One cold March day in 2013, I watched as hope crumbled. I sat on my sofa, music playing, and hope died. I cried, I wrote, I was amazed at how much had been veiled by hope. I’d wanted to believe in something – anything – so badly; hope had given me something to hold on to, a place to stand. Doing the Living Inquiries – being willing to look at all my beliefs, all those places I stood – left me with precisely nowhere to stand, and thus hope fell.
Hope gets a good press. Hope makes it onto the front of greetings cards, into songs, even into presidential campaigns. It speaks of brighter, bolder futures. Hope’s narratives are compelling. I used to live on hope, like many of us do. I hoped so hard. I hoped that it wasn’t really like this. I hoped it would get better. I hoped I would get better.
And yet, the day that hope died, I felt immense relief. The giving up of hope also meant the end of illusion. Hope meant forever leaving here, and journeying beyond now. Hope – innocent, sweet hope – had blinded me many times. And clinging on to hope was so exhausting. I saw how hope was a subtle controlling, a desire for life to go a certain way. I saw that hope holds out the illusion of escape; it holds out for something different, rather than being with this.
The sweetest of surrenders came once hope was no more. A merciful giving up to this, here, now. I saw that there was nothing to be rejected, excluded, or avoided. A resounding yes came from the depths of my being. There was exquisite beauty and profound gratitude; the end of hope didn’t mean hopelessness, as I’d always feared, but something so much vaster and all-encompassing that was way beyond both hope and hopelessness.
We experience these sublime moments, these precious insights, and life continues. And I haven’t stopped hoping. It’s a natural human response, particularly to the pain and suffering of ourselves and others. If you’re ill, I hope you feel better soon. If it’s your birthday, I hope you have a happy one. I’m sure there are times and places in which hope is life-sustaining. A few days ago, however, I found myself experiencing the hope that comes when we want something to go our way for more self-centred reasons. I wanted a response from a close friend whom I feared I may have upset. When I didn’t receive it, I was surprised by the intensity of feeling that came.
As I stayed with the feeling, I touched a deep well of despair. What is the point? How the fuck is this (life) supposed to work? The despair came, I sobbed, and I saw the last strand of remaining hope, a little bit of hope that’s been hanging on since the tragic death of my best friend when we were eighteen years old. The hope that something would work, that someone would come and look after me, that this despair would change, that I’d be able to avoid it somehow. As I finally felt the despair, relief came again. The relief that comes with such raw honesty. The relief of not having to lie any more. Clarity came with the end of hope; I was able to see what was actually here.
Here’s the thing: we’ve been led to believe that we should hope. As if it’s always a virtue. As if it makes us better people. In reality, it can be just another way to not face what’s here, to avoid despair or grief or whatever lies beneath. Questioning the value of hope can feel transgressive. As I said, it’s not that hope is wrong. Not at all, in the right place. But what is our hoping really doing? Is hope obscuring our view? Are we hoping that our loved one will change in the face of glaring evidence to the contrary? Are we clinging on to hope so that we don’t have to face the reality of our situation? Is hope actually preventing us from taking the action that we need to take?
We may even feel that the act of hoping itself will make things happen, that somehow if we didn’t hope that nothing would improve and nothing would change. As if good things only come to those who hope. The idea of not having hope may seem frightening if we believe that hope itself (which is made up of words, images of what we’d like to happen in the future, and bodily sensations) is determining the course of our lives in some way, and that without it, we’d stay stuck. What we discover when we look more deeply, however, is that being with what’s actually here catalyses transformation in a much more profound way than hoping our way out of our situation.
Abandon hope, all ye who enter here. Inquiring dismantles all our sacred cows. With hope as we have known it abandoned, we find ourselves, not in Dante’s entrance to hell, but right here in the present moment, just as it is. Here, it’s possible we may discover more than we ever dared hope for, in the midst of what we’ve been hoping to avoid.
Fiona Robertson is a Senior Facilitator/Trainer of the Living Inquiries, and the co-creator of the Anxiety Inquiry. She loves her work, and she also loves writing, music (she used to be a bass player) and dancing (in the kitchen, mostly). She intends to live in a house by the sea one day. You can find out more about the Living Inquiries here: www.beyondourbeliefs.org and you can read Fiona’s writings here: www.whilstwalkingjack.blogspot.com. Feel free to email her at [email protected]