“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]