Rudolf Bahro, a prominent German activist and iconoclast, describes the first step: “When the forms of an old culture are dying, the new culture is created by a few people who are not afraid to be insecure.”
The nineteenth century Tibetan master Patrul Rinpoche stated this perfectly: “Don’t prolong the past, don’t invite the future, don’t be deceived by appearances, just dwell in present awareness.”
Yet only in the present moment, free from hope and fear, do we receive the gifts of clarity and resolve. Freed also from anger, aggression and urgency, we are able to see the situation clearly, take it all in, and discover what to do. This clarity reveals “right action” – those actions that feel genuinely appropriate in this moment, without any concern about whether they will succeed or not.
From Vaclav Havel “Hope is a dimension of the soul… an orientation of the spirit, an orientation of the heart. It transcends the world that is immediately experienced and is anchored somewhere beyond its horizons… It is not the conviction that something will turn out well, but the certainty that something makes sense regardless of how it turns out.”
Hope is not related to accomplishment. It is, quite simply, a dimension of being human. To feel hope, we don’t have to accomplish anything. Hope is always right there, in our very being, our human spirits, our fundamental human goodness.
If we know we are hope, it becomes much easier to stop being blinded or seduced by hopeful prospects. Instead of grasping onto activities that we want so desperately to succeed, we can see clary and simply what to do. Grounded only in who we are, we discover those actions that feel right, rather than those that might or might not be effective. We may not succeed in changing things, but we choose to act from the clarity that this is right action for us. People who endure and persever for their cause describe clarity as a force rising from within them, that compels them to act. They express this by saying “I couldn’t not do it.”
Thomas Merton, the famed Christian mystic, counselled a despairing friend, “Do not depend on the hope of results.. you may have to face the fact that your work will be apparently worthless and even achieve no result at all, if not perhaps results opposite to what you expect. As you get used to this idea, you start more and more to concentrate not on the results but on the value, the rightness the truth of the work itself… you gradually struggle less and less for an idea and more and more for specific people… In the end, it is the reality of personal relationships that saves everything.”
Many years ago, I took Merton seriously, and abandoned all hope of ever saving the world. This was extremely heart-wrenching for me, more difficult than letting go of a love relationship. I felt I was betraying my causes, condemning the world to a terrible end. Some of my colleagues were critical, even frightened by my decision. How could I be so irresponsible… still today I have many beloved colleagues who refuse to resign as saviour. They continue to force their failing spirits and tired bodies back into action one more time, wanting angry vehemence to give them vigour.
Thomas Merton was right. We are consoled and strengthened by being together. We don’t need specific outcomes. We don’t need hope. We need each other.
St. Augustine taught this infuriating truth: “The reward of patience is patience”. Years ago the Dalai Lama counselled a group of colleagues who were depressed about the state of the world to be patient “Do not despair. Your work will bear fruit in 700 years or so.”
From T.S. Eliot, the Four Quartets
“I said to my soul, be still, and wait without hope
For hope would be hope for the wrong thing; wait without love
For love would be love of the wrong thing; there is yet faith
But the faith and the love and the hope are all in the waiting.”
My heart holds the image of us journeying in this way through this time of disintegration and rebirth. Insecure, groundless, patient, beyond hope and fear. And together.