Thursday, January 24, 2008

Abandon hope?

While we're on the subject of peace...In my own search for peace, I've been reading When Things Fall Apart: Heart Advice for Difficult Times by Pema Chodron, an American-born Tibetan Buddhist nun, and it's blowing my little mind. One of the things she seems to be saying is give up hope. Hope takes you out of the present, which cuts you off from the real experience of life. Hope also sets up a false idea that one day everything will be groovy, and this false idea causes suffering. The reality is that some days will be groovy and some days won't. In a word, the Tibetan Buddhists seem to be saying (with loving kindness): deal.

But let go of hope? I would have slit my wrists years ago without hope that things would change and get better. (And they did.) So I'm struggling with the notion even though I can also see the wisdom in it. In her words:

"Turning your mind toward the dharma does not bring security or confirmation. Turning your mind toward the dharma does not bring any ground to stand on. In fact, when your mind turns toward the dharma, you fearlessly acknowledge impermanence and change and begin to get the knack of hopelessness.

"In Tibetan there's an interesting word: ye tang che. The ye part means 'totally, completely,' and the rest of it means 'exhausted.' Altogether, ye tang che means totally tired out. We might say 'totally fed up.' It describes an experience of complete hopelessness, of completely giving up hope. This is an important point. This is the beginning of the beginning. Without giving up hope-that there's somewhere better to be, that there's someone better to be-we will never relax with where we are or who we are...."

"To think that we can finally get it all together is unrealistic. To seek for some lasting security is futile....One has to give up hope that this way of thinking will bring us satisfaction. Suffering begins to dissolve when we can question the belief or the hope that there's somewhere to hide."

Now doesn't that make sense? However, even though I'm not a religious person, I am a believer. When I look at the world and see Darfur, Iraq, Gaza and good old Haliburton, deep underneath my inability to see God, deep underneath even my certainty that there just can't be a God, is still a belief in God. I don't think I could shake it no matter how hard I tried.

I am Grandmama's granddaughter. She and her sister, my Aunt Susie used to take me to church when I was a little girl. I loved everything about church when I was little: The Methodist ladies in their hats. The butterscotches and peppermints my grandmother and great aunt kept in their "pocketbooks" to calm coughs and soothe children. I'm going up yonder to be with my lord sung in loud, sweet voices. The paper fans with Jesus's or Martin Luther King Jr.'s picture on one side and ads for Thomas Funeral Home on the other. (Grandmama & Aunt Susie's brother-in-law was Lonnie Thomas.)

But when I was about 10 and my parents' marriage was beginning to unravel and I was old enough to hear the snippy gossip and notice when folks weren't exactly walking their talk, I stopped going to church. When I went to college and took religion and philosophy classes, I grew even more distant from religion.

Yet it goes bone deep. The first thing I do when I need help is say "Please God." The first thing I do when I'm happy is say "Thank you God." Belief is all through my writing. Every single book.

Belief in God and hope (for me) go hand in hand. Letting go of one would seem like letting go of the other. And even though that makes sense on so many levels, the Grandmama and Aunt Susie in me will never let go.

However, I'm still getting a lot from this book (which I have to read very slowly because it does blow my little mind). And I have some CDs by Chodron called "How to Meditate." Clearly, there is much to learn. If any Tibetan Buddhists (or anyone else) wants to weigh in, I'd love to hear what you have to say about hope.


iyan and egusi soup: said...

my thought is that things don't have to work out perfectly or even as we hope in order for life to be enjoyable. there's much to be gained in life's imperfections and ups/downs.

enjoy the journey, the present moment as much as we can (even with the understanding that the future is often uncertain)? yes. abandon hope? i don't intend to.

a thougtful post, carleen!

Judy Merrill Larsen said...

Wow, Carleen, what a cool post. I'm with you, though; I'm a hoper. I don't think it means I'm incapable of dealing with life; I think it means I'm encouraged by possibility. By promise. I know there are bad things out there and that I'll face disappointments and worse. But I like believing that I'll survive and thrive. Like Dilsey, I'll endure.

Sustenance Scout said...

Carleen this is blowing my mind because last night I came across a reference to a book regarding not only acceptance of shortfalls but, especially in the case of persons with disabilities, acceptance of all one is. That book and this book you mention are about to be added to my TBR list, at the top. Thanks, K.

Therese said...

