The Positive Side of Hopelessness
I have been reading a book by Pema Chödrön, “a notable American figure in Tibetan Buddhism” in which she talks about the benefits of hopelessness. That’s right – not hopeFULness…hopeLESSness.
This is not what I had expected at all, as you can imagine. In fact, I thought that in the practice of meditation and being one with the present, that it was hope I would find. Rather, hopelessness is the beginning.
Here is what she has to say on the subject:
“The difference between theism and notheism is not whether one does or does not believe in God. It is an issue that applies to everyone, including Buddhists and non-Buddhists. Theism is a deeply seated conviction that there’s some hand to hold: if we just do the right things, someone will appreciate us and take care of us. It means thinking there’s always going to be a babysitter available when we need one. We all are inclined to abdicate our responsibilities and delegate our authority to something outside ourselves. Nontheism is relaxing with the ambiguity and uncertainty of the present moment without reaching for anything to protect ourselves. Nontheism is realizing that there’s no babysitter that you can count on. The whole of life is like that. That is the truth, and the truth is inconvenient.”
The truth is inconvenient? Boy, don’t I know it. Those are probably the truest 4 words ever spoken in the English language.
What Chödrön is essentially saying is that there is a benefit to the idea of hopelessness. If we are able to abandon hope it forces us to stop waiting for something better and/or not fully live in the present. Living in a present that is less than ideal is uncomfortable and inconvenient. However, doing so gives us great confidence in our ability to do just that because we have to face what is – whether it is good or bad – and after we do just that, we gain great confidence.
Basically, suffering is part of life. It is inescapable. There is great comfort and pride in actually doing something and dealing with what is here and now. I think that regardless of how badly a night of comedy might go, that is why I keep coming back. At least I was living. I couldn’t stand up there bombing and hope it would get better. I could deal with it right then and there and sometimes that actually turns out to be just fine.
And that is just comedy. In the grand scheme of thing, it is not important. Today, I went to a WWII discussion with 3 veterans on a panel and they all spoke to the daily uncertainty they lived with as young soldiers – having to deal with the very real present and death every day. They accepted this suffering and talk about it with great humility and pride. It has given them incredible resilience and perspective. Perhaps the hopelessness that they felt 70 plus years ago was the most pivotal thing that could have happened to them in their young lives because it forced them to accept what is and not what they hope it to be.
This is a lesson I am learning every day in my life. Through some of the most challenging days over the past 2 years, I have felt more grateful than I had ever felt before.
Until next time,