The Hollowness of Hope

July 8, 2012 § 26 Comments

Success is as dangerous as failure.  Hope is as hollow as fear.

Tao te Ching, Chap. 13 (Stephen Mitchell translation)

Of all the Tao passages, this one may be the most difficult to embrace.  The rejection of what Kipling called the “twin imposters,” success and failure, is not so hard.  And to banish fear is a common aspiration.  But hope?  Hope seems so indispensible, so positive.

Most of us labor under the illusion that through our choices, we determine our consequences.  Good choices yield good outcomes.  Bad choices, bad outcomes.  We also imagine that these outcomes are static.  We register our success- or failure- and close the ledger book.

This is all a mistake.

The only thing that we can hope to control is our own actions and choices.  What follows from those choices spins instantly out of our grasp.  What we do matters, certainly.  But we don’t have the power to control or even know what will come.

The very idea of an “outcome” can reflect the parallel illusion that we can freeze our circumstances at one moment in time and know that we succeeded- or failed.  Each success, each failure, of our lives becomes simply part of an infinitely complex and evolving tapestry.  Change is our only constant.

So what does this have to do with hope and its hollow quality?

To embrace hope is to embrace these same illusions.  We say that we hope for some outcome- good health for a loved one, good fortune for us.  We can hope and hope but we can never know what’s coming.  And whatever form the future takes, we cannot suspend time’s arrow in its path and in that frozen moment seek to pin down our hoped for outcome.

No need to mourn the hollowness of hope though.  It’s true that we can’t see or control what is to come.  But we can see what is right here, right now, and we can choose how to be, and how to act, in our moment.  We can choose to be present, strong, open, and ready.

Success, failure, fear, and even hope, we can set aside because all we have- and all we need- is ours in this moment.

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§ 26 Responses to The Hollowness of Hope

  • fgassette says:

    Hope is like faith, we only need to believe.


  • […] Pittsburgh, PA, Thomas Ross @ Only Here Only Now titled The Hollowness of Hope…Success, failure, fear, and even hope, we can set aside because all we have- and all we need- is […]

  • Jude says:

    I think we all ‘hope’ at times – for a good outcome for ourselves and others. But I do try and remember to ‘not be attached to the outcome’, and I also tell myself that ‘worry is a misuse of imagination’! 🙂

  • Thomas…thank for this. What a very interesting take on hope. I am working on a post for on the topic of worry, and I am seeing many similarities.

    • Thomas Ross says:

      Yes, I see the convergence as well. Worry? What’s the point? It takes you away from the present moment and triggers anxiety about things that aren’t within your grasp.

      Thanks for the read and for the reply.

  • Susan Cooper says:

    I have just found you through Bethany. I agree that the current moment is all we have in our grasp. What is past and what the future may hold are not something we can predict.

    However I do believe that if we do evil we generally beget evil, if do good we generally beget good.

    Hope my not give us a better future as some may believe but it does have the power to propell us in a direction that can lead us in a direction with a positive future benefit.

    • Thomas Ross says:

      Susan, thanks so much for the read and for sharing your thoughts.

      As you can see from my earlier comments, I too struggled with this post. Feeling hopeful can help us stay strong in our moment, for sure. But hope can also take us away from being present right here, right now.

      I’m glad that Bethany sent you by. I just subscribed to your blog and will be happy to share thoughts with you going forward.


  • jennlaurent says:

    I again am so connected with your post. I have been struggling with hope and it’s ability to be debilitating. It seems that hope can at times be a hurdle to moving forward. Staying present in the moment and letting go of outcome seems to be one way to work through that hurdle yet it doesn’t feel enough. Your post has me thinking further….

    • Thomas Ross says:

      “Thinking further” sounds right to me. I too struggled with this post and the idea of “hope.” Our work never ends, it seems. But to struggle to live authentically is such a great calling.

      Thanks again, Jennifer, for your read and response.

  • Randy Bauer says:

    A few years back I read Gibran(intoduced by my Grandmother and Grandfather). Later I began reading Kabat-Zinn, and also Saki Santorelli(Heal ThySelf), a great book by the way. These are but a few great readings that introduced me to mindfulness, and MBSR. And now I will add Thomas Ross. Thank you for the great words, and reminders that each moment is all we truely have. Have a great moment, and Next Week. Randy Bauer (WellEvovEdU).

  • Anitra says:

    Tom, I’m thrilled to have found your blog, too! Seems we have some commonalities in our subject-matter. Looking forward to reading more soon. -Anitra

  • Persephone says:

    Tom, this is a thought-provoking post, and, yes, it is hard to embrace. We mean such goodness with our hopes, and spread them so liberally. When we “hope” for something, often what we are really expressing is love and support.

    Still, there is something in what you say. I certainly agree with you about being present in the here and now, and only being able to control our own choices and actions. But I am not sure that I am ready to put aside hope. I will have to think about that more…

    • Thomas Ross says:

      Yes, I know. I hope too. Maybe sometimes we need- for a moment- to just imagine another circumstance and put ourselves there. And you’re right about “hope” often expressing love and support more than the projection of a future trajectory.

      This was a hard post for me. I struggled for a time with the Tao passage before I felt that I could put my thoughts out there.

      Thanks. Truly glad we connected.

      • Persephone says:

        I was thinking about this post again as I drove home in traffic in the hot sun, and for a fleeting moment, I got it. Hope is in the future, and all we have is now. This traffic, this heat, this car. Now.

  • sundayfundaywithjoanna says:

    So true! Amazing blog – very inspirational and this is what I really started to understand today on a deeper level (I thought I understood it before but today I felt like I have put it in practice I guess; I went from understanding the concept to actually believing and applying it)

  • Arjuna says:

    Reminds me of the Zen advice that by knowing ourselves we can remain steady in the face of success or failure, praise or critcism, etc…. Good post

  • chrisbkm says:

    Around 2001 I memorized Stephen Mitchell’s translation of the Tao Te Ching. Every few years I refresh it. I began with 48 “…in the practise of the Tao, everyday something is dropped…” and found myself going from there. The wisdom is simple, accessible and utterly profound. It’s quite awesome to have discovered your blog. Thanks.

  • Julianna says:

    I work with my clients on this one so much: “The only thing that we can hope to control is our own actions and choices. What follows from those choices spins instantly out of our grasp.” It’s so true, that all we can do is to come from our heart (actions, words, intentions) – and from there, we have no control. The beautiful part is that when we come from our heart, we have chosen the “hallway” that then has doors that are based on our hearts. Another great post – thanks as always!

    • Thomas Ross says:

      I think it is one of the toughest things to accept- the narrow limits of our control. But your “hallway” metaphor captures perfectly the great consolation in all this. Our power is in fact awesome in its capacity- to be present right here, right now. Thanks, Julianna.

      • Julianna says:

        (I love that you keep bringing me back to ‘right here, right now’ – it is such an extraordinary powerful place (!!!), but one so easy to forget about.)

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