiness and shy away from the contemplation of pain; they want to preserve their sense of self, not deconstruct it into its fleeting and impersonal components.  It is counterintuitive to accept that deathlessness is experienced each moment we are released from the deathlike grip of greed and hatred; that happiness in this world is only possible for those who realize that this world is incapable of providing happiness; that one becomes a fully individuated person only by relinquishing beliefs in an essential self.”

Hope so often is just a way of not looking at what we don’t want to see.  Instead of looking future suffering in the face and accepting it, we look the other way.

Instead of saying I hope and then trying not to think about what will happen if what-I-hope-happens doesn’t happen, why don’t I think now about that possible occurrence of my-hopes-not-being-answered and really think about what I will really do in that case.

Success is as dangerous as failure.
Hope is as hollow as fear.

What does it mean that success is as dangerous as failure?
Whether you go up the ladder or down, your position is shaky.
When you stand with your two feet on the ground,
you will always keep your balance.

What does it mean that hope is as hollow as fear?
Hope and fear are both phantoms that arise
from thinking of the self.
When we don’t see the self as self,
what do we have to fear?

See the world as your self.
Have faith in the way things are.
Love the world as your self;
then you can care for all things.

—Tao Te Ching,  Ch. 13

hope for the future or
regret for the past
both hold us helpless
awaiting first and last

“…happiness in this world is only possible for those who realize that this world is incapable of providing happiness…”

[This post is as much for my own reassurance, me speaking to me, self-affirmation, as it is for anything else.  A number of things have been clarified for me in the process of putting this together.  If you made it this far, I thank you for reading.] 

[All quotes are from the writings of Stephen Batchelor, except The Tao Te Ching, trans. Stephen Mitchell]

[Credit to juntamng for the beginning of the “Your past is just a story..” quote]

18 thoughts on “On the benefits of being hopeless…Quoets for Poets, 7/31/13, and rambles for a Crab…

      • ching! … result!:

        if I have lost all hope, I have lost the self which is created through it, therefore if I am not then I am completely and totally with your meditation on hopelessness because I have no self to (hopefully) get in the way of it … I’m with you Carl Solomon up there in Rockland!


        • Of Course!!
          Hopefully indeed!
          Perhaps hope is the substance
          of which the self is built…
          …and was that Yoda-syntax? Funny that–I almost para phrased the wise old Jedi in this post–
          “Do. Or do not.
          There is no hope.”


  1. JCC,

    Wow. Good job on this one. Thanks for the extra reminder of your post. WordPress doesn’t seem to be sending all my email updates right now. My husband says he’s had to un- and then re- follow some people lately to make it work again. He mentioned you’d posted about “Hope” today and thought I should read it. He and I are fellow travelers along the Hope-less path. We catch each other “hoping” and remind one another of the inevitable crash that follows “getting one’s hopes up.”

    “Hope so often is just a way of not looking at what we don’t want to see. Instead of looking future suffering in the face and accepting it, we look the other way.”

    I really like this line of yours. I would add to this thought that when we look the other way from “future (likely or possible) suffering”, we render ourselves blind and ineffectual in this process. You can’t deal with what you can’t see coming.

    I have had to give up on Hope in order to move forward among the reality that is here. I’ve found that turning away from hope gives me better traction to make the changes I need to make.

    I agree very much with what you’re saying about “Hope”. At the same time, I realize that most people won’t get it.

    Thanks for the thoughtful post and quotes, my friend.



    • Thank you so much for your thoughtful response Alice. I like that you say “future (likely or possible) suffering” — likely being the operative word here. The truth is that it is not just likely, but in fact inevitable. I was trying not to sound like TOO much of a downer. Even though I personally find these thoughts quite liberating and not cynical or depressing. I knew you would get it. I worried that I might alienate quite a few people with this post but I am gratified to see that the opposite seems to be the case.

      Thank you and I’ll catch up to you in France soon…I hope…


      • JCC, “Liberating” is a fine word to use in this case. I don’t find it a “downer” at all.

