Sunday, January 1, 2017

Hope is the thing with feathers

"In Buddhist thought, hope is considered dangerous because it's not about what's happening right now; it's about the desire for some future outcome." –Eva Saulitis in The Sun magazine

There's been a lot of talk about hope lately. Those whose candidate won the presidential election talk of 'having hope,' while those whose candidate lost are encouraging each other not to 'lose hope.' I've been ruminating on it a lot—mostly because I've been reflecting on the legacy of Barack Obama... and the "audacity of hope."

The first definition of "audacity" is "the willingness to take risks," (which, as Americans, we would applaud). But the second definition has a less positive connotation and suggests rudeness or impudence. Thus Obama's catch phrase can be interpreted two ways: "Let's be willing to take risks in order to bring about the change we need!" or "Whether you want us to intrude with our new way of doing things or not, we're here."

It seems—to me, at least—that these days everyone is interpreting everyone else, and no one is really listening. Unless the other person is saying exactly what we want to hear or what we believe, we tend to, at best, tune them out and, at worst, shout them down or shut them up.

Oof. I've gotten really tired of it, of watching people beat each other up verbally while closing their minds to any consideration of the other side. If we hope for anything, it should be to cease the contention and simply begin a conversation. That's the only way change or peaceful coexistence will ever take place.

But hope seems ephemeral to me. And I find myself leaning toward that Buddhist idea of it—that hoping only leads us to dwell on what may or may not happen in the future. And that distracts us from living in and appreciating this moment we're experiencing right now.

One of my dearest friends is currently battling Stage 4 metastatic cancer. I pray for him daily. But it's not a prayer for healing, and I'm not going to say—to him or anyone else—that I'm hoping for his recovery. Because, as I said, hope is a transient thing, too ethereal for any worldly purpose, an emotion lacking in any substantive use. No, rather than "hope" for him, I think I prefer to embrace an attitude of gratitude. Whatever the future holds for him, I pray that he has the strength to face it and that he is surrounded with love as he does.

I pray this for all of us in the new year. That instead of hoping for change, we accept and embrace what we have—all the good and beautiful things that we have—just as they are today. That in this day, in this hour, in this moment when we are pausing (if only ever so slightly) to reflect upon the year that has passed and consider the one that is looming, we breathe deeply then open our eyes and try to see what is before us, open our ears and try to hear those things that will bring us to true harmony and understanding—whether they sound grating at first or not.

Buddhism teaches that life is suffering, and that we suffer because we want. In 2017, I don't want to spend any time or energy dwelling on what I don't have. I want to try to choose, in each new day, to appreciate every single precious thing I do have, whether it is something as trivial as a good cup of tea or something as eternal as the legacy of my children. I am modest in material possessions but absolutely abundantly rich in daily blessings, so much so that, when I stop to consider my wealth, it makes me feel magnanimous enough to allow others to have ideas that differ from mine. Yes, I want to change their minds, and I passionately want to do so if what they believe brings harm to anyone who has been marginalized in our society. But in order to do that, I realize that I have to hear them first, to listen before I can speak. If I have any "hope" in this new year, that is it; to listen before I speak, and to see all the good things that have been laid at my feet.

1 comment:

  1. Some beautiful thoughts here, Kay, and they fit nicely into what I’m planning for this year. My plan for this year is simple, to live as this oft quoted passage from Gandhi says, “be the change you want to see in the world.” I will try to smile more at people I meet on the street, hold the door open for others more, let others into traffic more, say “hello” more, and do the little things that I’d like others to do. Maybe it will rub off.

    You allude to a trait I once used to describe myself, being liberal, but I’ve stopped using that term because it is now covered in mud and tar. It no longer means what it did when I wanted to be liberal. To me, being liberal, is what you say is “to allow others to have ideas that differ from mine.” And, as you imply, to change my ideas if, after listening to their ideas, I realize I have a different view now, one that makes more sense. I think that’s where change has to come from. Holding iron-clad ideas doesn’t work because nothing is constant except change. But for now, we are mostly a nation of non-thinkers who run to Twitter and Facebook to be told how to think so we don’t have to invest time and energy in thinking.

    Thanks for a great New Year’s post.