I was invited to write about Hope for a Christian blog site and initially I thought I might write about “hope and the human heart” and assumed it would be an enjoyable and revealing task. I tucked the thought away thinking something would pop up in a few days. But days passed and nothing, zilch, zip, Nada, and I begin to wonder what it is about hope that is so difficult. I mean after all, everybody knows what hope is and we all have it don’t we? So I think maybe I just need to put more energy out to get the creative juices flowing. So, I take a drive to ponder hope and I am putting gas in the truck with not a care in the world when a big, RV towing a shiny new car pulls up disgorging a passel of obviously well fed children and a woman behind the wheel who does not seem to know where her gas tank is…and the thought arose: “She’s loaded,” quickly followed by another thought “if only I had her money…” and with one perception, an interpretation and judgment, my mind went spinning off into stories of being less than others. Buddhism knows this as “comparing mind” I know it as hopelessly lost in desire, want, and sense of lack. You may know it as getting lost in thought or daydreaming.
Now why in the world would a reasonable person connect thoughts and feelings of lack, of comparison, of envy and jealousy with the concept of Hope? Why pair a bunch of downers with something that is so often thought of as uplifting, inspiring, and maybe god-given. After all doesn’t the Bible in 1 Corinthians 13:13 tell us that: “And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.“
Dante was the first to visit his inferno and take the time and energy to record his journey inwards. If you recall the book, above the doorway is a sign that reads: “Abandon hope all ye who enter here,” definitely not as warm and fuzzy an invitation as say getting a letter by owl inviting one to attend Hogwarts, but what does this mean to Abandon hope and what if any relation does it have with standing at a gas pump feeling jealous of another’s good fortune?
In Buddhism there is an awareness of feelings and emotions that mimic something else and we sometimes get confused. For example we often confuse sentimentality with compassion or we conflate hope with desire. When one feeling tends to masquerade as another it is called “a near- enemy,” I was starting to see a pattern emerge both from my research and my reflections on “hope” and how hoping itself is a step removed from faith. Pema Chodron, a prolific Buddhist teacher and writer notes that “without giving up hope that there is somewhere better to be — that there is someone better to be — we will never relax with where we are or who we are.” Clearly, as I stood at the gas pump I was hoping to be richer, better, different, other somehow what who and what I am an where I am in life. Clearly, the all so human desire to be other than what one is – to have more than what one has, was behind the dynamic of hope and it was making me miserable.
To think we can finally get it all together and to seek for some everlasting security is futile. “To undo our very ancient and very stuck patterns of mind requires that we investigate and turn around some of basic assumptions,” blaming others for our problems, seeking happiness in some future moment, thinking that some one or thing out there is to blame for our fortunes or lack thereof, “one has to give up hope that this kind of thinking will bring satisfaction and joy. ” (Chodron)
I am of mind to say that I believe hope is a near-enemy of faith. Hope takes the mind into the future of what we wish life will be like or into the past remembering what we hoped might have gone differently. I am of a mind to say that hope takes one away from the moment and nurtures an ongoing story of how it was and how I want it to be. I am of a mind to say that hope is a dynamic that acts on a horizontal plane whereas the dynamic of faith rests in a vertical plane. My experience of faith is always in the moment my experiences of hope seldom are. Hope, masquerading as faith can lead one away from faith and from being present in the moment. Hope says “it’s not perfect yet but it will be” while “faith gently reminds us that eventually even grass becomes milk,” and invites us to rest in the heart, in the body and in the moment.