The impact was sudden. An SUV carrying several passengers, now hurtled like a Tonka Toy in a spinning arc two stories high. Six thousand pounds of metal flew through the air, flinging wreckage and bodies across the lane opposite me. My mind tried to make sense of what was unfolding seemingly in slow motion. In the span ten seconds I saw in sharp detail every shift of shape, each window collapse, a suitcase roll, an arm bend, a car to my right slam to a stop while the driver emerged to help.
Life can change dramatically in a moment. The shocking news of Prince’s body discovered alone, slumped over in the eternal lifelessness of one once so vibrant with creativity. A new young friend is diagnosed with an aggressive brain tumor. A neighbor hits a pedestrian, driving while texting. A colleague’s son commits suicide, hanging himself from a tree. All of this, inside four days. Pain, suffering, fear, insecurity, discomfort — none of these will ever be extinct from our lives. The sooner we befriend this fact, the closer we will know the truth of life.
In her book, When Things Fall Apart, author and Buddhist nun, Pema Chödrön, invites us to turn to a rather paradoxical ally — hopelessness. She writes that turning our hearts towards the deep inner (spiritual) life does not bring security or confirmation…quite the opposite. It’s about fearlessly acknowledging change and impermanence.
“Hopelessness means that we no longer have the spirit for holding our trip together,” she says. “We may want to hold our trip together. We long to have some reliable, comfortable ground under our feet, but we’ve tried a thousand ways to hide and a thousand ways to tie up all the loose ends, and the ground just keeps moving under our feet.”
She continues, “When we feel suffering, it doesn’t mean that something is wrong. Suffering is part of life, and we don’t have to feel it’s happening because we personally made the wrong move…Rather than letting our negativity get the better of us, we could acknowledge that right now we feel like a piece of shit and not be squeamish about taking a good look. We can explore the nature of that piece of shit and drop the fundamental hope that there is a better ‘me’ who will one day emerge.”
This is the way towards presence and compassion…and sanity. In dropping the hope that there is a better ‘me’, or ‘you’ or better ‘situation’ out there to be had. Because hope and fear run together. We fear what is here now, and what might change, or what might occur, and so we harness hope as an instrument to keep us from what we fear.
I’m not saying we should collapse. I’m not saying that we should be a doormat, or a martyr, or a victim. My words are not proposing a fatalistic viewpoint. Those mindsets arise from remaining aligned with hope (running from fear), but falling into the bitterness and helplessness of the broken promises of such hope.
Befriending hopelessness is taking a firm courageous stand in what is. It’s standing full-statured, hands and arms open, inside the truth of the fact that life often hurts, is unpredictable, changes, and can knock us sideways.
In this stand, we stop whining. We stop blaming (ourselves or others). And we stand inside life itself.
From that place there is love for all that is right now. There emerges a tender, fragile sacred vulnerability, that lets die that need to control everything and everyone. And from there, you will find that you begin to truly be a part of life, partnered with life, rather than surviving and wrestling with life.
When we walk forward in such trueness (and tenderness), I find that life finds a way to, alongside with us, reveal more wholeness. Paradoxically, in befriending hopelessness, good things happen. Circumstances do become healthier. I become more loving. And from there, I lead, love, mother, relate and live much better.
Giving up hope allows us to get real with what is inevitable, that one day we will die, and all those we love will die too. When we stop kidding ourselves about that, then we stop panicking. We stop running around like clowns with proverbial plates on sticks hoping the keep all the plates from clattering to the floor. And we can finally start feeling that kind of joy that is unconditional of outcomes and circumstances.
Photo Shutterstock/Leigh Prather