*Lojong is a mind training practice in the Tibetan Buddhist tradition. The practice involves refining and purifying one’s motivations and attitudes. There are fifty-nine or so slogans that form the root text of the mind training practice which are designed as a set of antidotes to undesired mental habits that cause suffering. They contain methods to expand one’s viewpoint towards absolute bodhicitta – or enlightenment.
This type of slogan is one of the reasons Buddhism suffers from PR problems. Add to that the image of Buddhists monks donning robes with rope ties, shaving their heads, renouncing sex, vows of silence and meditating all day in abbeys and yeah, it would take the world’s best spinmaster to convince your average joe that Buddhism is truly one of most practical and helpful of all spiritual paths.
Back to the slogan, “Abandon all hope of fruition” or you could just say, “Abandon all hope” or “Give up hope” or more simply, “Give up”. Hopeless, defeatist and depressing? Maybe not. Now I know you are thinking, how is that helpful? How is she going to make this into something positive, uplifting and useful in my life? Maybe she forgot to take her Pollyanna pill this morning. Maybe she meant to say, “Never give up hope!” or something as life affirming. Oh ye of little faith. Stick with me. I promise you, I wouldn’t have it taped to my refrigerator door if it didn’t bring me enormous amounts of peace and sanity on a daily basis. You just have to get past what you think it means. Ok? Because I know you are thinking, “give up hope?” Well that’s just un-American.
Peace is what I am looking for no matter what. No matter what. This is a pretty radical statment to make. It doesn’t mean, “peace is what I’m looking for no matter what” …except if I get hit with a big tax bill or I get shingles or my loved one dies. It means peace no matter what fresh hell just rang the doorbell, sat at the kitchen table and asked for a cup of coffee.
This can seem like an unreasonable request, an almost impossible request sometimes. The reason? – this little phrase: “not how it was supposed to be.” As in:
“This was not supposed to happen to me.”
“This was not supposed to happen to us.”
“This was not supposed to happen now.”
“This was not how it is was supposed to be.”
Those phrases kill our peace most of the time because hardly anything happens the way we think it should. That pesky old “should of, could of, would of.” For the most part, we don’t even really know this is our underlying belief, that it is part of the soundtrack of our thoughts.
These days you hear the phrase “It is what it is” a lot. Sort of the modern day version of “Go with the flow, man.” But for most of us, these are just platitudes. They aren’t really how we think. We might say, “It is what it is.” but down deep we are screaming, “This isn’t supposed to be happening!” “I wasn’t supposed to get this disease.” “My child wasn’t supposed to have 2 left feet or a learning disability.” “I wasn’t supposed to get laid off.” “My wife wasn’t supposed to leave me.”
One of the noble truths Buddhism points to is that there is nothing to hold on to, no safety net, that impermenance and change are our reality whether we acknowledge it or not. Accept it or not. And for those of us who want something to hold on to, who want comfort and security to last, this truth is very inconvenient. It’s a hard pill to swallow. I know, it has gotten stuck in my throat many times. But until you get completely fed up with always trying to get ground under your feet, trying to hold your trip together, trying to find somewhere to hide and seek lasting security in a world and life whose very nature is constantly vacillating, you will never be at peace. Until you “give up hope” that there is somewhere better to be, someone better to be, someone better to be with, something better to have, or something better than what is happening, you will never relax with where you are, who you are and what your life is offering you right now. You simply can’t relax. This is that underlying anxiety we all feel. Why we all need a Valium and a spa vacation every month. You can’t relax when you are always in search mode. Searching for that next pleasure point, that next thing that will make you feel safe, secure and satisfied. You will continue to play the “if only” or “as soon as” game. And that game, I know from experience, you know from experience, can simply not be won. You will keep playing it until the day you die and you will be continually asking yourself, as Sarah McLachlan’s song lyric does, “Can I spend forever here and not be satisfied?” The sad truth is, yes, a lot of us do.
Holding on to hope robs us of the present moment or “The Power of Now” as Eckhart Tolle’s book title reminds us. You know how we are instructed these days to, “Be here now” “Live in the now.” “Be present.” That is what this slogan points to. You feel powerless when you are always future focused -the very definition of hope is future focused. As long as you have an orientation toward the future, you can never just relax into what you already have, already are or what is. It robs you of a direct and open relationship with your life. As is. Right now. Not how it was supposed to be. Not what wasn’t supposed to happen or should happen. Whether your life is really going swell right now or whether it’s about as bad as you can imagine, it is that relationship, that intimate relationship with your life that we all crave. It’s that feeling, that “je ne sais quoi” we are all searching for. To really feel our lives, to experience them in all its glory and all its wretchedness. As Caroline Myss says, “What you really want is to be madly in love with your life.” You want to really be in love with being here, with experiencing yourself, your being and your life directly without qualifiers. Without how you think it is “supposed” to be.
