Despair Is The Shadow Of Hope

by Mental Health, Resilience, Trauma and Recovery

The notion of hope is often unassailable for criticism, who but a crazy person would mock or chastise the existence of hope in anyone? Is it not that most wonderful of emotional responses to finding joy in life and something to strive for? As certain former governors of Alaska can attest, mocking hope is quite reasonable, particularly when it is noted to exist in those ideologically opposed. While I was certainly one among many at the time to feel incensed at such mocking verbiage, upon current reflection there is a kernel of truth, undoubtedly indicating the Biblical principle that even from the mouth of an ass can wisdom be found.

The sacrosanct behavior so often associated with hope is the beginning of what will lead to its shadow: to hope is to place one’s awareness on a projected future within which is manifested the dreams or aspirations of an individual or group. This is most notably the case in the injunction to “keep your eye on the prize,” placing the sense of sight not on the immediate surroundings but on a future as yet un-manifested reality. The strength of this mental trick cannot be understated. Sight is equated with knowledge as in the response of “I see” when noting the comprehension of something, a metaphorical conceptualization of a cognitive fact tied as it is to the power of human sight and how important the influence of it is on our lives and early development. Knowledge Is Seeing is not a mere happenstance connection being made; it is the foundation of much of human interaction and the locus of how we often make ethical judgments, notably in the power of an eye-witness in the public’s understanding of legal proceedings.

Key here is the focus on specifics, often regardless of the words coming from the person peddling it. For instance, the political message of Obama was and continued to be that of hope, a powerful and ultimately nebulous claim in which ridiculous numbers of people poured their dreams and aspirations. This, regardless of statements or any concern for the reality of a political system resembling more the rock giants in the latest adaptation of “The Hobbit,” clobbering monstrosities incapable of caring for those they’re squashing beneath them, than a rational process of governance. Whatever one’s opinion of Obama the point here is that he utilized a prime drive of the human person, likely getting caught up in his own rhetoric.

When hope is ruined, lost or broken the result is often despair, the shadow. I use the term shadow here because of its constant presence with the object in question indicated by illumination from any angle (notice here a further allusion to sight as knowledge). Hope holds the potential for despair by its very nature. This is because hope, like despair, derives from our forward-seeking minds and the associations built in concerning seeing with knowing. To hope is often, as already noted, to project a particular reality into the future and identify in its specifics the source of one’s future happiness or joy. To despair is to do the opposite but only in the sense of the opposite as it relates to what is being projected. The act itself is the same in either case. Hope places joy and happiness upon particular future events, despair places sadness and destruction upon particular future events. In both projections it is a future-oriented placement of value that is at work.

Stephen Batchelor in Buddhism Without Beliefs, states a great many things having to do with the ego, projections and control. One in particular is this:

“The more we become conscious of the mysterious unfolding of life, the clearer it becomes that its purpose is not to fulfill the expectations of our ego. We can put into words only the question it poses. And then let go, listen, and wait.”

There is nothing wrong with hope per se but as soon as we embark on a path of orienting our values and dreams as being placed into the future we are the mercy of events over which even the most arrogant of us cannot hope to control. This is the problem of equating value with a particular form rather than living a life of principle and watching the form be derived from the present experience in which we are in constant and unceasing exploration of. This is not to say planning is pointless or should not be considered, only that in doing so we continue to live our lives in the present hope of our very real and present manifestation of our values and worth and principle. If you want to write a book, by all means do so and plan accordingly, but know for your truth now that you are a writer, not to become one once a project is finished. If you want to get into an exercise routine and get healthier, great and doing so requires planning, but know the truth of your life now that you are an incredible human being of which there is only one experiencing life the way you are now, not that life will be inherently more or better in the future of reaching the pinnacle of Greek deification.

At the heart of this way of dwelling in real hope, in real value and worth, is that of being friends with perplexity. Yes, perplexity or to use another word, uncertainty. Again by Batchelor:

“Perplexity keeps awareness on its toes. It reveals experience as transparent, radiant, and unimpeded. Questioning is the track on which the centered person moves.”

Life does not stop and halt on the whims of our egoistic projections, it continues regardless of the eloquence of our pontifications or the wails of our self-castigation. To project a future is to attempt controlling life, to banish uncertainty. By doing so we miss out on the variables that spin hope down into its shadow. The person centered in truth, in value and principle, lives a life of agnostic inquiry knowing that the form of experience need not affect our minds more than the transitory nature that is any situation.

© David Teachout