Pema Chodron offers the timeless teaching that has been taught from many angles across all of time and space. May you hear the teachings of your own tradition shine through as she writes to us now:
“Turning your mind towards the dharma does not bring security or confirmation. Turning your mind towards the dharma does not bring any ground to stand on. In fact, when your mind turns toward the dharma, you fearlessly acknowledge impermanence and change and begin to get the knack of hopelessness.
The difference between theism and nontheism is not whether one does or does not believe in God. It is an issue that applies to everyone, including Buddhists and non-Buddhists. Theism is a deeply seated conviction that there’s some hand to hold: if we just do the right things, someone will appreciate us and take care of us. It means thinking there’s always going to be a babysitter available when we need one. We all are inclined to abdicate our responsibilities and delegate our authority to something outside ourselves. Nontheism is relaxing with the ambiguity and uncertainty of the present moment without reaching for anything to protect ourselves. Nontheism is realizing that there’s no babysitter that you can count on. The whole of life is like that. That is the truth, and the truth is inconvenient.
As long as we’re addicted to hope, we feel that we can tone our experience down or liven it up or change it somehow, and we continue to suffer a lot. In a nontheistic state of mind, abandoning hope is an affirmation, the beginning of the beginning. You could even put “Abandon Hope” on your refrigerator door instead of more conventional aspirations like “Everyday in everyway, I’m getting better and better.” We hold onto hope and it robs us of the present moment. If hope and fear are two different sides of the same coin, so are hopelessness and confidence. If we’re willing to give up hope that insecurity and pain can be exterminated, then we can have the courage to relax with the groundlessness of our situation.
Death can be explained as not only the endings in life but all of the things in life that we don’t want. Our marriage isn’t working; our job isn’t coming together. Death and hopelessness provide proper motivation for living an insightful, compassionate life. But most of the time warding off death is our biggest motivation. Warding off any sense of problem, trying to deny that change is a natural occurrence, that sand is slipping through our fingers. Time is passing and its as natural as the seasons changing. But getting old, sick, losing love – we don’t see those events as natural. We want to ward them off, no matter what.
When we talk about hopelessness and death, we’re talking about facing facts. No escapism. Giving up hope is encouragement to stick with yourself, not to run away, to return to the bare bones, no matter whats going on. If we totally experience hopelessness, giving up all hope of alternatives to the present moment, we can have a joyful relationship with our lives, an honest, direct relationship that no longer ignores the reality of impermanence and death.“
Excerpted from When Things Fall Apart by Pema Chodron