March 1997, Volume 4 Nr 7, Issue 43
The new wave of modern technological global mass communications very efficiently propagates a culture of homogenous thinking and emotion. The media, especially the print and electronic media, feed our desire for sensational negative reporting. On March 21, 1997, the CNN (Cable News Network) web page reported that, "Many Americans view the media as vultures feeding upon tragedy and scandal, but most are drawn to sensational reports despite themselves, a new poll indicates." Isn't it amazing, but not surprising, that The National Enquirer, a supermarket tabloid, is America's largest circulation newspaper?
A persistent diet of news based upon tragedy, scandal, greed and negativism makes it much too easy for us to fall into a sense of despair. The Intermediate, Webster's Revised Unabridged Dictionary, 1913 Edition (indexed Jan 9 1997) defines one who is in despair as: to be hopeless; to have no hope; to give up all hope or expectation.
Hope is the opposite of despair and is: a desire of some good, accompanied with an expectation of obtaining it, or a belief that it is obtainable; an expectation of something which is thought to be desirable; confidence; pleasing expectancy.
The rock band My Despair, describes despair as an introspective void. Without anything to look forward to, without even a smidgen of internal strength that possibly could be summoned, emptiness may consume us. Conversely, in our desire to see a light at the end of a tunnel, a belief that hope is always possible and just around the corner, we become vulnerable to the quick fix, the prankster, and those who would use us for their own purposes. People too easily adopt paradigms that do them, their friends, and far too often, their followers, harm under the sincere acceptance that the adopted path to the future is true and hopeful.Hope Disguised
As I write this issue, word has come out of Rancho Sante Fe, California that thirty-nine members of the group known as Higher Source have committed mass suicide. A few days prior to this event, five members of a group calling itself the Order of the Solar Temple were found in Quebec having committed suicide. To date, over seventy members of the Solar Temple have taken their lives.
Many members of Higher Source were between the ages of 18 and 24, not exactly what one might consider despairing due to ill health. I visited Heaven's Gate, the Higher Source's homepage and found the group's message, which according to their logic, was a sign of hope. Their message of "joy" read:
Whether Hale-Bopp has a 'companion' or not is irrelevant from our perspective. However, its arrival is joyously very significant to us at Heaven's Gate. The joy is that our Older Member in the Evolutionary Level Above Human (the 'Kingdom of Heaven') has made it clear to us that Hale-Bopp's approach is the 'marker' we've been waiting for -- the time for the arrival of the spacecraft from the Level Above Human to take us home to 'Their World' -- in the literal Heavens. Our 22 years of classroom here on planet Earth is finally coming to conclusion -- 'graduation' from the Human Evolutionary Level. We are happily prepared to leave 'this world' and go with Ti's crew.
As the story of the Higher Source spread, the nation sought information on, analyzed, and came to dozens of explanations and conclusions as to what happened and why. Referring to the suicides President Bill Clinton said, "Some Americans feel isolated from all of the rest of us in other ways ... with truly tragic consequences."
Isolated self-centered groups-foster disconnectedness and separation. They posses an air of false hopelessness which is a disguise for the isolation itself. A close friend sent me an E-mail which said,
Perhaps, when closely scrutinized, we may find out that through one individual's despair, the acceptance of "motifs and myths" masquerading as hope, coincident with personal charisma and psychological attractiveness, create expectation mythos making perfect sense to those embroiled within it.Hope Institutions
Consider the most sacred holy day in Christendom - Easter (which is today). Easter is a celebration of Jesus' resurrection after his death by crucifixion. Pope John Paul II's Easter message was, ""Christ is the hope of those who see life and the future threatened by war and hatred, especially in the heart of Africa." The ultimate hope of Christians, however, is that upon their death, they will be saved through Christ as they join in the kingdom of God in Heaven. I find similarities between the salvation message of Heaven's Gate and that of the Catholic Church.. Yet, one is called a cult while the other a religion. What is the difference?
I remember as a child attending mass at Saint Anthony Catholic Church in Jersey City, NJ. There, all around me, were paintings on the ceilings of Jesus and the Saints standing on clouds in the heavens with a look that I can only describe as compassionate and merciful - offering hope. If we replace the cloud with a comet and Jesus or the Saints with a UFO, does the message change? In either scenario, the implication is, "You can be saved through me."
