Is Hope Dangerous? - May 2019

I hear frequently from clients and friends alike that they don’t wish to “get their hopes up” for fear of a farther fall if what they wish for doesn’t happen.  Heck, I think that way myself a lot of the time.  But does it really, actually protect us from a deeper disappointment or a stronger sadness?  Hmmmm, let’s ponder this one.

Often I find myself thinking, “Oh, I’m just ‘staying in the moment’” by not hoping for something that I truly do wish for.  But I think that’s a cop out.  Because the thing is, my desire, my hope just kind of pops up in other ways.  For example, let’s say you’re hoping to find a life partner.  Do you ever notice that even if you’re not actively thinking about it, that you still might cry at family scenes on TV or when you see couples holding hands in the park?  It’s in there – your desire – you’re just not acknowledging it. 

I also notice that if I’m trying to avoid hope, I feel more numb.  This does not seem particularly helpful.  Let’s go back to the example about hoping to find a partner.  I remember, quite clearly, that when I tried to deny that that’s what I wanted, I became closed off, cold, even a little bitter.  I was trying to protect myself from feeling sad, lonely or self-piteous.  But I was actually sad, lonely and self-piteous!  (At times.)  I felt better when I just accepted those feelings, along with the hope.  Not surprisingly, allowing myself an hour or two of feeling sad and lonely got old and those feelings dissipated, and then I could step out into the sunshine and go for a bike ride or something.  And who knows who I’d meet along the way!  I was much more open when I allowed myself to simply hope and be sad and hope and be disappointed. 

I’m thinking now, though, that it’s important to be clear about the distinction between hope, openness and abject craving.  Hope feels to me like a light feeling, not a driven, hard-edged feeling.  Hope feels closer to openness and being comfortable “not knowing.”  It means to me NOT creating a world filled with dark clouds and voices booming down from the sky (or hissing in your ear), “That’ll never happen for you.  Give up the dream.”   But it also means NOT grabbing a hold of every cute person who crosses your path and negotiating whose couch to keep and whose to toss when you move into together next week.  That’s more like delusion.  Hope feels more like openness, where you do actually acknowledge when you’re sad, AND you acknowledge that there is the very real possibility that you’ll meet someone to love.  It means both skimming the surface of the quickly shifting emotions when you want what you don’t have, as well as briefly sinking into each one and then letting go.  It requires courage in this way.

In fact, that’s what I think shutting down hope is all about – the FEAR of the hard or negative emotion.  We want to avoid feeling sad, disappointed, lonely, lacking, etc.  The thing is, we can’t.  If we want something that we don’t have, you’re gonna feel sad!  I find it easier to embrace that in the small moments instead of trying to avoid it all together by being a Debbie Downer.

So, do the experiment!  Hope a little, feel disappointed a little, be open a little, feel sad a little.  Go with the shifting winds instead of trying to control or protect yourself from anything.  The universe will cooperate.  You’ll feel lighter and brighter, even if you don’t get what you want.