No Hopes or Fears

Hope. I know, the word has been tarnished through overuse and politicization. But I still like it and hereby reclaim it. And we need it desperately. I have some to offer:

In recent months, I’ve seen a large uptick in fear based narratives on social media – reports that many well known scientists, including Stephen Hawking, foresee the breakdown in modern civilization happening soon. And then there’s the constant stream of news out of the nation’s capitol where our so-called leaders are reversing protections for the the working class, immigrants, women, national parks, the elderly, and just about anyone and anything except those with seven figure bank accounts and above.

These are all very real and alarming concerns and I’m not suggesting for a moment that we ignore them. The most vulnerable among us – and those numbers grow with each passing day – cannot afford to ignore the erosion of their fundamental rights necessary to a healthy life.  These are our brothers and sisters, sons and daughters, fathers and mothers. Our strength lies in recognizing our common struggle.  So check your white privilege (if you are white) and get connected with the Resistance.  Here in Seattle, there’s something happening nearly every day, people planning and carrying out actions that speak truth to power, advocating for fairness and justice for all, including future generations who will face unprecedented challenges. Yeah, I would unfortunately agree that much of the natural world will be lost forever due to climate change, forest destruction and habitat loss, glacial melt and sea level rise, pollution, war, urban sprawl, radioactive disasters, and more.

But given this rational acceptance of what most of the scientists have been saying for decades, what do I do with this information? And even if we “save the world”, what difference does it make if the world we save values some lives, but not others? No difference if your life is not valued.

Another question – in facing these dilemmas, does any fear arise? Does fear take over my mind?  I have my moments  of course, I am humyn, with a family, including a fourteen year old child, and emotional attachment to things like clean air, water, affordable housing, and a just society which cares for all. But I can’t control what happens in the end.  I can have an influence, but there are no guarantees. I need to learn to let go, while not giving up the fight.

There are many causes worth fighting for, too many it seems at times, so I pick and choose, using my privilege to the best effect that I know how – sometimes speaking out in public forums, working with different non-profit organizations on the front lines of social activism, or participating in non-violent civil disobedience.

“Fear is the path to the dark side, Fear leads to anger. Anger leads to hate. Hate leads to suffering.” (George Lucas, Yoda, Star Wars). Attribution: Noncommercial ShareAlike 2.0 Generic CC-BY-NC-SA-2.0.
Wilderness, my breath, the present moment. These are my escapes…from confusion and fear.

I decided to go to acupuncture school in 1994 because I was just beginning to understand the principle of mind-body balance. I wanted to devote my life to bridging the gap between ancient eastern wisdom traditions and modern society.

An increasing number of clients who see me for acupuncture talk about stress, depression, anxiety and so forth. While the causes of these conditions are many, I perceive a major unacknowledged factor as fear of the future. With a President in office that many mental health professionals have declared mentally unfit, and increasingly ominous warnings from Mother Earth about the unsustainable of human civilization, it is completely logical to express concern about the future.

Unfortunately though, we live in a culture of denial, particularly with regard to death and impermanence.  So even though the scientists are saying – “things are dangerously out of balance” – the culture laughs at and ignores that message, leaving the individual to reconcile the inner tension between conflicting messages on their own.

Responses can vary, but many simply stuff the feelings down, riding the giant wave of denial which is everywhere. Our culture offers us  ten thousand different modern life sedatives – pharmacological and behavioral – that calm our minds and allow us to take a temporary holiday from facing our fears.

And there is nothing innately wrong with taking a holiday as long as we don’t use it as an escape from looking at the inner tension we carry, the fear, grief, sorrow, and anger.

For every beginning, there is an ending. Whatever arises, must pass away, and nothing has any intrinsic, independent existence. Everything is connected. When you let go of your separate identity, you will realize your connection with all things, all fear will vanish. But do not misunderstand this teaching as nihilism, for that leads you far from truth. For the very reason that nothing exists by itself, everything matters deeply. Whatever happens to one sentient being, affects us all. Every action has repercussions.


2 thoughts on “No Hopes or Fears”

  1. Thank you brother for your passionate support for active participation in an ever challenging social world we are living in!

    I wonder if it is possible to allay our fears with “hope” for the human condition and saving the earth. Don’t get me wrong, I fully believe in the power of collective consciousness to push back the oppression of greed and ignorance. But there are limits to what a material solution can do to solve an existential/spiritual dilemma. I’d like to expand on your last paragraph.

    I’ll start by commenting on “saving the earth”. I’m inspired by writers and thinkers that point out this thought is, in many ways, an arrogant human-centric view of earth and universe. Does earth need us to save her? I think not. While we are certainly barreling towards transforming the environment into one that is not compatible with human life as we know it, earth is not in jeopardy. Consider how letting go of our angst over saving the earth can alleviate the deep underlying fear and anxiety that plagues our minds. In doing so, we can commit ourselves wholly to caring for our environment because it is a good thing to do, it serves and nurtures the sentient beings that inhabit this world at this time, without the existential worry about the future.

    Similarly, we can think about saving the human race, is there such a thing? Does “it” need saving? I can feel the depths of my egocentric being as I lash out in anger at the so-called leaders and powerful in the world who exploit others for material gain. When I let go of my “need”, i..e. my clinging desire, for society and humans to be a certain way, I let go of this deep existential angst that feels overwhelming and pleas for hope. In this space, I can reach out to my brothers and sisters with an open heart and clear mind and do what is good without the need to be right.

    To paraphrase some wisdom teachings: The healing of existential fear and loathing is connection with the ultimate. The healing of apathetic nihilism is compassion.

    May all beings awaken

  2. Thank you for redefining hope brother. The traditional methodology of hope rooted in wanting and “saving” is a recipe for suffering as you rightly point out. Agreed, the earth doesn’t need saving, though it might take her a few million years to “compost” the mess we leave behind and regenerate. But if hope is rooted in acceptance – of change, understanding, and in our innate qualities for kindness and compassion, then we arrive at a hope that transcends fear and wanting. So even if it appears “hopeless” regarding things like getting back to 350 ppm carbon, or keeping the polar ice sheets frozen, or saving orcas, elephants, and a million other species from extinction, etc. we can still calmly work on reducing our individual carbon footprint, and supporting movements for social justice, because they lead us down the path of the heart. Thanks for your comment.

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