Transformation-> From Hope to Hopelessness

2003-04-12

Richard Moore

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   "Hope is a dimension of the soulŠ 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."
                   - Vaclev Havel

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Date: Sun, 6 Apr 2003 19:54:01 -0700
To: Jan <•••@••.•••>
From: Jan Slakov <•••@••.•••>
Subject: From Hope to Hopelessness
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---<intermediate headers deleted>---
----- Original Message -----

From Hope to Hopelessness -  Margaret J. Wheatley ©
2002

As the world grows ever darker, I've been forcing
myself to think about hope. I watch as the world and
the people near me experience increased grief and
suffering. As aggression and violence move into all
relationships, personal and global. As decisions are
made from insecurity and fear. How is it possible to
feel hopeful, to look forward to a more positive
future? The Biblical Psalmist wrote that, "without
vision the people perish." Am I perishing?

I don't ask this question calmly. I am struggling to
understand how I might contribute to reversing this
descent into fear and sorrow, what I might do to help
restore hope to the future. In the past, it was easier
to believe in my own effectiveness. If I worked hard,
with good colleagues and good ideas, we could make a
difference. But now, I sincerely doubt that. Yet
without hope that my labor will produce results, how
can I keep going? If I have no belief that my visions
can become real, where will I find the strength to
persevere?

To answer these questions, I've consulted some who have
endured dark times. They have led me on a journey into
new questions, one that has taken me from hope to
hopelessness.

My journey began with a little booklet entitled "The
Web of Hope." It lists the signs of despair and hope
for Earth's most pressing problems. Foremost among
these is the ecological destruction humans have
created. Yet the only thing the booklet lists as
hopeful is that the earth works to create and maintain
the conditions that support life. As the species of
destruction, humans will be kicked off if we don't soon
change our ways. E.O.Wilson, the well-known biologist,
comments that humans are the only major species that,
were we to disappear, every other species would benefit
(except pets and houseplants.) The Dalai Lama has been
saying the same thing in many recent teachings.

This didn't make me feel hopeful.

But in the same booklet, I read a quote from Rudolf
Bahro that did help: "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." Could insecurity,
self-doubt, be a good trait? I find it hard to imagine
how I can work for the future without feeling grounded
in the belief that my actions will make a difference.
But Bahro offers a new prospect, that feeling insecure,
even groundless, might actually increase my ability to
stay in the work. I've read about
groundlessness-especially in Buddhism--and recently
have experienced it quite a bit. I haven't liked it at
all, but as the dying culture turns to mush, could I
give up seeking ground to stand?

Vaclev Havel helped me become further attracted to
insecurity and not-knowing. "Hope," he states, "is a
dimension of the soulŠ 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."

Havel seems to be describing not hope, but
hopelessness. Being liberated from results, giving up
outcomes, doing what feels right rather than effective.
He helps me recall the Buddhist teaching that
hopelessness is not the opposite of hope. Fear is. Hope
and fear are inescapable partners. Anytime we hope for
a certain outcome, and work hard to make it a happen,
then we also introduce fear--fear of failing, fear of
loss. Hopelessness is free of fear and thus can feel
quite liberating. I've listened to others describe this
state. Unburdened of strong emotions, they describe the
miraculous appearance of clarity and energy.

Thomas Merton, the late Christian mystic, clarified
further the journey into hopelessness. In a letter to a
friend, he advised: "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 relationship that saves
everything."

I know this to be true. I've been working with
colleagues in Zimbabwe as their country descends into
violence and starvation by the actions of a madman
dictator. Yet as we exchange emails and occasional
visits, we're learning that joy is still available, not
from the circumstances, but from our relationships. As
long as we're together, as long as we feel others
supporting us, we persevere. Some of my best teachers
of this have been young leaders. One in her twenties
said:: "How we're going is important, not where. I want
to go together and with faith." Another young Danish
woman at the end of a conversation that moved us all to
despair, quietly spoke: "I feel like we're holding
hands as we walk into a deep, dark woods." A
Zimbabwean, in her darkest moment wrote: "In my grief I
saw myself being held, us all holding one another in
this incredible web of loving kindness. Grief and love
in the same place. I felt as if my heart would burst
with holding it all."

Thomas Merton was right: we are consoled and
strengthened by being hopeless together. We don't need
specific outcomes. We need each other.

Hopelessness has surprised me with patience. As I
abandon the pursuit of effectiveness, and watch my
anxiety fade, patience appears. Two visionary leaders,
Moses and Abraham, both carried promises given to them
by their God, but they had to abandon hope that they
would see these in their lifetime. They led from faith,
not hope, from a relationship with something beyond
their comprehension. T.S. Eliot describes this better
than anyone. In the "Four Quartets" he writes:

     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.

