Wednesday, 27 February 2008

The beginning of the beginning

If we're willing to give up hope that insecurity and pain can be exterminated, then we can have the courage to relax into the groundlessness of our situation. This is the first step on the path. ~Pema Chodron, When Things Fall Apart

I'm going to tell you today why you should give up hope. Yes, that's right--give up hope!

We've got this idea that hopelessness is a bad thing. We tell ourselves (and each other) not to give up hope. Whatever you do, don't lose hope.

Hope springs eternal.

Hope floats.

Hope is the thing with feathers
That perches in the soul,
And sings the tune without the words,
And never stops at all...

There's this notion that we should be constantly striving for something , something more, something bigger. Something meaningful. We think we ought to be heading toward something, moving toward a goal, working for the future. Always looking for something better. Always reaching out for something stable, something that will last, something that we can rely on. That hand to hold on to. That fine day when everything will be okay, and nothing bad will ever happen again. If we don't give up, if we don't let that little bird ever stop chirping in our souls, if we don't stop wishing for things to be good, then--like magic-- bad things won't happen. And even if they do happen, that little bird must still go on chirping, through the gale and the storm, because that's what it means to be human, blah, blah, blah.

This concept of hopefulness is actually driven by fear. What we want is lasting security, but a little life experience can tell you that there is no such thing as lasting security. We want very much to have some reliable, comfortable ground under our feet, but as Pema Chodron points out in When Things Fall Apart, 'we've tried a thousand ways to hide and a thousand ways to tie up all the loose ends, and the ground just keeps moving under us.' Hoping for security is not ever going to free us from fear. Because there is actually no such thing as lasting security, this hope is ultimately the cause of all suffering and fear. It's only when we begin to accept the truth that nothing can be relied on to stay the same that we can begin to release the fear.

The first noble truth of the Buddha is that when we feel suffering, it doesn't mean that something is wrong. What a relief. Finally somebody told the truth. Suffering is part of life, and we don't have to feel it's happening because we personally made the wrong move. ~Pema Chodron

In other words, no amount of planning, scheming, buying insurance, taking vitamins, paying tuition, wearing the latest fashion, doing a thousand sit-ups or whatever it is you might be doing to provide yourself some security in this life is going to work. Things do fall apart. Things go wrong. Bad stuff happens. You didn't make it happen and you couldn't have prevented it from happening. So just let go of control of the universe already! You were never in control of it to begin with.

This is not a nihilistic attitude. Nihilism rejects all morality and sees our existence as devoid of meaning. Hopelessness in the Buddhist sense sees our existence as rich with meaning, though not necessarily the meaning we hope for. (Ie, if we are good, if we do the right things, then we will be taken care of.) Letting go of 'hope' is the beginning of freedom.

Accept and appreciate impermanence and change and you have taken the first step toward the dharma. When change comes and you don't blame yourself for it, wonder where you went wrong, wish you could go back and do things differently, ask the universe why you deserve it, or feel dread of the further changes that are looming on the horizon--then you will know that your feet are on the path to hopelessness. Free at last.

Hopelessness is the basic ground. Otherwise, we're going to make the journey with the hope of getting security. If we make the journey to get security, we're completely missing the point. We can do our meditation practice with the hope of getting security; we can study the teachings with the hope of getting security; we can follow all the guidelines and instructions with the hope of getting security, but it will only lead to disappointment and pain. We could save ourselves a lot of time by taking this message very seriously right now. Begin the journey without the hope of getting ground under your feet. Begin with hopelessness. ~Pema Chodron

When we are hopeless, we are free to live in the moment. We're not busy picking through the rubble of the past or attempting to construct the future. We can enjoy right now. We can eat because it tastes wonderful and fuels our bodies and does no harm to others. We can exercise because it is joyous to move and to breathe and to sweat. We can look into the eyes of a loved one and not regret the fight we had last week or worry that they will get sick or be taken from us next year. When we let go of hope, we are free to live right here, right now.

'Every day in every way, I'm getting better and better,' that little sign might say on your bathroom mirror. Or it might say, 'Today is the first day of the rest of your life.' Cross it out and draw a big smiley face and write, 'Abandon hope.' You'll know what it means.

May all beings be at ease.

1 comment:

Fat-Free Vegan said...

It all makes perfect sense to me and I have no doubt it's true. But in practice ... well it's hard to give up on hope. Still, I like your words of wisdom (as usual) and will give it a try! :)