I live just sixty miles or so from Mt. Hood, where two climbers are still missing on the mountain and one has been found. Dead. Both local and national news is focused on this drama. I am too.
This afternoon I was zeroed in on a television tuned to CNN while exercising on a stairmaster at my athletic club. There was lots of talk about hope. A snow cave had been discovered. Rescuers were making their way to it.
Driving home, I heard on the radio that a body had been recovered. Yet hope was still being expressed that the two other climbers were still alive. Hope, hope, hope. The airwaves were filled to overflowing with chatter about hope.
I’m a believer in positive thinking. More accurately, I usually think positively. It doesn’t do much good to believe in something unless you also do it. So I resonate with all this hopefulness, though it seems misguided to me. Close, but no cigar.
During my daily dog walk, I take many steps. I can’t recall ever hoping that I’d take another step. I just do it. If I ever fall and break a leg, then I suppose I’ll be doing some hoping.
As the families of the missing climbers are, because they—like the radio and television commentators I heard talking about hope today—are helpless. When you can’t do anything about a situation, you hope.
By comparison, I’m pretty sure that the mountain rescue teams are doing hugely more searching than hoping. The abstraction called “hope” is concretized by action: lowering yourself down an icy slope toward the likely location of a lost climber.
In that moment, to be distracted by thoughts of what might be is risky. Take care of now and then will take care of itself.
Western religion thrives on hope in an imaginary future. I wonder if a Buddhist or Taoist cable news channel covering the story of the missing climbers would fill the airwaves with so much talk of hope. I suspect not. A reality-based spirituality worships the present moment.
I’ve written before about the journey between two steps in Tai Chi. And, everywhere else in life. Getting from here to there isn’t a discontinuous lurch. It’s an unbroken journey. Intention, the cousin of hope, does indeed propel you.
But the calculus of intention or hope resolves itself into the infinitesimal of the present moment. I hope that lifting my right foot will result in a forward step. Yet there is no place along the way where what isn’t suddenly takes a quantum leap into what is.
“Hope” is a chimera, a word pointing to a non-existent that I necessarily am clueless about.
And also, to what my ego demands of the cosmos. When I hope, my directorial mind is writing a screenplay for the future. My plot line shall be what will be, because I am the one with an Academy Award-worthy script in hand.
Problem is, everyone else in the world has their own script. As does nature, which generally does a rewrite as it sees fit. Of course, by nature I don’t mean nature. For me that word is a placeholder for whatever is really going on. If I knew what it was, I’d be enlightened.
Or a poet. Which could be the same thing. Like David Ignatow:
I should be content
to look at a mountain
for what it is
and not as a comment on my life.
Whatever has happened, is happening, or will happen on Mt. Hood is simply that. Happenings. I’ve asked “What’s God got to do with lost climbers?”
I’m pretty sure the answer is, nothing. That also happens to be the answer to another question: “What does hope have to do with finding lost climbers?” Or, God.
Brian, somehow you've confused having hope with the surrender of one's will and power to affect change to some form of higher being.
I don't know where you picked up this notion, or if this is just another flight of fancy of your overly analytical mind, but I HOPE you will think this thing through again.
Hope is merely an expression of the mind/heart that somehow a positive result, be it through natural selection, personal courage, divine intervention or simply dumb luck, will champion a negative result.
You can choose to deconstruct every human emotion and thought and analyse it under your Zen microscope, but guess what, you can also choose not to. Isn't that amazing! You can just accept that people have hope, and it's not a weakness. It's only a sign that people know the odds may be against them, but this life is about betting on the dark horse. It keeps our species pushing ahead.
Posted by: Marcel Cairo | December 17, 2006 at 08:47 PM
Hope is the last thing out of Pandora's box and the first thing that enters a dead man's heart.
In the creative world, what is potential is what is most alive, re-forming, and as Brian says, re-writing the script. The possible and the probable writhe with eachother, dragon and tiger in the shan temples.
When the probability function collapses, and all the ideation becomes actual, death occurs. To be born is to die. The world of the ten-thousand things is concrete, real, and so subject to dissolution.