        Hey. I’d like to catch up with myself in France soon. ;-))

        But no hope. Please. ;-))



    • Thank you KB–I am gratified to see that this has resonated with so many people when I was afraid it might be a little too left-field. Especially considering it’s about ten times longer than my usual posts.
      Thank you for reading and the reblog–


  2. I’ll probably return to this a number of times. I like it very much. To my ears it is that you are giving answer to all the cultural/religious promises you were handed as truth because through the living of your life you have learned some real truths.
    I think we all need to be pioneers in this way… each of us holding a piece of the puzzle in the continual living of our lives. I guess I do think of life as a puzzle….finding the pieces that have relevance. No one person can solve it all, have all the answers…we need each other.
    So thank you Gravity for putting it all out there….xxoo


    • Thank you Ms. Light–I like the puzzle metaphor, but I think it has its dangers as well. Thinking that all the pieces are “supposed” to fit. We often have to do the shaping ourselves, I think. The puzzle is what you make of it. It is you own puzzle-painting, if you will. And often, you get pieces that just don’t fit, or at least don’t seem to at the time. Often they fall into place many years later, when a place for them is found that simply did not exist before. Maybe we thought we were make a landscape, and didn’t realize the landscape was on another planet and populated with aliens and robots. We have the pieces (from many different puzzles?) but no lids–no images–to base our design on.
      Some may find this daunting, depressing, even overwhelming. I find it to be the greatest sort of Adventure. Anything worth doing is almost always a bit scary.
      Thank you–


      • Oh I think we are on the same wave length here, Gravity…a puzzle is just that….a puzzle. I tend to be more literal than most.

        A “finished puzzle” is no longer a puzzle…but a projection assuming completion of some sort … just to be comfortable with a puzzle. We’ve been well trained as human beings to expect this is our birth right.

        I also understand your reservation with your post being viewed as negative. It is blatantly culturally subversive. In our culture suffering of any nature is considered, not only a weakness, but worse, a contagious disease.

        Accepting our own suffering as we openly engage in each moment without needing the insurance of a program, a promise, is to me the clearest path to compassion.

        And I wonder if the word “hope” is getting a bad wrap. I understand perfectly well why and how it is being used and I am in agreement within context… I am seeing it used this way in the writing of many….but I think “hope” used to be just the human willingness to keep showing up to our own lives despite lets say the war going on or the disaster uniting us. Hope lately is being aligned with a rejection of what I view as the dominant propaganda.

        I’d also like to take back the word “weird” Gravity…we’re losing some good words lately. Bottom line though, thanks again for building the platform….love it!


        • At quite probably the very same time you were typing the above comment, I was in the library. Looking at the poetry books, I saw on the shelf, “On Earth” by Robert Creeley. Thinking that he is one of the poets on my “to read” list, I pulled it down and the first poem I opened to was:

          The Puzzle

          Neither one nor the other.
          A wall.
          An undulating water.

          A weather.
          A point in space.
          Waste of time.
          Something missed.

          The faces.
          The unicorn
          with its horn.

          as ready.
          Fixed on heart
          on head’s prerogative.

          Which way to go
          up down

          In the sky
          stars flash by.
          head for heaven.

          Down below
          the pole
          thrusts up
          into the diamond.

          Found, fills
          its echo.
          A baby.

          I felt like I was consulting the I-ching again.

          Obviously, I have much work and thought to do…


  3. Nice take on hope – I think:

    hope for the future or
    regret for the past
    both hold us helpless

    sums up my feelings nicely. I find when I’m hoping for something, I’ve likely given up on the idea that I can make that thing occur myself and am looking for some mysterious outside agency to do it for me. Which is really a kind of hopelessness.

    So it’s a great sign to me to re-examine what I can do to affect the desired change. Or to change direction entirely. Or to simply accept the fact I am powerless.


    • You’ve summed it up nicely indeed OoaC. It is just that element of “giving up” that bothers me the most about “hope” as most people use the word. Either that or, Yes! a lack of acceptance of what life is throwing at us.
      Thank you for your close reading.
      A lot more people have “gotten” this than I expected.


  4. “Death became a thing like the rain. It simply happened.” I don’t think I have ever seen a better way to put it. You are absolutely correct.
    If I may, I would really like to print out your 3-stanza-“story”-poem and hang it on my wall… it stood out to me for various reasons. I hope that will be okay?
    Thank you for your insight – it is a true gift you left for us to unwrap.


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