In the immortal words of .38 Special, "Hold on loosely, but don't let go."

Buddhism in general encourages us to divest ourselves of want or, in other words, to stop striving and start being. But unless we are willing and ready to live the life of an ascetic, a certain amount of striving is necessary.

I've never encountered this nun's take on the philosophy; and I disagree that hope is a false idea that causes suffering. I think we can all name many examples of how crucial hope can be when circumstances are dire.

False hope, on the other hand, IS damaging and can lead to suffering.

Mark me down as one who can fearlessly acknowledge impermanence and change while continuing to believe in hope's value.

Great discussion!

Shauna Roberts said...

This was a great, thought-provoking post. I've read some Buddhist philosophy and had the same mental struggles with it that you describe. Like you, I haven't settled the issues in my own mind. I agree that certain aspects of one's existence, such as disabilities (as Sustenance Scout mentions), one has to accept and move on from there.

But I think striving for change is important in many other aspects. When we started writing, we weren't great (or maybe you were; I wasn't). But hope/belief that we would improve kept us going through the long learning curve. Hope/belief that we would be published sustained us through agent rejections and publisher rejections.

Carleen Brice said...

Olufunke, I think this is some of what she's getting at. Take the bitter and the sweet with the same value. I'm thinking I can relate more to the idea of surrendering to a greater power than I can to giving up hope.

Judy, Me too. I have to believe we'll survive and thrive...what else is there?

Karen, Glad to recommend the book. It really is interesting and challenging and worth reading.

Therese, I love your source! :) And I think that's key. Hope, but not feel like we can necessarily dictate what's going to happen.

Shauna, NO...not great! So, yes, writing is one of the areas that I have to keep hope alive about. And lots more things in my character that I'd like to grow. While also keeping the "loving kindess" aspect of what Chodron discusses. And you're right: hope sustains.

Sherry said...

What a wonderful post Carleen. I could have been reading about myself as far as Church/religion/God...and yet I am the same as you and have found my way back to my belief -- I don't go to Church but I have a very strong belief in God.

Hope? I need it. It carried me through a very difficult time in my life...not hope that I would find nirvana...hope that the next day will come...hope that I could "deal" with what was being thrown at me. And I did. And I have. And I'm sure I will again.

This is an interesting concept..but I don't ever see myself abandoning hope.

Julie Layne said...

Without hope, I'd be ... hopeless!

I think what Chodron has to say is certainly valuable, but maybe hope is just the wrong word in our culture. (IMHO, anyway.) Greed, or covetousness, or entitlement, maybe?

A year or so ago, the strains of a song played at the end of a Grey's Anatomy episode and I was mesmerized (yeah, that happens to me a lot. :-) I had to look it up, and buy my only ever i-tunes song, because that was the only place it was available at that time. I haven't listened to it in some time, so went looking for it tonight after reading this. I get chills when the singer (Foy Vance) describes the angel Gabriel approach a homeless man and "gently whisper hope" in his ear, and then the vagabond gets up and does the same thing for a teenage runaway. I like the metaphor of hope being transient there, too.

Yep, I'm a hoper.

I found this youtube link of him performing the song if you'd like to listen.

Lafreya said...

What a wonderful post. I have lately been reading a book called Evil and Investigation by Lance Morrow. It has deeply change my perceptions of many things especilly the nature of evil in the world. At the very end of the book he writes:

"I think that the opposite of evil is not good, but rather, hope- a more kinetic and practical thing. Evil, God knows, is energetic and needs to be opposed by something more vigorous than "good," which as John Milton found when his Lucifer turned out to be far more interesting than God, is blandly undramatic , a sort of Unitarian vanilla .Hope, on the other hand, is goodness in a tight spot, and ambitious to improve things. Robust hope creates new realities and is, as Aeschyus said, the thing exiles feed on. Hope is the primary energy of the will to live, the will to survive.
Rely on hope.
Rely, simply, on love."

I love that phase: Hope is goodness in a tight spot, and ambitious to improve things

Thank for giving me this to think about today.

Sustenance Scout said...

So many thought-provoking comments here. I mentioned hope at the end of my last post regarding Lisa's work with the Pendulum Foundation and have to agree the idea of ever abandoning hope sounds dismal. Yet I believe the ability to completely live in the present is a gift I'd do well to acquire though it goes against the grain of the not-just-cope-but-get-ahead mentality so common in western societies. So I remain intrigued by this writer's premise.

