I’ve been thinking a lot recently about optimism vs. pessimism. Embedded in this conversation is the question of “Hope.” In the Shambhala teachings, hope is a dangerous notion, because it contains the possibility of fixation on the future that is really nothing more than an unaddressed mirror image of fear. Some of us feel a bit down on the word hope itself these days, as it oscillates between naivete and cliché in our minds.
But at the same time that most world is in a dark place, there is much to be optimistic about. In 2011 I have been especially grateful for community, the renewed opportunity to write, the opportunity to teach, which is always internally rewarding even if the external rewards aren’t always supremely apparent. I also feel very grateful for the energy of the Occupy movement, which may be messy but is clearly initiating much needed converations about who we want to be as a society.
My dear friend and mentor Sharon Salzberg sent a group of us a quote from Václav Havel, the Czech president, activist and writer who recently passed away. This quote reframes the beauty of hope, and its potential pitfalls beautifully. It makes me proud to do everything I can to be a hopeful person.
Hope is a state of mind, not of the world. Either we have hope or we don’t; it is a dimension of the soul, and it’s not essentially dependent on some particular observation of the world or estimate of the situation. Hope is not prognostication. It is an orientation of the spirit, and orientation of the heart; it transcends the world that is immediately experienced, and is anchored somewhere beyond its horizons …Hope, in this deep and powerful sense, is not the same as joy that things are going well, or willingness to invest in enterprises that are obviously heading for success, but rather an ability to work for something because it is good, not just because it stands a chance to succeed. The more propitious the situation in which we demonstrate hope, the deeper the hope is. Hope is definitely not the same thing as optimism. It is not the conviction that something will turn out well, but the certainty that something makes sense, regardless of how it turns out.
Here’s to a hopeful 2012.