Wednesday, September 24, 2008
The Problem With Hope
Hope is something we generally think of as positive. It keeps us going in tough times and is the light at the end of our tunnel of suffering. But, hard as it may be to believe, hope has a dark side. The dark side is that hope exists primarily as a reflection of anxiety. Hope, like anxiety, is all about what might happen in the future, not about what is happening in the moment. We set up hoped-for circumstances which, if we attain, we believe will make our lives more successful and fulfilling. Setting goals is not the problem, it is when we postpone living right now until those conditions have been met that creates our absence in the present moment. Anything that threatens our hoped-for future turns into a cause for anxiety.
The biggest disadvantage of using hope to cope, according to the gifted author Dr. Richard Moss is when "we substitute heading for our lives for actually living." In other words, we use hope to avoid and evade what we are actually feeling and what is really happening right now. In our search for success, we become focused on the future, avoiding self-examination of what our senses, bodies, emotions and thoughts are teaching us as well as the enjoyment and growth opportunities of the present moment. Instead, we fast-forward through the moment, working towards a future in which we hope we will have the time and space to really start living. We live in hope that "things might get better." Is living in hope really much different than living in anxiety? Anxiety's only different because the thoughts about the future are primarily worry that "things might get worse". However, both of these perspectives diminish our capacity to truly "be" in the present moment.
More often than not, we use hope to hide from ourselves. We don't really believe in the power of the moment and that the experiences of the past and possibilities of the future inform but don't define who we are, unless we let them. Who we are is happening right here, right now. In each moment we can redefine it, but we have to be fully in the moment to do that!!
An exercise you can use to experience the fullness of the moment rather than escaping into hope (or anxiety) is to stop when you catch yourself longing to be elsewhere and just let yourself feel and tune into what is going on within and around you. Notice your bodily sensations, the environment, your feelings and thoughts. Pay attention and be aware like this for a minimum of five breaths. You will be amazed at the richness and detail that surfaces around and within you when you do this. It gives you a much-needed respite from the relentless swing of hope/anxiety, judging/appeasing, building ourselves up/knocking ourselves down we usually operate in.
While we all may know deep down that the moment is really all there actually is, we don't usually practice being in it! I have been amazed how simply bringing awareness and attention to the present, regardless of whether I like what is happening or not, creates a tremendous sense of clarity and appreciation for my life, as well as a sense of fullness that far exceeds my hopes.