“Hope and fear come from feeling that we lack something; they come from a sense of poverty. We can’t simply relax with ourselves. We hold on to hope, and hope robs us of the present moment. We feel that someone else knows what is going on, but that there is something missing in us, and therefore something is lacking in our world.” – Ani Pema Chodron
Hope and fear
When developing a more meditative life, hope and fear are obstacles we need to face. It may be new to you to consider hope an obstacle, but we are so used to being driven by both hope and fear. If we’re really honest, we might admit to an undercurrent of fear with us most of the time. This is because on one level our circumstances are quite out of our control and there are many dangers to life and our well-being. This knowledge we mostly keep at bay, holding a half-conscious hope that nothing bad will happen. As compared to full-fledged fear, we even feel a relief when we feel hope. But we might consider more deeply if it’s all it’s cracked up to be.
As for fear, it isn’t at all that fear is bad, but that it can and does become an obstacle. At a basic level, fear is a helper. Fear helped our ancestors stay safe or move back into safety. We all feel fear and have our ways of dealing with it. Sometimes we panic; sometimes we freeze; or we run or fight in our unique style. Some of us get very busy, others slow down; some become aggressive and others become still. We all are different there. With a trained mind we can observe how our own emotions arise and subside. We can notice that there are fearful thoughts and sensations before the emotion fully arrives. The more we mindfully observe how thoughts and reactions move and develop, the more it feels like a process we might learn to slow down, even shift. We can see what’s coming and maybe decide not to go there.
Buddhist teacher Ani Pema Chodron writes, “Hope is an addiction to the idea that things would be better if they were somehow different.” This keeps us from dealing with everything as it actually is. Hope also leads us to wanting to be different and not being okay with who and how we actually are right now. In this way it’s not easy to relax with who and how we are, because there is always this discomfort with certain aspects, circumstances and experiences.
Pema Chodron puts it this way:“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.”
These subtle reactions, an impulse to change the channel, may feel like something we cannot choose and cannot fix. And in a certain sense, we can’t change what arises in us. But this does not mean that we are at the mercy of our emotions. When we learn to stay with discomfort a little longer, get curious about how it actually is, where and how we feel it, then we can gain insights that will affect how we experience ourselves. We can discover for ourselves how those sensations and feelings naturally change all by themselves. Even more important, our point of view about the whole ordeal can shift as we discover the greater space of awareness in which our drama is happening. And rather than irritation, we might discover compassion for ourselves and others.
The possibility to stay
Instead of following hope and fear we can be courageous and curious in learning how to stay with what is and see if there’s anything new to learn there. The freedom to live with discomfort expands as we discover our ability to experience it with curiosity. There might even be a part of us that is already curious, already ready to experience in a different way. This curious, loving way is the beginning of encompassing everything we experience with acceptance and awareness. The more we shed our judgment and our rejection of what actually is, the more we might find new, more spacious and creative ways to live with what we see.
An update on the blog
I wrote at the beginning of this year that I was going to do interviews with interesting people reflecting on the questions I present here. Now more than six months have passed and I’ve only shared the results of one of those interviews! Many reasons led to this fact and, and, although I’ve done more interviews, I’ve yet to finish writing about them. I’d like to thank you for your patience in this.
We never know how projects we plan will work out. Many different things can happen along the way. It’s very helpful not to judge and criticize oneself too much but to notice and be curious about how the flow of things actually happen in our life, and how we can move, swim and dance in this flow.
I wish a peaceful, interesting and relaxed week for all of you, and thank you again!