(The following is an excerpt from the book, Nothing Personal, Seeing Beyond the Illusion of a Separate Self by Nirmala.)
One thing that happens when you orient towards the present moment, towards what is really happening instead of what isn’t, is that hope is destroyed. Life also destroys our hope as it reveals the truth. Have you ever noticed how life doesn’t seem to refer to your hopes and dreams? When you live long enough, every hope, dream, desire, and ideal you’ve ever had gets dashed. They get dashed even when they come true and you find out your dream wasn’t the answer either: You get a million dollars, and you’re still miserable. You get a wonderful relationship, and you’re still restless. The truth about your hopes, wishes, and dreams is that they don’t get you anywhere.
Seeing this would be simple if we never got anything we hoped for because we’d quickly lose interest in hoping and desiring. The problem is that occasionally we get what we hope for, and that is powerfully reinforcing, powerfully addicting. We become addicted to our hopes and dreams. We desperately struggle for a few intermittent rewards. The complete reality of hoping is that it’s mostly a horrible experience.
There are lots of lies behind our hopes. For one, we assume that if we get what we hope for it will be forever. That’s the whole fairytale ending: “and they lived happily ever after.” We never look at the whole truth, which is that everything is always changing, and everything that comes is going to go.
Another lie is that we believe that life will be a certain way once our dream is realized. But, of course, everything in life has both a good and bad side: We get a million dollars and it only messes up our lives. Life is never as simple as our hopes lead us to believe.
A third lie is that we think that hoping, dreaming, and wishing will make us more active and productive, but does it? It actually takes up a tremendous amount of time and energy. We think that hoping is what makes our life go somewhere. Without it, we think we will be passive and do nothing. We don’t see that life happens regardless of our hopes and dreams.
The biggest lie is that we believe we’ll be happy when our hopes are realized. But our hopes are like ordering a dessert from one of those dessert trays: It looks really good, but when you bite into it, it’s often stale and flavorless. When you actually bite into all those hopes, dreams, and desires that have driven you for so long, you find out they don’t satisfy or if they do, it’s the kind of satisfaction that’s never enough. A friend of mine used to say: “You can never get enough of what doesn’t really satisfy.” Hoping and desiring are like a hunger that can’t fully be satisfied.
We tend to follow our hopes and desires away from what’s real. We keep trying to satisfy them, but each time we try, we move farther away from what’s real, and what is real is the only thing that can satisfy us. This is a description of every addiction. Every time you get a fix, it satisfies less, so the next time, you need a higher dose. When you go in that direction, the connection to what’s real gets thinner and thinner, and the suffering gets worse and worse. It gets to the point where you’re not experiencing any satisfaction, just a temporary relief from the pain and suffering of hoping.
It’s not a mistake that we get so addicted to our hopes. Strangely enough, that’s the path to our salvation. Ramana Maharshi used to say that no one ever wakes up from a good dream—you wake up from your bad dreams. Sometimes there’s no other way to find out the truth of your hopes and dreams than to bet all your money on them and discover that, win or lose, they still don’t satisfy.
Another possibility is to be willing to look at your hopes and see what is really true about them: Are they satisfying? Are they bringing something real and fulfilling into your life or are they taking you farther away from what’s real? What are you choosing right now? Are you choosing something that will lead you to the truth or something that will fuel that underlying dissatisfaction? In this moment, one of those things is happening: you’re orienting towards what is real and true or you’re orienting towards a hope or a dream.
When you show up for the experience of hoping, you realize that what you’re hoping for is not real, it’s not here, it’s not happening. This dissolves the hope because once something is exposed as having little truth, it becomes uninteresting, irrelevant. If I say, for instance, that there’s a hungry tiger in this room, you aren’t affected because it’s obviously not true. When you actually show up for one of your hopes and discover that it’s as unreal as this tiger, the juice goes out of it. Nothing is driving it anymore. Your hopes turn out to be empty. Once the truth is seen about your hopes, you can’t delude yourself anymore.
Even though, it’s a big relief to lose all your hopes, that is, to see that there’s no point to them, there’s often tremendous resistance to letting go of each and every one. The reason this is so is that we don’t really see how it’s possible to be without them. Instead, we sometimes replace them with despair, which is really just a negative hope. Rather than hoping for something wonderful, despair is like hoping for something terrible. We fantasize something terrible happening in the future. So, for most of us, the experience of being without hope is the experience of despair.
Why do we do that? One reason is we think that that will motivate either ourselves or others: If we’re afraid, we expect that to motivate us to do something about it or to get someone to take care of it for us. This pattern became established because occasionally it worked, especially when we were little. When we were afraid, we discovered that sometimes we got taken care of. Another reason we do this is that it gives us a sense of knowing what’s going to happen, which often seems better than not knowing, even if what we think is going to happen is negative. We also do this because it adds drama to our lives. Without hope and despair, what is there to struggle for or against? Like hope, despair is just another strategy for managing the future.
The good news is that being present to whatever is happening not only deconstructs your hopes but also your fears. And life, of course, does that too. Often from shear exhaustion from so much hoping and despairing, you come to a place where you are hope-less and despair-less. You’ve lost all your hopes, and you’re not replacing them with despair. You’re not filling in this moment with hope for a better moment or fear of a worse moment. You’re just experiencing the absence of hopes and the absence of despair.
That experience is an experience of emptiness. When you begin to pay attention to the content of your mind, you notice how much of it is a hope or a fear. Imagine if you saw that all of your hopes and fears have no relevance, no reality, no truth. Because that’s been the focus of so much of your attention, when your hopes and fears become uninteresting and irrelevant, life can seem empty initially. Now what? What’s left? What’s left is reality, which is always rich and satisfying. All striving and dissatisfaction disappear in the now, and what appears is completely satisfying.
When you finally stay in the emptiness, then it’s possible to see what’s beyond your hopes and desires, and you notice that there’s a lot more going on than your grasping. There’s much more to the now than what’s arising in the mind. Life is and always has been unfolding in incredible ways, and our desires and hopes have had very little to do with that.