Sometimes, deep looking causes me to wonder about certain cultural assumptions we make. In recent years, one wide-spread assumption in particular seems to have a dubious benefit, at best. I'll apologize in advance, because I know to question this assumption will possibly upset some people.
I no longer think that "hope" is a particularly strong virtue.
In fact, I think a case can be made that "hopelessness" is, in fact, of stronger spiritual merit.
Now, I think that hope plays a perfectly fine role in helping people get through truly dreadful times, since it effectively tells us that nothing remains the same forever, and that this terrible moment will inevitably change into something else in the next moment.
But as I look around, it appears to me that there are many people who turn hope into a way of life. And when you look closely, it becomes evident that hope fits into the same family of human experience as dissatisfaction and regret. Hope, in effect, is the future tense, with dissatisfaction the present tense, and regret the past tense.
All three mind states are the result of disagreement with what is. Regret is disagreement with what was in the past, dissatisfaction is disagreement with the present, and hope represents a strange sort of dissatisfaction with our expectations for the future. We would not hope at all, were it not for our fear that the future will look exactly like the present.
The essense of hope is a desirous wishing for conditions to be other than what they are, and I don't know how, exactly, we have turned this into a culturally sanctioned virtue. Could there be anything less conducive to happiness than to constantly wish for things to be different?
It takes only a very slight shift in perception to see that there is virtue in hopelessness, because to be without hope implies a full, embracing acceptance of the present condition of things. In this moment, if I am without hope, it is because I have fully embraced the present and am responding to it automatically, without desire or aversion.
Desire and aversion, otherwise known as hope and resentment, don't in and of themselves accomplish anything. They are simply unhappy mind states, and in fact they exist because we cling to stasis rather than going with the flow of the universe. The antitode, it seems to me, is to fully and entirely inhabit our experience, our moment. To act, instead of hope.
Once or twice a week, I bypass the bus and walk home from work, which gives me a rather vigorous two hour hike of almost 6 miles. On this walk, I pass through a somewhat shabby area of town near highway overpasses where trash is often strewn about. Over the course of several walks, this stretch of two or three blocks caused me to feel disheartened and saddened by the selfish behavior of the human race.
Then one day, ahead of me, a girl on a bicycle acted in the most perfect manner. Coming across loose newspapers, she simply reached down, picked up a single piece of trash and threw it away. She clearly wasn't at all unhappy about it. It was simply the thing to do. One piece of trash.
I began to do the same. Coming across a cracked liquor bottle under the underpass, rather than fume about the selfish bastard who threw it from a car, I just picked it up and threw it away. It cost me no more time or effort, and my poor mind state was instantly relieved.
Responding automatically, intuitively, with simple logical action is perhaps all it takes to eliminate fear and resentment and longing and hope.