Hope. What is about humans that so desperately want to cling to hope?
That’s right. Put down the chocolate bunny. Back away from the brightly colored eggs. Put a wrinkle or two into your frilly spring dress bought special for today. Get serious. What’s the deal with hope?
For starters, it’s your mind playing a sinister seduction trick on you. You’re telling yourself that there’s another condition – a better job, a more loving family, a nicer house, a purpose for… uh…. (more on that later) – that is remote from the present. And isn’t it somewhat ironic that our perception gets objectively overridden by the exact same set of neurons which shape our view of the present and then convince us that an indeterminant, unobservable “other” will be “better” than the fully apprehendable “now”?
And why did I pick today to write this post? Quite simple. Because the power of myth – the animating impulse for judging the present to be inferior to some other, some later, some “out there” – is enormously animated by the way we tell the story of Easter. And don’t think you can dodge the bullet my Jewish friends – Passover is no different. Remember, we got to Egypt because Joseph was exiled by his family and sent to a far-off country where he provisioned the very family that rejected him! Sure, we can all remember the story of slavery but we assiduously deleted the story about how we got there. And a few weeks into 40 years, remember how we longed for the good ole days in Egypt? But I digress.
Hope exists because we are taught to want. Want exists because we are conditioned to compare. And all of these dynamics are fundamentally pathologic because they ALWAYS rob the present of its completeness, its adequacy, yes, even its abundance. In mathematical terms, hope is the imaginary error in our unexplained variance. And more insidiously, it’s an admission that we’ve elected contempt for the present over our unfounded notion that we could concoct a “better”. And how seductive is that? We get to “believe” (once again, a self-referential delusion) that we can architect a more palatable scenario than the whatever situation we’re in at the moment.
I love the Easter story that the Christian faith doesn’t explain very well. It’s the one of Mary Magdalene. Yeah, that Mary. The one who was living her grief, sorrow, love, and passion when she went to visit the tomb of the man she loved and followed. Sanctioned history approximates her pouring perfume on her beloved’s feet before the crucifixion. And on that morning, she’s just doing what she knows to do as an expression of love – coming with fragrances to anoint her beloved once again. She’s not hoping. She’s not believing. She’s doing. And on the way to the tomb, sure she’s probably thinking, “Why did he have to be so damn stubborn?” “Why did he have to piss so many people off?” “Why couldn’t we have just lived a normal life like everybody else?” “Why couldn’t he have seen how much I loved him?” “Why wasn’t my life good enough to convince him to stay and let go of the mission?” Cut the pious crap. She wasn’t singing Easter songs. She was crying. She was mad. But she was doing what she knew how do do – show love. And when she found the empty tomb of the story, she even turns to Jesus and thinks he’s a gardner. It’s not until he says her name – “Mary” – that she recognizes the man that just three days earlier was the center of her world. And there’s the problem with the mind that manufactures “hope”. It doesn’t slow down and recognize that the impulse that animates the unconsidered reflex of hope could be the very same impulse to say, “slow down and observe.” “You’re missing something that’s standing right beside you.”
The Easter story is as much about this tender reunion as it is about death and life. And we miss the point when we fail to see that in the sanctioned story, the Jesus who could fly, walk through walls, appear and disappear, that Jesus, stayed at the tomb to meet Mary. No one talks about this. Did he hope she would come? Did he believe she would come? Nope. He knew that Mary wouldn’t miss a chance to anoint him and he waited for her to come. Easter is NOT a story about hope. Easter is not a story about belief. It’s a story about certainty.
Now by now you’re probably thinking – what’s this got to do with economics. Well here’s the dirty little secret. Hope, want, and belief are GREAT for business. Relationships end, great! Hire lawyers to get what you deserve, counselors, therapists. Drink. Drown your sorrows. Buy new clothes. Change everything to rid your world of those memories. Take down his pictures. Need the house or car, great! Spend more time at the office, drown yourself in so much work that you have to eat out, fly, drive, stay in hotels. Today sucks! Great! We’ve got a pill for that, we’ve got the dream vacation that will give you all you can eat and drink all-inclusive. This incarnation is tough. Great! We’ve got a heaven that’s waiting for you as long as you worship, restrain, conform, tithe, and repress. Oh, and that should do wonders for your emotional well-being so you consume to drown out the scarcity and repression-induced lack of fulfillment. Whether it’s the actual lottery or the metaphoric one, consumption is more fueled by hope of a better (experience, life, status, reputation, appearance, you name it) than it is based on an adequate present.
When someone is hawking “hope” (or its ugly ephemeral cousins faith and belief), there’s a pretty high probability that there’s a present reality that is being neglected. The promoters of hope are lacking a fulfilled power illusion. The promoters of faith are lacking the discipline and vulnerability of deep and abiding inquiry into the knowable and the ease of unknowing. The adherents to belief are lacking the certitude that life is an ever-present unfolding which is complete in each of its moments. Not surprisingly the stories and myths that give us these sugar-coated placebo realities – whether it’s Paradise, Avalon, or any other distant “Bliss” – are told by aspirants, not by those who truly live. The Arthurian ideal was to live in a way that modeled fully living. Our addictive, consumptive, void-filling existences are merely indictments of an illusion created by the story-teller – not the protagonists.
So my Easter celebration is an acknowledgement of the pain of endings. Sure I had my dose of hopes and what-ifs. But more importantly, this requiem is about allowing that grief to be seen for what it was – a projection of my own blindspots and senses of inadequacy – which can now vanish in the sunrise of a day which is met with simple gratitude for what is. Nothing more. Nothing less. Just is. And yes, I’m going to have some chocolate and while I’m eating it, I’ll give thanks for my dear friends in Papua New Guinea who grow, ferment, and roast it so that I can have the smile it brings to my face. Thanks Mama T. And Happy Easter.