Upaya Zen Center, Zen & Dharma

Abandon hope

1724123160_1385993729Sitting on the cushion, facing the wall. Eight hrs a day for the past four days. I notice that my facial muscles are clenched: tightness at the back of my jaw, tension around my eyes. Try to call up the slight buddha-like smile, thinking it might melt the furrow between my brows. Open mouth wide, crack, release. Think happy thoughts—no, stop thinking! Breathe slower. Watch breath. Relax. IGNORE the tension. Be with it, just be with it (oh shut up). Ouch. Start again…

Then, the mini-epiphany. The revelation of the blindingly obvious. Through all this effort to oh-so-equanimously be with it, there is a worm in the apple of my sincere attempts. The worm is called hope. For all my intention to be present with this experience, I am hoping that the experience will change. I am hoping that I can fix the problem. I am believing there is a problem to be fixed, and that there can only be one really satisfactory outcome: that outcome being, that somehow, my damn facial muscles will relax. Hope is the worm corrupting my practice. What if I just accept that this is how this experience is going to be, and it might change…or it might not? It might get ‘better’, or it might get ‘worse’. Who knows? What if I approach this experience as complete, without holding out for any kind of resolution? What if I just accept that the moment is completely perfect and fascinating, as is? What if I let go of hope?

Ah ha. Lightbulb on.

To hope is to set conditions and limitations on experience. To hope is to defer contentment. To hope is to say that things can only be good if they can be like this. Hopes are fantasies based on stories I already know—but the Universe is so much bigger than that! Who would have imagined, for instance, that my tiny dream home would come in the form of a 1979 Chevy schoolbus? My hopes could never have conjured up that.

I’m not saying that there is no point in cultivating what makes me healthy, or in renouncing what causes me suffering. I’m not suggesting that one should just roll up in a ball (or plant one’s ass on a cushion) and resign from the world. Ya gotta keep trying. What I’m saying is, that in spite of all my best intentions and determination, things will unfold as they will. Everything will change, and anything may persist—for how long, who can say. There is no point in waiting until the perfect conditions are in place, until all hopes are fulfilled, to live life to the max.

I experience loneliness. I experience confusion. I experience financial stress. I experience pain. Can there be only one solution to these problems; only one acceptable outcome? I might find a partner, a life path, some cash for the rent. I might get my muscles to relax. Or I might not. I can hope til I am blue in the face and it won’t make a bit of difference. All that hoping just serves to distract me, from the marbled magnificence of what is.

6 Comments on “Abandon hope

  1. I agree that to give up hope is a brave thing to do. Have you ever tried to argue the point ? You end up in that place that feels alone. Nobody wants to go there. Personally I try to replace hope with trust , what’s the difference ? I guess trust is like faith that what you put out there will be OK . Dosn’t always work though ,but don’t give up or lose confidence, I’m really saying this to myself , like you I try not to give up. My watch alarm just went off to remind me to SIT. PLG tony

  2. oh yes, hope and disappointment. how about love?

    from Letters Addressed to Love

    Forgiveness circles us. The words we speak are birds:

    sometimes descending from the tops of trees

    to bathe in the water left over in gutters,

    diamonds splashing off their shoulders –

    sometimes coming close enough to lay their beaks

    against our naked palms.


  3. Dante passes through the gate of Hell, which bears an inscription, the ninth (and final) line of which is the famous phrase “Lasciate ogne speranza, voi ch’intrate”, or “Abandon all hope, ye who enter here.”

  4. Roshin,

    I don’t even know what to say about this one. Very good lesson. I had a similar experience during zazen at Upaya. Excruciating pain through my neck, shoulders, back and hips from all that garden work. Impossible to ignore pain like that. I remember thinking that the ancient monks of China didn’t complain about the chores they were given. So I did the only sensible thing: I kept going back to the breath. Ragged breath. Once I got my attention firmly entrenched on the breath I shockingly noticed that all the pain was gone. I’ll definitely remember that and your mini-ephiphany. Always.

    Hope that you are well. I’m starting a Zen meditation and discussion group in my home because my sangha is 85 miles away. Reading some awesome books, too. Think of you often. If the little 1979 Chevy school bus finds its way anywhere close to flat Florida let me know.

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