Borderline Personality Disorder,  Mindfulness,  WHINE Book

The Nature of Hope

Hoping for a Better FutureSeveral years ago I read Peace is Every Step by Thich Nhat Hanh (see Reading List for purchasing this book). I have often found a quote on the Internet in quote databases and such from this book which says:

Hope is important, because it can make the present moment less difficult to bear.

But the funny thing is, this quote is taken out of context. This quote is from a longer one called “Hope as an Obstacle.” A more complete quote is this one (emphasis is mine):

Hope is important, because it can make the present moment less difficult to bear. If we believe that tomorrow will be better, we can bear a hardship today. But that is the most that hope can do for us – to make some hardship lighter. When I think deeply about the nature of hope, I see something tragic. Since we cling to our hope in the future, we do not focus our energies and capabilities on the present moment. We use hope to believe something better will happen in the future, that we will arrive at peace, or the Kingdom of God. Hope becomes a kind of obstacle. If you can refrain from hoping, you can bring yourself entirely into the present moment and discover the joy that is already here.

Enlightenment, peace, and joy will not be granted by someone else. The well is within us, and if we dig deeply in the present moment, the water will spring forth. We must go back to the present moment in order to be really alive. When we practice conscious breathing, we practice going back to the present moment where everything is happening.

Western civilization places so much emphasis on the idea of hope that we sacrifice the present moment. Hope is for the future. It cannot help us discover joy, peace, or enlightenment in the present moment. Many religions are based on the notion of hope, and this teaching about refraining from hope may create a strong reaction. But the shock can bring about something important. I do not mean that you should not have hope, but that hope is not enough. Hope can create an obstacle for you, and if you dwell in the energy of hope, you will not bring yourself back entirely into the present moment. If you re-channel those energies into being aware of what is going on in the present moment, you will be able to make a breakthrough and discover joy and peace right in the present moment, inside of yourself and all around you.

– Peace Is Every Step (1991)

In the context of BPD, I take this as hoping for something to happen which will not happen without recognizing the current situation. In other words, you are hoping for something you wish to happen while ignore what actually IS. I would suggest that in this context hope is a form of “magic thinking” or “wishful thinking” and, without work and practice of effective skills, that hope is empty. Acceptance of the current situation is the first step toward change.

One Comment

  • Eric

    We had a difficult time with this teaching in my Buddhist study group. Most people have a hard time accepting that hope is not always a positive thing. I had a hard time with it mysef. I understand what it means, not that you abandon hope but that you live in the future rather than the present.

    But still hearing the words to give up hope is a very difficult thing for most people. I think that if this was worded differently it might be more palatable to people. But I agree with it 100%, as much difficulty as I have with the use of the word “hope” in this negative context.

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