“As long as we’re addicted to hope, we feel that we can tone our experience down or liven it up or change it somehow, and we continue to suffer a lot. In a non-theistic state of mind, abandoning hope is an affirmation, the beginning of the beginning. You could even put “Abandon Hope” on your refrigerator door instead of more conventional aspirations like “Everyday in everyway, I’m getting better and better.” We hold onto hope and it robs us of the present moment. If hope and fear are two different sides of the same coin, so are hopelessness and confidence. If we’re willing to give up hope that insecurity and pain can be exterminated, then we can have the courage to relax with the groundlessness of our situation.
Death can be explained as not only the endings in life but all of the things in life that we don’t want. Our marriage isn’t working; our job isn’t coming together. Death and hopelessness provide proper motivation for living an insightful, compassionate life. But most of the time warding off death is our biggest motivation. Warding off any sense of problem, trying to deny that change is a natural occurrence, that sand is slipping through our fingers. Time is passing and its as natural as the seasons changing. But getting old, sick, losing love – we don’t see those events as natural. We want to ward them off, no matter what.
When we talk about hopelessness and death, we’re talking about facing facts. No escapism. Giving up hope is encouragement to stick with yourself, not to run away, to return to the bare bones, no matter whats going on. If we totally experience hopelessness, giving up all hope of alternatives to the present moment, we can have a joyful relationship with our lives, an honest, direct relationship that no longer ignores the reality of impermanence and death.”
Excerpted from When Things Fall Apart by Pema Chodron
Pema is describing hope as an addiction to the idea that things would be better if they were somehow different. I have yet to meet a patient without this addiction. When I’m talking with my patients, it’s so easy to see how hope keeps them from seeing and working with things as they are, which is the only way to effect change.
“Abandoning hope is an affirmation, the beginning of the beginning,” she writes. The hope we’re giving up, she says, is the idea that we could “be saved from being who we are.”
“Without giving up hope – that there’s somewhere better to be, that there’s someone better to be – we will never relax with who or where we are,” she writes.
Abandoning hope relies on a foundation of impermanence. This simply means that everything always changes. Nothing stays. This is both good, and bad, news.
Pema notes that hope is the other side of fear, and that pairing is the root of our struggles:
“In the world of hope and fear, we always have to change the channel, change the music, because something is getting uneasy, something is getting restless, something is beginning to hurt, and we keep looking for alternatives.”
Pema is asking us to stay; we need to stay with our experience, to get to know ourselves, so that we can trust ourselves and our ability to be who we are in this world. She’s asking us to stop looking for alternatives and to have an honest and direct relationship with life. Instead of escaping or covering over our discomfort, we can identify its source, and work with that.
How about you?
Are you hoping to be saved from being who you are?
Maybe it’s time for a new magnet.