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Hope as an Obstacle

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I returned to the “no gaining mind” meditation this morning, and in it there was one particular section that stuck out to me. “Is there any sense of anticipation,” asked the guide, “or expectation for something special to happen? Any wish to change something? Is there any sense of feeling for grasping for something, or of wanting to get rid of anything?”

There is no need to change, the words continued, advising instead that merely observing was enough. This, to me, translates as a reaction to a desire to control the moment—which stems from what I call the craving brain—a feeling which the guide suggests comes from, “old habit formations that can operate in a very subtle, almost unnoticeable way.” Mushotoku, or “no gaining mind,” allows us to create the space to see without seeking change. Which brings me to hope…

In this morning’s reading of Thich Nhat Hanh’s Peace is Every Step, a passage examined the nature of hope, focusing on its association with a root-level desire for things to be different than they are now. In “Hope as an Obstacle,” Nhat Hahn writes,

“When I think deeply about the nature of hope, I see something tragic. Since we cling to our hope in the future, we do not focus our energies and capabilities on the present moment. We use hope to believe something better will happen in the future, that we will arrive at peace, or the Kingdom of God. Hope becomes a kind of obstacle. If you can refrain from hoping, you can bring yourself entirely into the present moment and discovery the joy that is already here.”

I’ve never looked at hope quite like that. I don’t use the phrase often—”hope”—but do recall sharing it with M. recently when talking about how she makes me feel. There’s a sense of hope that accompanies her presence in my life. Unpacking that in light of this reading, though, allows me to further clarify what I think I was really aiming for with that comment. Hope, in that example, was to represent a feeling that the future might be as rich as that present moment felt. Certainly, there’s a pitfall there, as what’s to happen when that “source” of hope goes away? Does “hope” no longer exist?

This has me wondering if the word ever really represented much beyond a romantic fantasy of some dream world where life was ambiguously better, or “different,” without recognizing that such a difference reflects a desire to change the precious reality of what is right here, right now? In reconciling today’s reading, I can still see myself using the word “hope,” though its flavor is different now. Hope for change might not reflect a change for a more satisfying future, but a recognition that this moment does not need to be controlled by what the craving brain feels it desires.