Like the prayer we discuss, hope is a gesture of the ever-creating, making the universe now: fleck of vermillion in the seascape; leading chin on a sculpture of a burgher; sitting down again in the dim and sooty lamp light to join "the Potato Eaters."
A buddhist broadcast, (at least the one I receive!) is absent desire, not devoid of hope. Desire is pounding on heavens door with 24 hour coverage of battle helicopters, refueling leaps into thin air. Hope is simpler: letting us know that there will be a family, more than one family, that will live after one has died.
Hope is shelter in that copse of slowing heartbeats where, after the acrid escape of every ill into existence, a stunned and foolish girl has more to tell.
Posted by: Edward | December 18, 2006 at 04:51 AM
I wonder how much Risk Management goes into mountain climbing? How much preparation goes into the Worst-Case-Scenerio (WCS)?
I wonder, (I'm a warm weather Texan) why would one want to climb a mountain in the winter time?
When climbing a mountain, should I have a periodic Call-In point, notifying someone what my exact location is, and what my personal condition is?
If I am trapped in a storm, a type of WCS, what is our emergency plan of action?
If one of us is injured, a type of WCS, what is my emergency first-aid action plan?
When the WCS is thought through, then follow the action plan that one has formulated.
I HOPE this is some food for thought.
Posted by: Roger | December 18, 2006 at 07:00 AM
Interesting that you would ponder this topic this morning. Deep in the night, before dawn came, I awoke and could not get back to sleep, so I asked what I should meditate upon. What came to mind were the searchers in Oregon, and the heartbreaking news they had to deliver earlier before we went to bed.
Watching from NY, I'm told that those searching have formed an incredible bond with the families of the lost hikers; that these searchers carry the HOPES of those families on their backs, like a divine burden, and that these people searching do not even consider the idea that the other two might also have passed on.
Like love, hope can be an adjective, or even a noun, but like "love", "hope" is most powerful as a verb. The tangible bond between those risking life and limb to locate another's beloved, and those who can only hope those who search for their beloved are successful -- this is proof that human beings are capable of such marvelous things!
For myself, hope is the fruit of surrender - and not subservient surrender but the simple surrender of the outcome. These people are definitely living life on life's terms and yet they have such drive and so much enthusiastic openness to the idea that things will resolve happily.
I'm suddenly filled with a sense that I am fortunate that I have physical challenges to deal with daily. These things require attention - I usually pay for absentminded activity with a measure of pain - and I try to frame that attentiveness with gratitude and celebrations of the teeniest successes, even if it is simply taking three consecutive steps without pain. I am always surprised at the demands my body makes on my mind but I cultivate hope that when I rise from my desk, when I go to retreive the mail, when I carry dinner to the table, that my body will act the way it did when I was thirty.
The Buddhist in me says that my pain is an illusion, but I'm not adept enough yet to not be surprised at the severity of the illusion. The RC in me says the pain is a punishment, but I can't beleive that other people suffer because they are being punished. But it is the gnostic seeker that says "I wonder what I will notice about this moment that I would have missed if I were able to navigate it with movements I could make absent-mindedly"? Something like hope's ...cousin... gives me the knowledge that what I might regard as a terrible burden is really an enormous, divine oportunity.
It's moments like these that I feel like such a novice, that there is such a chasm between who I want to be and the people the universe has assembled around me, so wise, so aware, so much more. If I did not have hope I would despair or worse - I'd be so blinded by ego that despair wouldn't even occur to me. I respect where you are coming from, Brian, but the mountains I confront are always a comment on my life, not because I am so important I am able to see them but rather because I am able to see them they grow in importance.
Marcel, Edward, Roger, you each fill my heart with wonder. Brian, you continue to teach me so much. I have hope that one day I will understand as deeply as each of you do.
Posted by: benandante | December 18, 2006 at 09:14 AM
I enjoyed reading, your above comment. As usual, its has that "Human" quality to it. Likewise, your link of Prayer to Graditude was very insightful.
Many best wishes to you,
Posted by: Roger | December 18, 2006 at 11:46 AM