The problem? Fear. With a capital F. We are terrified to feel our lives that fully. The good and the bad. We are afraid the good will turn bad like when you look in the crib at your baby sleeping so beautifully and the terrifying image of her not waking up pushes its way to your thoughts – we forebode joy for fear it won’t last, can’t last. And well, we just plain old don’t want to feel the bad, do we? We think we can’t handle it and we think something has gone wrong when we experience it. Addictions of all kinds stem from our aversion to feeling “bad.” Thinking something isn’t “supposed” to happen keeps us stuck. Fear keeps us from finding peace and being in an open relationship with our lives whether we define it as good right now or bad.
And as long as there is hope, fear will be lurking in the background. Hope and fear go hand in hand. We are completely at their mercy. They come from the feeling that we are lacking something, missing something. Something was supposed to happen or not happen. We just can’t relax with ourselves and our lives. We are always reaching for something, looking for alternatives, for things to be different and it is this restlessness that is the root of our pain, of our anxiety. We are always trying to escape from the experience of our lives, of who we are. Trying to avoid what is coming for fear we can’t stand it or face it. Trying to get lasting security in an unpredictable world. Once we begin to see this is a futile journey, that always seeking security and certainty leads to disappointment and pain you begin to see the value of hopelessness. Of abandoning hope. Once you hit this wall and start living fully present with the dynamic quality of your life where you finally get that there is no security or certainty, then you can begin to live unfettered by hope and fear, of living without a “game plan” that is always trying to align the playing board to avoid all pitfalls.
Lest you think that all your hoping and fearing was wasteful, I am here to tell you otherwise. Because until you try to get lasting security a hundred different ways, until you try to avoid all pain and suffering a thousand times, until you try to grab onto hope with dear life just one more time, you will never know it can’t be done. That the game is never over. Once you get fed up with this cycle of samsara (pain), it motivates you to find out what frees you, helps you feel less confused and helps you live more present and peaceful life no matter what rings the doorbell today. It speeds things up on your journey to peace, on your journey to being fully awake in your life and being in an unconditionally open relationship with it. Once you realize that you can actually live in peace with whatever life brings, that you can handle it, that you can be ok, fear softens its death grip on your life. “Hope” losses its intensity, it’s power.
For me, I’ve replaced “hope” with acceptance. That right now this is what my life is and even at its worst, when I want everything to be better and return to feeling safe and secure, when I want someone to change or I want something to happen or not happen, I don’t just “hope” anymore. Hope just doesn’t do it for me anymore. I feel no power in “hoping.” What I do now is accept and I know. I know that nothing stays static for long, that if I let life live through me, the tide will always change. Life is ebb and flow and I have to ride each wave as they come. And when one crushes me and I go tumbling to shore scratched from the shells and sand on my way in, hoping the next one won’t crush me too won’t change what is coming. Because I never know what the next wave coming will be – another one that might crush me or one I get to ride and enjoy. That is the way of the ocean, that is the way of life. My power comes from accepting the power of the ocean not fighting it. Yeah, actually, go with the flow, man.
Pema Chodron’s advice: “Begin with hopelessness.” All our anxiety, all our addictions, all of our dissatisfaction is rooted in our desire, our hope that our experience could be different. Is “supposed” to be different. That we have control over the waves, that we have absolute control over our lives. That death, impermenance, pain, and insecurity can be avoided if we just do the right things, say the right words, think the right thoughts. That the facts of life will not reach us. But there is no escape from the facts of life and once we give up this hope, we can finally begin to relax with the groundlessness of our situation. Make friends with ourselves and our life and not run away. We can finally find the courage to stop grasping and clinging to what can never bring us peace. To all the “supposed to be’s” of our life and live a fully present, unconditionally open life. We can just let out a sigh of relief and be ok with what our life is presenting us right now. “Abandon all hope of fruition” simply frees you from this clinging. And maybe, just maybe that is the way it is “supposed” to be.