Moving Forward Empowered
As we close in on the final months of this singular year, a wet finger raised in the air detects rawness and apprehension in the prevailing currents. Having been through so much already, many of us are feeling thin-skinned, that it’s best to keep cover for a while longer. We don’t know where to put our hope, or even if we should have any.
When we talk about hope in its ordinary sense, we hit shaky ground. Hope by definition is uncertain, and almost always refers to the future. The possibility of peace of mind in the present depends on events that may or may not happen, at a time we can never inhabit. The very thing we wanted to make us feel better instead adds to our unease and discomfort. No wonder we’ve tossed it overboard.
Seven hundred years ago, Zen Master Keizan wrote: “Do not find fault with the present.” This year? Are you kidding? Life is unhinged, certifiably off its rocker. The year 2020 is in our face, telling us that anything can happen at any time. And, above all, reminding us that despite our best efforts to understand and control it it, life remains a great mystery.
Life as Mystery is not something our small self has much time for, but our fuller self resonates deeply and knows not to find fault. Roshi Joan Halifax calls this wise hope, a stance where we step out of needing things to be a certain way, taking the world on its own terms, just as it is right now. We soften our personal contours to hold and accept a bigger experience and be open to all possibilities.
Wise hope arises when we understand we are not just ourselves, we are part of all life everywhere. We don’t need to figure out the Mystery, just be part of it. And not just the fragments that concern us personally, but the whole thing. Underlying all of our experience is a basic awareness that contains gentle love, and subtle joy. Even an instant’s attunement leaves a glimmering trail of hope and grace that follow us back to our habituated experience of our world. At any moment we can draw on life itself for our hope, and it will be here in this very instant.
There is a knowingness, and a calming and reassuring quality to wise hope. From it use wisdom can arise, and if action is called for, we know what to do. Roshi Joan gives us this quote from Barbara Kingsolver as an illustration:
“I have been thinking a lot lately about the difference between being optimistic and being hopeful. I would say that I’m a hopeful person, although not necessarily optimistic. Here’s how I would describe it. The pessimist would say, ‘It’s going to be a terrible winter; we’re all going to die.’ The optimist would say, ‘Oh, it’ll be all right; I don’t think it’ll be that bad.’ The hopeful person would say, ‘Maybe someone will still be alive in February, so I’m going to put some potatoes in the root cellar just in case.’