This is how I want to journey through this time of
increasing uncertainty. Groundless, hopeless, insecure,
patient, clear. And together.

Margaret Wheatley
www.margaretwheatley.com

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rkm>

Friends,

Many thanks to Jan for sending out this article.

Margaret's expression is so eloquent that I almost
hesitate to elaborate.  But her words ring so true to
my own experience that I cannot resist.  And there are
a few points that I think deserve expansion and
emphasis.

---

For years I was part of a 'Sufi-flavored' group, led by
Jim Fadiman.  Besides a weekly session where we worked
with Sufi "teaching stories", we typically had a work
day once a month.  One of our exercises on work day was
to undertake some task (such as pulling weeds or
painting a fence) and to do that task without being
attached to the outcome.   Just do the work.  Don't
look at the clock. Don't complain to yourself about how
hot it is, or being bored.  Don't comfort yourself by
thinking about how nice the result will look.  Just do
the work, as a kind of meditation - but without being
proud of yourself for meditating so patiently.  Work with
non-attachment.

As with most of the exercises and readings we did in
Jim's group, I had no idea how much value I was getting
out the work days until years later.  The Sufi path
does not teach you facts or beliefs -- it puts you
through exercises which expand your repertoire of how
to perceive and process your own experiences.  It moves you
toward transformation, but that transformation does not
occur during the Sufi sessions.  You make your own
transformation later, in the process of life itself --
enhanced by the new 'modes of perception' awakened from
within yourself by the Sufi exercises.

On our work days, we were learning the same lesson which 
Thomas Merton was describing (cited above):

    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.

---

This is a lesson that guides my work here.  In writing,
how does one define "the value, the rightness, the
truth of the work itself".  Different writers have
different answers.  For a story teller, the answer
might be expressed in terms of entertainment value. 
For a propagandist, the answer might be expressed in
terms of 'ability to deceive'.  In my writing, I think
the answer is simply 'telling the truth'.

There are lots of reasons not to tell the truth.  The
regime lies to control us, and we must admit they get
good results.  Many of us progressives lie as well.  We
underestimate the regime  because we think that gives
us hope.  We overestimate our own effectiveness for the
same reason.  I believe such lies weaken us. Whenever
we hide from the truth, to that extent we are blinding
ourselves, sabotaging our own endeavors.  To that
extent we are led to pursue the wrong objectives and
with the wrong means.

There are five things I have faith in: the universe,
people, music, love, and the truth. I can give rational
arguments for those faiths, but I must admit the faith
came first and the research later.

---

In terms of content, there are certain things that I
believe we need to understand truly, without
self-deception.

We must understand, for example, that we are in an
adversarial scenario whether we like it or not.  We are
under attack. There is a regime which is intentionally
guiding the course of world events, and there is the
rest of us. 'The rest of us' includes not only us folks
down at the bottom, but increasingly everything else in
between.  Things like national governments, healthy
economies, national sovereignty, the environment, human
rights, international law, the UN, small businesses and
farmers, Constitutions and Bills of Rights, the whole
third world, etc. etc.  Every one of the 'rest of us'
is threatened by the regime and its intentions.

When I write the truth -- as I see it -- about such
things, people often presume that I despair, or that I
am undermining hope for the movement. Not so.  As Havel
put it, "Hope is a dimension of the soul".  And truth
is a dimension of reality.  Reality is what we must face. 
Why look elsewhere?

---

We must understand the nature of the threat, and the
nature of the enemy.  So many people refuse to go even
that far.  And that is only the beginning... the easy
part.  Much more difficult is, "Who are we?", "What is
our power?",  "What do we want?", "Where are we
going?".

Here is the point where I'd like to add a strategic
dimension to this (hope -> hopelessness) concept.

To the extent that you have 'hope' -- in the mundane
effectiveness sense -- then you are playing the current
system.  You are seeking influence within that system.
Your goals and your strategies are within the cage of
that system.  You may improve things or you may not. 
But you will never break on through to the other side.

But if you have hope in the sense of 'truth of what you
do', then you may possibly sow the seeds of what we
really need.  You may become the reality that you want
to create.  You may be the root of the new tree, the
tree of knowledge that we misinterpreted when we
allowed ourselves to be exiled from the Garden. 
Humanity grabbed the easy apple, the apple of exploitation. 
We left behind the sweeter fruit that 'progress' also
offered.

Our truest compass is the truth of what we do here and
now.  The means always become the ends.  That is what
can guide us on the path.  We have no long range plan
and we know it.  We need another kind of compass, and
Jan has helped to remind us what that is.

best regards,
rkm


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