Everyday Mysticism: The Evolution of Hope

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One common type of feedback we get when Kat and I do readings for people is that we have given the client hope. Something in our readings, something in the message contained in the cards, has opened up a path for the client, given them tools and inspiration to keep moving forward

In other words, hope.

Hope is great, right? Hope is that thing that keeps many of us getting out of bed in the morning–a vision in our minds and hearts of future happiness, success, peace, comfort, etc. I am a hope junkie, as dependent on my daily dose of it as I am on the Prozac I’ve been taking since 1996.

A few years ago, though, I encountered the teachings of Buddhist nun Pema Chödrön, who questioned my undying faith in the concept of hope.

Hope and fear is a feeling with two sides. As long as there’s one, there’s always the other. This is the root of our pain. In the world of hope and fear, we always have to change the channel, change the temperature, change the music, because something is getting uneasy, something is getting restless, something is beginning to hurt, and we keep looking for alternatives. In a nontheistic 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 “Every day in every way I’m getting better and better.” Pema Chödrön, When Things Fall Apart.

What the hell? I mean, abandon hope? Hope? My ultimate wubbie, that thing I cling to when I’m seriously considering pillow-hugging as a new permanent career path?

Buddhist wisdom tells us to abandon hope, live in the moment, and get our heads out of the clouds.

But how many people reading this are full-fledged Buddhists, ready to just plunge themselves into an all-encompassing lifestyle of mindfulness and detachment? Anybody? Bueller? Bueller?

Yeah, I live in the Western world, where our entire society seems to be built to glorify that carrot on the damned stick. Work towards a better future. Study hard so you can have a great career. Buy this, do that, learn the other thing–all in the name of Something Better.

It’s really hard not to get swept up in it, especially when the vision of the present is pretty scary and depressing. It’s hard not to place our faith in a sunny, hopeful future when today smells like ass.

While her message seems counterintuitive, Chödrön has some good points to make. When you live in hope, you spend a lot of emotional energy on something that may or may not happen. You live in a potential future at the expense of the actual present.

There is a danger, when hope is involved, of becoming so fixated on this future life, this future me, this future relationship that we’ve invented that we don’t take the time to learn the lessons of the present.

“Instead of asking, How can I get rid of my difficult coworker, or how can I get even with my abusive father, we might begin to wonder how to unwind our suffering at the root. We might wonder, How do I learn to recognize I’m caught? How can I see what I do without feeling hopeless? How can I find some sense of humor? Some gentleness? Some ability to let go and not make such a big deal of my problems? What will help me remain present when I’m afraid? This is a work in progress, a process of uncovering our natural openness, our natural intelligence and warmth.”

Pema Chodron, Taking the Leap, The Essential Pema: Study Guide to the Writings of Pema Chödrön

Most of us are familiar with the “embodied life as a school” concept: our souls are sent to Earth to learn something which we then take back with us when we die.

In the Judeo-Christian viewpoint, this school is a winner-take-all scenario. Pass the final, or you burn in hell. One shot, win or lose, no redo, no second place. (I’m pretty sure they’ve gotten rid of Purgatory and Limbo by now.) In my humble opinion, that’s the worst-case scenario, and it’s a little too gruesome for me to accept.

Other philosophies are a little more giving. We have multiple lives to try, and each life we live gives us a new and better insight into all the lessons we’re learning. We’re students, and eventually we’re going to graduate and reach this wonderful miraculous place where everything is sunshine and lollipops. There’s no hell, btw. We’re just making our own hell because we forget who we Really Are.

This philosophy makes a little more sense to me, because who doesn’t like sunshine and lollipops, right? My recent studies in the Akashics have helped me get a little better perspective, though.

Yes, I think embodied life is a learning experience. I think our souls are here to experience life, and I think that we do get many lives to try different things. But I think it’s more of a self-directed study program than traditional school. There’s no pass or fail. There’s no degree waiting at the end of your incarnations, no final destination for your soul to get out of “having to” reincarnate.

I really think incarnation is a choice.

Wrap your brain around that for a moment. We choose to be here. Here, in this crazy, vicious, stupid, annoying, terrifying world. We choose it. Over and over and over again.

Why? Why would we choose this, if there wasn’t some benefit to our souls for being here? Why would we choose to place ourselves in the path of fear, pain, hunger, disappointment, loneliness, war, etc. and so forth.

If life is not a test, and life is not a school that we are trying to graduate from, then why?

That’s where the Akashic training gave me my breakthrough. If this is self-directed study, and we are not captive students forced on pain of Galactic Truancy to attend a school we hate, why wouldn’t we challenge ourselves? I mean, what is the point of being here if we’re not going to at least make it worth the price of the carbon we’re printed on?

We choose this life because it’s challenging.

When we hope for an easier life, it’s sort of like Stravinsky wanting to do a concert filled with nothing but songs designed for first year violinists. What’s the point?

In that sense, hope does seem kind of ridiculous. Why would we hope for something easier, when the whole point of our life is to challenge ourselves? Take a break, take a rest, breathe deeply, but why on Earth would we stop?

I think we need a new perspective on hope and struggle. I mean, yes, I want people to know happiness. I pray for those in the path of danger, those who are suffering, those who are abused and taken advantage of. Of course, we should do these things, as we should do everything we can to create a better world for all of us.

But when I think of hope these days, I think more about how we experience things. Do we focus on our pain, complain and fight and struggle? I know I do, a lot. Do we give in to despair, deciding that the pain we’re experiencing is some kind of punishment? Guilty, very much so.

What if we switched our perspective a little? What if, when we encountered pain or anger or guilt or the stupidity of human nature, we looked at it as a particularly difficult lesson to learn? What if, instead of running away into the hope of a magical future, we dig into the challenge of our now, knowing that every challenge we meet will make us stronger, more experienced, wiser?

Could we ease our discomfort? Could we open the doorway to that better life we keep obsessing with? If we stop placing our faith in an ever-out-of-reach future and accept the present, warts and all, could we actually transform our lives into something much more meaningful?

I don’t know. I’m still learning. I’ll let you know how it turns out. Let me know, too, okay? Comments are open.

I hope you’ve enjoyed this week’s blog. Please feel free to share this post. Feedback is always appreciated, and don’t forget to like us on Facebook and Twitter.



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