Monday, January 29, 2007

Hope and Fear

Yesterday I returned to my beloved yoga studio, that I have missed for 2 weeks while I was away. My instructor Keith (I only attend his sessions, not out of any dislike for the other instructors, but for a strong appreciation for his teaching style and the content of his practice) usually weaves some sort of concept into each practice, upon which to meditate or focus. Sometimes it is something as simple as slowing down, choosing to move very fluidly and purposefully between asanas and between thoughts. Increasing the distance between thoughts. Sometimes the ideas are more complex. The studio is a Buddhist yoga studio, which evidently differs from others in that Buddhist teachings exterior to the actual practice of yoga aren't necessarily woven throughout other yoga classes. Having been only to a class offered at a former workplace years ago, I wouldn't know. But I really have developed an appreciation for the works of poetry Keith works into the class as well as the philosophy he shares very humbly with us all. He does it in a way that lures you to chew on these questions in your mind long after the 90 minutes are over.
So on Sunday, on the board was written something to the effect of this: "Tension is what you think you should be. Relaxation is who you really are. Chinese proverb." And then at the beginning of class he shared a quote from an author who said, "The essence of happiness is this: fear nothing, hope nothing." Keith claimed it took him years before he could fully grasp the meaning of those statements, and come to see them as true. And that the absence of hope is not to be confused with pessimism. Because there's an absence of both fear and hope. This limbo place in the middle where basically you aren't married to the outcome of anything.
We're conditioned in our American environment to always have hope. To pray for what you want, to hope in your heart for the best outcome. But I think what Keith was getting at is that implicit inside hope is desire. And when you desire something you do not have, you set yourself up for disappointment and unhappiness if the outcome isn't in your favor. Inherent in that statement is the focus on the self, the "ego", which Buddhists work to eliminate in order to become one with each person's higher self. God, "Buddha Nature", Allah. So from what I understand, the intention is to be happy with whatever comes in life, to not expect or yearn for more than what it is, to experience it with wonder and curiosity and equanimity, fully without expectation. Everything is basically neutral, not good or bad. Attachment causes suffering, which is to be avoided in order to join in "bliss" with the higher self.
While I can definitely see the point of "fear nothing" and can work in my life toward that goal whole-heartedly, I have a hard time with "hope nothing". In fact, I think I have a hard time with living a life devoid of attachment. How does one stay connected to anyone, without a certain level of attachment? How do Buddhists define concrete relationships like marriage, without the concept of attachment? I understand the damage done by excess attachment, where you grasp at someone or something, often causing it to slip even further from our grasp. Love openly and you love without demands or possession. I'm all good with that. But even if we can imagine this state of being in which you are basically fine with whatever happens in life, birth, death, disease, and so on... not wishing or hoping for the best, just letting life unfold... it seems very void of the intense joys and sorrows to be experienced in life. Hope implies that you are fighting for an outcome. How does anyone with cancer actually beat it without hope? A lot of the point is to not fear death, to not see it as an "end" but rather as a transition. And therefore, not to cling to this life we are living here and now. But that would seem to mean you are neutral towards death, and aren't fighting against it. And I just can't take that stance. When I go, I'm sure I'll go kicking and screaming into the next phase, wanting to fully get as much of life and experience out of this one as is possible.
As a mother, I know that if my own life were ever in jeopardy, I damn well would fight like hell to stay on this earth, for no other reason than to be there for my child. Losing a parent at such a young age is devastating, and often can cause irreparable damage to a little one's psyche. While I know my daughter has a large number of people who love and cherish her to where she would never be without family and nurturing, I cannot imagine it would be as good as if her mother were there with her. Damn straight I'd fight to be here for her. And for my husband and family as well. When people die, it's not sad for them, they're moving on into the next phase. But for those of us left on earth to miss their presence, it leaves a hole and an ache. I don't think that I would want to be this stoic individual who remained so unattached to everyone and everything that they didn't feel the sense of loss in experiencing the remainder of their lives without their missing loved one. I am fully willing to go through the suffering and sadness of loss, in order to experience the abundant joys of rich, deep respectful attachments to other people in this world. Maybe I am missing something, or perhaps I am just delving into the bottom layer of this concept, for it can't be that simple, if it took Keith many years to grasp and embody it. I guess I'm just not there. May never be there. I think it is possible to hope for the best, and then deal with the reality. And I don't see the inherent "unhappiness" in doing so.

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