Suffering arises when we want things to be other than how they are. Where there is hope, there is fear and where there is fear there is hope. They are like two sides of the same coin. When we feel uneasy, we get restless, we want to change something about ourselves or others, we hope things could be another way. Having no hope can be the start of a radical form of acceptance.
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Hello and welcome to another episode of the Secular Buddhism podcast. This is episode number 78. I am your host Noah Rasheta. Today I’m talking about hope and fear, and specifically how these two things correlate with mindfulness.
Keep in mind the Dalai Lama’s advice, “Do not use what you learn from Buddhism to be a Buddhist. Use it to be a better whatever you already are.” I like to emphasize that at the beginning of every episode, because it’s very important to understand that Buddhism isn’t something that’s meant to be preached. I’m going to emphasize that every time, every podcast, except for the ones where I forget, which I know there have been several.
But this idea of no hope, no fear. What does that mean? Well, we know that suffering arises when we want things to be other than they are. Where there is hope, there is fear, and where there is fear, there is hope. They’re like two sides of the same coin. When we feel uneasy, when we get restless, when we want something to change, something to be different about ourselves or about others, we hope that things could be another way.
With that in mind, this concept of having no hope, it’s that having no hope can be a radical affirmation of acceptance. It’s like when you truly accept things as they are, you don’t hope for them to be any different than how they are. That’s kind of the mental game that’s going on with this expression of no hope, no fear.
In past episodes, I’ve talked about the concept of having a koan. A Zen koan is like a riddle, an expression. It can be a sentence. It’s something that you work with. It’s an expression, and it’s meant to be baffling. It’s meant to shake you up a bit and think, “What? What are you talking about?” I think this expression, in a way, could serve as a koan, maybe, for many of you hearing this idea of no hope, no fear. You may sit there with this riddle somewhat and think, “Well, what does that mean? I don’t like this. I don’t like the idea of not having hope.” I want to clarify this, because I hope you can sit with this expression and work with it over the months or years of your life, as an expression, no hope, no fear. But I do want to clarify a few things as I get into that topic.
Pema Chodron says, “Hope and fear come from the feeling that we lack something. We hold onto hope, and hope robs us of the present moment.” That is a really powerful expression, a powerful statement. I get why the expression of no hope could, at the same time, feel really disheartening, because on the other side of it, you could be looking at this thinking, “Well, if there’s no hope, if I don’t have hope, then what’s the point? What do I have if I don’t have hope?”
I know this feeling. I allude to this in many times in the podcast episodes of a time in my life that was incredibly difficult for me. I was going through an intense feeling of having been deceived, lied to, cheated. When you’re going through an experience like that, I remember for me, hope was all I had at some stages of that grief, of that pain. But the more that I think about it, the more I pondered on this while going through all of this, the more I realized that that hope that I had maybe wasn’t a pure hope. It was, I had the hope of things one day being as if that thing had never happened to me. I don’t know that that’s the right sense of hope. That’s certainly not the hope that I think is talked about in this expression of no hope, no fear.
I kind of want to walk you through an experience I had not long ago with my family. We were on vacation. I can’t remember if I mentioned this on a previous podcast episode, but if I did, forgive me. We were on a family trip, on a cruise. On the cruise ship, they had a giant chess game at the top deck of the ship. My son [inaudible 00:04:41] is learning to play chess, and he was really excited to see that, and he wanted to play. Every day, he wanted to go there and play, and he wanted me to play with him.
I know how to play chess. I know the basic rules. I’m certainly not an expert at it by any means, but I know the general rules of chess. So I’m playing chess with him, and of course chess is one of those games that always stands out to me because I feel like I used to play life like I was playing a game of chess. I saw this in him. As we’re playing, he’s teaching me these strategies that he’s learned. He’s taken some classes, and he’s learned that if you start with this piece, then it should be countered with this other, and if they do that, then you do this. He was showing me, and we’re playing chess, and we’re having fun.
I’m not intentionally trying to win the game. I certainly wasn’t being too easy on him. I didn’t want to … But I was surprised that once he got ahead of me, I could not figure out how to get past him, and I made one terrible move with my queen, and didn’t realize that it was a setup. He had set me up to get the queen out there so that he could take the queen, and he did. We were laughing when that happened.
As I’m sitting there seeing the joy in his face that he’s winning this game of chess against his dad, I had this mini flashback to this stage of my life where I was playing life like the game of chess. I thought that I was a few steps ahead of everything in life, and life is going to go the way that I expect it to go, because I’m influencing it to go that way. That leads me back to this moment that I’ve alluded to many times in the podcast, which was a blindside. It was essentially life gave me a Tetris piece that blindsided me, and I was very upset. I was dazed and confused. I was hurt. I couldn’t figure it out. I couldn’t figure out why this happened, because when you think you’re playing the game of chess, you make a move, and life presents a move, and you really are baffled. You’re like, “Why did this happen?”