I'd also love to see a photo of you, Carleen, on one of those Sundays with your grandmother and your aunt! What a scene you painted in a few simple sentences. K.

Carleen Brice said...

Sherry, I'm with you all the way!

Julie, Thanks for the link--I'll check it out.

Lafreya, That is a GREAT quote! Thanks very much for sharing.

SS, Yes the balance of hope and also living in the moment is what I'm looking for too. I have pictures of me and a couple cousins at church on an Easter Sunday, but nothing with my grandmother and aunt. Maybe I'll post it. :)

Lisa said...

Wow! Fascinating post and discussion. I think hope has many contexts and the power of hope is undeniable. The more wretched the circumstances and the more powerless we are to effect change, the more powerful and critical hope and faith become. Maybe hope and faith become synonymous in those times when we are facing pain, terminal illness or oppression. To cite Milton again, the inscription to the entrance of hell is "abandon hope all ye who enter here".

I think hope can become a crutch and pull us from being in the moment if we reach for it too frequently. Sometimes I've questioned why I don't seem to feel the emotional drive for publication that many of my friends seem to have. It feels too far away to me. I can work on what I'm doing now and consider that's where the path might take me eventually, but I do feel like hope that's too disconnected from the present, removes me from the moment too.

Maybe I'm weird. I'm sure I am. I tried to think of the last thing I consciously hoped for and it was tied to someone else's illness. Maybe my definition of hope is different. Ok I'm sure I am weird.

Carleen Brice said...

Lisa, Then you're definitely in the right place! Considering the Pajama Gardener is a weirdo, this is a very weirdo-friendly site! :)

nvisible•(E)arth said...

Hi Carlene-
I'd dreamt of you the night before 'abandon hope' was posted.
[we're in our (aha!) offices located in my old elementary school of all places! Sycamore School!
though I've followed tibetan buddhism for nearly twenty years...and you've seen my walls..
Pema is/was my first teacher of dharma when I read 'start where you are' fifteen years ago- in a profound period of complete hope-lessness.
"I live in hopelessness."- saying this frees me from the idea that things will or should be different from this very moment. I am a hopeless romantic. I've never been to Hope Arkansas. I held the office known as the 'Sister of Hope' in the Masonic organization, Rainbow for Girls.
I hope I can make my self clear. etc...etc...
Pema asks me to experience hopelessness, and the engendering of the great heart opening bodhi-chitta that arrives when all is lost. Think: moment of 'assassination'? And really death is beyond hope. We hope we won't die and all that we love will remain alive. We hope the tulip bulbs aren't buried too deep in September and that they'll arrive in March or April to remind us to keep hope alive.
My sense is that it's not so much that I may or may not abandon hope, but that it is the very moment when Hope abandons me that Ani Pema seeks to point me to.
the tulips fail, the assassin succeeds --I feel the moment as deeply as I can, and one more thing- I realize that no matter how high my hopes are somewhere someone feels the complete abandonment of all hope. Yet, beside that is the other great lesson from Pema- known in Tibet as that of 'lojong', or 'sending and receiving'- which could be stated: We are alive to bring hope. We can do this very practically only at the very moment when we take in someone else's complete hopelessness, despair, yes, their suffering. and we only can do this if we are fearlessly committed to feeling our own.
In the church I went to every Sunday with my own grandmother and Auntie Ann, Christ was reported to have said, "suffer the little children to come unto me" I used to think it meant he wanted all the children to die. ( one my first confusions regarding the will-o-God)
Now I know it means: Bring me their suffering and I will open my heart, I will give them hope.

The Sycamore trees outside the elementary school shed their broad leaves every year and I felt alone. Sad. Winter arrived.
You are a remarkably special woman -&- hope springs eternal.


nvisible•(E)arth said...

Correction. I wrote in my recent comment, 'lojong' as meaning sending and receiving- correctly the word is "tonglen" for 'sending and receiving'-
'lojong' = slogans to live by, a kind of primer in ethics
sorry for any confusions.

Carleen Brice said...

Ah, E! E! So good to hear from you. For many reasons. Wonder if you knew about my dilemma of hope and that's why you dreamt of me? So I don't have to give up hope; I just have to be willing to sit and feel the hopelessness (when it comes) so I can have compassion? Like I said, I gotta lot more to learn! Thanks for stopping by. See you soon!!!