The Place Beyond Hope and Fear

(continued)
I don’t know what Bahro meant by “insecure”; however, I’ve noted that those who endure, who have stamina for the long haul and become wiser in their actions over time, are those who are not attached to outcomes. They don’t seek security in plans or accomplishments. They exchange certainty for curiosity, fear for generosity. They plunge into the problem, treat their attempts as experiments, and learn as they go. This kind of insecurity is energizing; people become engaged in figuring out what Works instead of needing to be right or worrying about how to avoid failure. Whenever they discover something that does work, there’s a huge rush of energy, often accompanied by laughter.

A willingness to feel insecure, then, is the first step on the journey beyond hope and fear. It leads to the far more challenging state: groundlessness. This is also a core concept in Buddhism—knowing that nothing ever remains the same, learning to live with the unrelenting constant of change, realizing that even the good things won’t last forever, accepting that change is just the way it is.

Life now insists that we encounter groundlessness. Systems and ideas that seemed reliable and solid dissolve at an increasing rate. People who asked for our trust betray or abandon us. Strategies that worked suddenly don’t. Groundlessness is a frightening place, at least at first, but as the old culture turns to mush, we would feel stronger if we stopped searching for ground, if we sought only to locate ourselves in the present and do our work from here.

All fear (and hope) arises from looking backward or forward. The present moment is the only place of clear seeing unclouded by hope or fear. The nineteenth-century Tibetan master Patrul Rinpoche stated this perfectly: “Don’t prolong the past, don’t invite the future, don’t be deceived by appearances, just dwell in present awareness.” Of course, trying to be present when everything around you is crashing down is not easy, but then, nothing is these days. It takes enormous effort and discipline to keep recalling ourselves back to the present moment, especially when we see that decisions being made in the present are harming people or Hill have disastrous impacts in the future. Yet only in the present moment, free from hope and fear, do we receive the gifts of clarity and resolve. Freed also from anger, aggression, and urgency, we are able to see the situation clearly, take it all in, and discover what to do. This clarity reveals “right action”—those actions that feel genuinely appropriate in this moment without any concern about whether they will succeed or not.

Vaclav Havel describes hope as an attribute we carry in us always, a state of being that is not dependent on outcomes. He led his nation, the former Czechoslovakia, to freedom from Soviet rule in the “Velvet Revolution.” As a poet-playwright-activistleader, he has given the world many choice and compelling insights. Here’s his description of hope: “Hope is a dimension of the soul … an orientation of the spirit, an orientation of the heart. It transcends the world that is immediately experienced and is anchored somewhere beyond its horizons. … It is not the conviction that something will turn out well, but the certainty that something makes sense regardless of how it turns out.”

Hope is not related to accomplishment. It is, quite simply, a dimension of being human. To feel hope, we don’t have to accomplish anything. Hope is always right there, in our very being, our human spirits, our fundamental human goodness.

If we know that we are hope, it becomes much easier to stop being blinded or seduced by hopeful prospects. Instead of grasping onto activities that we want so desperately to succeed, we can see clearly and simply what to do. Grounded only in who we are, we discover those actions that feel right, rather than those that might or might not be effective. We may not succeed in changing things, but we choose to act from the clarity that this is right action for us. People who endure and persevere for their cause describe clarity as a force arising within them that compels them to act. They express this by saying, “I couldn’t not do it.”

Thomas Merton, the famed Christian mystic, counseled a despairing friend: “Do not depend on the hope of results … you may have to face the fact that your work will be apparently worthless and even achieve no result at all, if not perhaps results opposite to what you expect. As you get used to this idea, you start more and more to concentrate not on the results, but on the value, the rightness, the truth of the work itself. …you gradually struggle less and less for an idea and more and more for specific people. … In the end, it is the reality of personal relationship that saves everything.”

Merton’s advice is completely contrary to current career coaching. Don’t worry, he says, that our work will be worthless, achieve no results, or might even create results contrary to what we want.

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