Hope is not the answer
In recent weeks I have become ever more painfully aware of my many special modes of avoidance when it comes to feeling myself fully. One of them was and still is especially scary to let go of: My hope that things would get better sometime in the future.
A particular difficult episode in my life was my youth between 12-18 years. I was bullied, only had a few friends and was hiding behind my good results at school and in my room. I almost never went to parties and didn’t have a girlfriend or any sexual interactions. The feeling I associate with this period is one of numbness and hiding my aliveness to protect myself in order not to be seen. There was a lot of shame associated and the believe that I am guilty for my experience.
During the process of owning this experience, forgiving myself and learning to love myself more fully, a powerful avoidance strategy became clear to me: In my early years of adolescence I had to hold on to the hope that one day things would get better and life would be very different. It was a necessary and smart survival strategy that made me endure unbearable circumstances. This strategy served me and allowed me to become who I am today.
However, today my life circumstances have changed and are very different. Yet I still hold on to this strategy and project myself into a future when I have finally transcended my suffering. „If only I finish this project, then everything will be better and I’ll be happy.“ „If only I attain this spiritual state, then everything will be easy. “ „If only the ascension process has been completed and extraterrestrials arrive to save us…“
I was very touched to read „Man’s search for meaning“ by Victor Frankl more than a year ago. In his book he described his unbearable experience in Auschwitz. He reports how many prisoners committed suicide in the coming months after their rescue. They were hoping for this moment for so long and when it finally came it wasn’t the big release – the horror of the concentration camp was still alive in them and probably only now fully available to process.
Accompanied with a good amount of grief I realized how for a long time I escaped the present moment and the connection to my body by projecting myself into a better future. A deep sadness guided me through the realization that something momentous is coming to an end. This strategy served me for so long, it was my protecting shield and crane to walk on. But it at the same time kept me small, robbed me of the present moment and who I can truly be: present, aware, open hearted to all the pain, fear, sadness and joy which wants to emerge and flow through me in the here and now.
Corrine Edward once said: „Forgiveness is giving up all hope for a better past.“ Along these lines, dedication is giving up all hope for a better future. It is an invitation to inhabit the present moment and dedicate ourselves to whatever is alive right now. Between the past and the present we find the only truth, the only thing that is real, the only thing that we actually can respond to and influence – the precious and vibrant now.
„It is not the conviction that something will turn out well, but the certainty that something makes sense regardless of how it turns out.“Vaclav Havel on Hope
I see us as humanity confronted with this challenge of giving up our hope for a better future on many levels. The personal dimension became very apparent to me through this experience. But also looking at our global predicament it is obvious to me, that we are confronted with apparently hopeless challenges and statistical odds that are seemingly against us.
How many challenges in our relationships, in our organizations, in our systems seem so overwhelmingly hopeless that we don’t even dare to allow them to enter our field of awareness, let alone confront them? The fear of failure is just too big. Instead we close our hearts, numb ourselves and deny our responsibility – our ability to respond.
I propose a different strategy: What if we open our hearts fully in the face of despair and hopelessness? What if we allow all the pain, sadness, anger, suffering and fear to touch us deeply, to break us open and to trust that who we truly are is bigger than this and that it will not annihilate but transform us? I believe that this is the only way that we can move into responsibility and exemplify a new way of embodied leadership in this world that needs courageous servants of the heart so desperately.