At the time, I attributed it to the opponent, maybe not opponent, but the person controlling the other side of the game, in this case, for me, was, I thought maybe God is the one playing the other hand here. It’s like, “Why did you do that?” I just couldn’t reconcile the move that was made with the pain that that move was causing on me. It was a really difficult stage for me.
So as I’m sitting there playing chess with my son, having this flashback, I had this intense moment of gratitude. As I could play it all back in my head, because here I am, eight or nine years after that move was made, and I’m looking at the game. I no longer see life like a game of chess. You guys know I see it like a game of Tetris. I just felt gratitude for that piece. As painful as that piece was, as unpleasant as it was to experience it, all these beautiful things have come from it. It led to a new dynamic in my life, a new outlook, a new world view. It’s led to this very podcast. The fact that you’re listening to this right now wouldn’t have happened had that piece not presented itself.
So I had this moment of gratitude for the unwanted Tetris piece in my life, and I had this thought of, you know, as I was going through that painful stage, and I had the hope for things to be different than how they are, in hindsight, I look at that and there’s no hope associated to those events. There’s just gratitude for how it is, gratitude for how I handled it, gratitude for how others handled how I handled it. But there’s no hope in there. There’s no hope for me in the sense of wanting it to have been any other way than how it was.
That’s a, it’s a strong statement for me to have arrived at, when you look back at an incident in your life that was unpleasant or painful or difficult. It’s not quite like saying, “Oh, I’m so glad that happened,” but I wouldn’t have it any other way. That’s the honest truth, because had things not been exactly how they were, things wouldn’t be exactly how they are now. To have arrived at a place of so much contentment with how things are right now, I naturally have to accept how things were in the past, even the unpleasant things. I think that’s kind of the sentiment that’s being alluded to in this idea of no hope, no fear.
There’s another quote I want to share with you. This is by Athenagoras the First of Constantinople. This is the head of the Greek Orthodox Church, not any more, but in the past. He has this quote that I really like. He says, “I have waged this war against myself for many years. It was terrible, but now I am disarmed. I am no longer frightened of anything, because love banishes fear. I am disarmed of the need to be right and to justify myself by disqualifying others. I am no longer on the defensive, holding onto my riches. I just want to welcome and to share. I don’t hold onto my ideas and projects. If someone shows me something better … No. I shouldn’t say better, but good. I accept them without any regrets. I no longer seek to compare. What is good, true and real is always, for me, the best. That is why I have no fear.” Close quote.
I love that quote because as I read that I feel like, “That’s how I feel in my life.” I’m no longer armed against myself. I’m no longer at war, comparing the me of now with the me of the past, or the me that I think I need to become in the future. All of that has been disarmed. It was terrible to feel that. Going through that difficult stage of my life, the sense of hope that I had was a sense of arming myself in that moment to become a person that would never have to go through that again. That’s the sense of hope that I don’t have anymore. It’s like I don’t feel that.
I could go through that whole ordeal again, and it would be painful, sure. It would be unpleasant, absolutely. It would be a lot of things, but I don have sense of hope like, “Wow, I hope I never have to feel that kind of discomfort again,” because I very well may in other forms. I will, you know? If my kids, if they were to get sick, or my wife, or when my parents get old and their health starts to fail. So many things will cause that discomfort to come back in life, that wanting things to be other than how they are, but when I sit with that and I think about that, I don’t have any hope in the sense of, “I hope I don’t feel that again. I hope that nobody ever dies that I love.” That’s just not realistic anymore.
I think that’s the sense of hope that’s dropped, that Pema’s talking about, and that I think Athenagoras alludes to here, the disarmament. To say I’m no longer frightened of anything. Wow, what a powerful statement. I’m no longer frightened of the potential pain and fear that’s going to come into my life at some point when the Tetris pieces, the piece I didn’t want, how powerful to be able to sit with that and recognize, come what may, I’m going to figure it out. I have faith in my ability to adapt with whatever pieces life throws my way. What is there to fear when that’s the attitude, when that’s the perspective?
In that sense, hope doesn’t really fit into the equation. I don’t hope to only have pleasant experiences, and no longer unpleasant ones. I don’t have that kind of hope anymore. If anything, my sense of hope is I just hope I get to experience it all. I hope I get to feel it all. I hope I know what it is to love in a way that cannot be measured. I know what it is to hurt and feel pain in a way that can’t be measured, to feel let down, to feel unwanted. All these negative emotions, but they make me feel alive. I don’t hope … Hope is not part of that equation anymore.