One definition of religion is "strictness of fidelity in conforming to any practice, as if it were an enjoined rule of conduct." Cult is defined to be, "A system of religious belief and worship." While we may not sympathize with nor relate to the group, The Higher Source, the search for and their attempt at reaching the light at the end of the tunnel has close parallels to the belief systems of most established religions including Christianity, Islam and Buddhism. It is my contention that religions and cults differ in numbers only. Cults become religions when their membership is of sufficient size that they can no longer be ignored. This allows them the luxury of acceptance by virtue of their implanted unmistakable presence.What of It?
What then is one to make of a large group of people who commit suicide in order to pursue their hope journey? Far be it for me to judge one way or another. That being said, I believe that true hope is life-affirming. While Christianity might foster a life better than this one after death, it does not hasten the transition from this world to the next. On the contrary, it teaches that life can be better now through prayer, forgiveness, good deeds, etc. Thus, it is life affirming.
Hope which is based upon life denial (which suicide is), while being completely successful in terminating one's problems in the moment, does not offer a better way for the being's present existence. It terminates the problem as well as the solution seeker and with it the potential discoverer of the solution. But, the Higher Source folks did not see their action as suicide. They saw it as vacating their "vehicles." While suicide is usually meant to kill the person - the individual, these folks intended to continue as separate entities (in a "higher plane", "evolved" of course).
On the journey of life, all of us are seekers. Some of us are more in-depth seekers than others. All of us, however, aspire to some level of existence that is better than what we perceive to have now. We have hope that tomorrow will be better. Perhaps this is a mistake. Might it not serve us better to change our mind in hopeful attainment of a level of consciousness; one that recognizes the ever present now moment to be the de facto eternity within which we recognize that all is well?
A few days ago, I received a bank statement in the mail which upset me. I called the local branch of the bank only to be routed to another state where "all the records are kept" and then back again to be put on hold to repeat the process over again. Finally, I found myself on hold using an old cordless telephone which was on its last legs crackling and hissing in my ear just begging to be thrown out. After breaking the phone by slamming it back into the cradle, I took the phone off its hinge and threw it into the trash. Yet, in the moment, at any given instant throughout the entire event all was reasonably well with the world. Why do simple events caused by human or machine error sometimes plunge us into despair? I believe the answer to be that our humanness makes us forgetful. Another way of putting it is that we become mindless from time to time.
Let us examine some of what people hope for. They hope for bills to go away or be paid, the end of the work day, good health, more money, better relationships, less weight, more weight, nice clothes, tomorrow, yesterday, a new car, less suffering, etc. Tim Dunn, in his book How to Escape the Chinese Finger Trap: A Manual for Changing writes:
Dunn suggests that hope lies not in escape or avoidance bur rather from embracing the suffering, heading towards it making the suffering less of a stranglehold on our happiness. Describing psychotherapy patients who embrace the suffering Dunn writes, "When they do this, they relax the weave of the trap which they have built for themselves, and they can begin to escape it." Our hope might be to replace running away from our suffering to heading towards it. The title of Dunn's book How to Escape the Chinese Finger Trap: A Manual for Changing refers to a cylindrical woven straw tube into which a finger of each hand can be placed. The Chinese finger trap is a metaphor for moving toward suffering in order to lessen it. When we place our fingers in the trap, our fingers are trapped. The harder we pull our fingers apart, the tighter the grip. Our hope of escape through pulling apart is erroneous and counterproductive as to do so only tightens the trap. Changing our thinking by moving our fingers toward each other in the direction of the trap loosens the grip and allows for escape. Perhaps it is not a loss of hope that dejects us but rather a fundamental flaw in the where, what and how we embrace hope.Signs of Hope
While the media makes headlines with the sensational, there are those who embrace suffering and quietly in their own way become hopeful, often in quite tragic circumstances. As an example:
Imagine those who have had full blown AIDS believing that there is no cure and death is ahead. Hopefulness does not come from running away from the disease bur rather heading towards it and responding accordingly.