I think in our society, hopelessness has a negative connotation, but think about it. What if hopelessness is actually the start of peace and contentment? I hope that as a koan … Here I am saying, “I hope.” I hope that you can take away from this the expression no hope, no fear, and work with it. Play it out in your mind. What does that mean? What are your hopes? Why are they your hopes? What would happen if those hopes are never met? Work with them that way in your own mind, and see what comes of it.
Remember, mindfulness as a practice is very introspective, so the idea here is not that, “Oh, oh, I need to drop all my hopes.” No. I don’t know that that’s accurate. It’s more, “I need to understand what my hopes are and why are those my hopes?” Because if I don’t even know why I hope the things that I hope for, well, there’s no wisdom to be had in that. That’s a form of going through life habitually reactive to whatever I think I’m going after, because that’s what I hope I get. Think of hopelessness in that sense.
For me, again I mentioned this, in my darkest days, hope helped me. It helped me to wake up. It helped me to want to keep going. But again, I understand now that it wasn’t hope in the sense of changing the situation or the circumstances. It was hope that one day there would be peace in my heart. That peace that I finally did achieve only took hold when I no longer wanted to have that peace.
That’s kind of the irony here. As I went through the stage of grief that I went through, I felt a lot of pain, and I didn’t want to feel it. It wasn’t until I allowed myself to realize, “You know what? I do what to feel it. I want to know what this feels like. If someone else ever goes through that thing that I went through, I would know that that feels like.” I opened up to accepting the hurt and the pain and the frustration and the anger and the hatred and all these things I had been pushing away for so long. It was that moment that I opened up and allowed those things to just be what they were that I realized I just wanted to be free, free to feel my pain, to embrace the hurt, to embrace the suffering. That was the very moment that became the start of the most intense peace and the most intense contentment that I had never experienced before.
This kind of reminds me of another koan to work with, so you’re going to have several koans coming out of this. You’ve got, “No hope, no fear.” Here’s another one from an old Zen master, roughly 600 BCE, named Linji. I don’t even know if that’s how you say it. Linji. Linji. L-I-N-J-I is the spelling. He has a koan that says, “There is nothing I dislike.” This is one that was presented to me when I was doing my lay ministry program, and I was reading that book of 101 Zen koans. Somewhere in that book, and of course I can’t remember exactly where, but I remember hearing this. “There is nothing I dislike,” I thought, “Huh. What does that mean? There’s a lot of things I dislike. I dislike the suffering in the world, poverty, abuse to children. There are plenty of things to dislike. What could this possibly mean, there’s nothing I dislike?”
I’ve thought about it, and I’ve worked with it, and this has been one of the koans that I’ve worked with for myself to see, “Could I ever arrive at this expression of, ‘There is nothing I dislike’?” I feel like I can. I feel like I have. To me, what it means is, again, the immediate experience that we have in life, we have emotions and thoughts and feelings, that’s what’s being talked about here. There’s nothing I dislike in terms of the experience I have of living. Now to me, that means when I’m having the experience or the emotion of disliking the injustice in the world, I don’t dislike that I dislike it. Does that make sense?
I can say there is nothing I dislike. I like all of the feelings and thoughts and emotions that I have, even the unpleasant ones that make, that stir me to want to have action, some kind of action against, to correct the injustice. To me, that’s how I’ve worked with this koan in my mind. Again, there’s not a right way or a wrong way to these. These are expressions that you work with. So again, the invitation here is what does that mean for you? What would it feel like for you to be able to say, “There is nothing I dislike.” So that’s another one to think about.
That was the main topic I wanted to share in this podcast episode. I have a few other fun ideas I’ve been wanting to share, but this one stepped over and became the next one in the list, even though it wasn’t originally meant to be the next one. I do have another one I’ll record probably in the next couple of days. It’ll for sure come out next week. Again, I want to thank you for taking the time to listen, and just for being part of this journey with me. It’s been a really fun experience.
Thank you guys for being a part of this, for listening and taking time out of your day. As always, I hope these concepts allow you to be more skillful with how you navigate life and the experiences that you have in life, and the various Tetris pieces that come your way, because we’re all in different places.
Again, if you want to learn more about Buddhism in general, you can always check out my book, No-Nonsense Buddhism for Beginners. It has history, concepts, and teachings and practices. You can learn more about that visiting everydaybuddhism.com. I’m excited to announce, as far as practices go, my next book is going to be a five minute mindfulness journal with several practices and things that you can work on that are meant to help you to practice mindfulness in your everyday life, your day to day settings.
As always, if you enjoyed this podcast episode, feel free to share it with others. You can write a review. Give it a rating on iTunes. You can join our online community on Facebook, secularbuddhism.com/community has the links there. If you want to make a donation to support the work that I’m doing with the podcast, you can always visit secularbuddhism.com and click on the Donate button.
That’s all I have for now, but I look forward to recording another podcast episode soon. Thank you for listening. Until next time.