I can, with little effort, recall memories of a major depression over half a decade ago. I fully understand what it means to be without hope. Yet, in the middle of despair, I recall reading everything I could get my hands on which dealt with suffering and pain. I read all of Gerald Jampolsky and Diane Cirincione's books. I read A Course in Miracles, The Handbook to Higher Consciousness, The Bible, books on Zen, Taoism, healing the inner child, toxic shame, Shambala warriorship, The Peaceful Warrior, etc. When I did not move toward my depression, it moved toward me. Throughout it all, I recognized that there existed within me a small spark acknowledging that help might be found somewhere, somehow. That spark was what we all need when immersed in what appears to be overwhelming despair. It is our willingness to find it that is the first step in it finding us.The Warrior View
Chogyam Trungpa, in his book, Shambala, The Sacred Path of the Warrior presents another view. Trungpa believes that our desire to be hopeful leads to the ambush of hope. He believes that wanting hope is self-defeating. In Chant and Be Happy, the teachings of A.C Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada state,
Trungpa believes that we become Shambala Warriors who conquer negativity and self-doubt and in the process achieve the happiness and wisdom necessary to overcome the setbacks and crises in our lives. Trungpa encourages us to become warriors of the outrageous. By this he does not mean that we are to become disrespectful or intolerable. Rather, we become warriors of the outrageous when we go beyond fear and overcome hope. What Trungpa means is that our suffering comes from our insistence at being hopeful followed by the disappointment of not reaching that goal. Wanting to have hope can set us up for failure. Failure occurs when hope is not fulfilled.
As a warrior of the outrageous we have "nothing to hope for and nothing to fear." Trungpa further goes on to say, "The way to despotism lies in clinging to concepts, without access to a pure realm in which hope and fear are unknown."
Our discussion of the warrior view can be summarized in the writings of Ken Keyes, who views all suffering as a result of addictions which have not been and cannot be satisfied. The search for happiness is such an addiction. "This is perhaps the heaviest conditioning we have submitted to in our lives, and the one with the most grievous consequences." Trungpa and Swami Prabhupada see a desire for hope as being another such addiction. It might be helpful to view happiness and hopefulness in light of Krishnamurti's response to a school boy who asked him if he was happy. Krishnamurti without hesitation answered, "I don't know. I haven't thought about it. But if I begin to think about it I'll definitely feel unhappy." Carlos G. Valles writes, "Blessed be the person who has not stopped to think whether he is happy or unhappy, and to whom the question has not even occurred." If we freely interchange the words hopeful and happy in the preceding quote, we may then express what personal freedom is.Final Words
Earlier in this newsletter under the section False Hope, I wrote about the suicides of the groups calling themselves Higher Source, and the Order of the Solar Temple. Offering hope to their followers, these groups are not alone in leading them to their death through the promise of and belief in a better world somewhere else. A similar event took place in Jonestown, Guyana where thousands of people moved on to a better place through drinking a kool aid - cyanide concoction. Was it hope that lead these people to take their own lives? Or, was it despair over not having their hopes fulfilled in the promised land of a cult religious figure who had his own hopes unfulfilled? Who can say? What can be said, however, is that the answers and the power lies within.
We can confidently conclude that the answers lie within us and with a bit of searching and practice we will find the truth (small "t") that is meaningful for us at any given moment, crisis or life situation.
As long as we are alive, learning and teaching will take place. We need merely to listen and we will hear what we need to know. A Course in Miracles teaches that when we need to learn the lesson will take place and that when we are ready to learn the teacher will appear. We are our own best teacher.Quotes The man of life upright, whose guiltless heart is free
From all dishonest deeds and thoughts of vanity:
The man whose silent days in harmless joys are spent,
Whom hopes cannot delude, nor fortune discontent;
That man needs neither towers nor armor for defense,
Nor secret vaults to fly from thunder's violence:
He only can behold with unaffrighted eyes
Whenever I despair I remember that all through history that truth and love have always won. There have been tyrants and murderers. For a time they can seem invincible but in the end they always fall. Think of it. Always.
There is more than anger, there is more than
sadness, more than terror.
We can hang our heads and moan and weep or, like Paul and Silas, we can turn our deep, dark, dank dungeon into a platform of prayer and praise.
All that we have in the here and now is our love for each other, our willingness to forgive one another and our willingness to come to each other's rescue.
Be here now - (or maybe, next week).
© 1997 Jozef Hand-Boniakowski