According to Merriam Webster, the verb “hope” means: to cherish a desire with anticipation. The noun is: the feeling of wanting something to happen and thinking that it could happen; a feeling that something good will happen or be true.

Two teachers of mine, both of whom I respect deeply, make different distinctions about hope.  Lucid Living (a powerful collaboration between Leza Danly and Jeanine Mancusi), describes hope as a beautiful, expansive, feminine energy, “a genuine expectation of a positive future.” I love this defining of hope as an uplifting conduit of possibility, vulnerable in its wanting and confident in its sense of expectation.

Pema Chodron, on the other hand, says: “We hold onto hope and it robs us of the present moment. If hope and fear are two different sides of the same coin, so are hopelessness and confidence…. Giving up hope is encouragement to stick with yourself, not to run away, to return to the bare bones, no matter what’s going on. If we totally experience hopelessness, giving up all hope of alternatives to the present moment, we can have a joyful relationship with our lives…”

“Yuck!” I thought, the first time I read that. How dreary, dark, and, well, hopeless, a word that I associate with those desperate, early adult experiences of feeling alone, lost, and not sure anything would ever get better.

After pondering and feeling into these two assertions, I believe that I can hold the paradox. Both are true. There is huge benefit in hope, which is born out of longing, and engenders expecting, intending, and manifesting. These are important skills for us humans, who often don’t understand or believe that we are co-creating our reality. Without hope, we can default to believing ourselves to be victims of circumstance.

Conversely, false hope can open your heart to suffering, to attachment, to wanting, to being specific about what you think will make you happy. Hope means looking ahead instead of being where you are. Hope can lead you down the “wrong” path for too long, if there is even actually such a thing.

Hope is painfully vulnerable to one who is in a dark and reactive place. I cut off hope in my teens and early twenties because I thought that building a barbed-wire barricade around my heart was a safety strategy. Hope would have melted the protective, “Life sucks and then you die, alone.” mentality to which I clung, thinking that it would protect me from pain. Hope, in my mind at that time, was an exercise in futility, because I held a limiting belief born out of a series of traumas and disappointments called “I will never get what I want.”

The light side of these beliefs, “Life sucks and then you die, alone,” and “I will never get what I want” might make Pema nod. Because there is some truth in both of those statements. It is the resistance, the longing, the wishing and wanting, which makes the reality painful. Life is unbelievably challenging, gut-wrenching at times. You DO die alone, even when surrounded by people. You actually will never get what you want, as long as what you want remains outside of you and the truth of who you are. There is relief to be found in holding that perspective without yearning for anything to be different.

Conversely, hope begets beautiful things. It inspires us to reach and stretch for things just out of reach, like a toddler on tiptoes for the first time eager for a toy on a high shelf. Hope inspires and uplifts, and as a culture we are obsessed about cheering on stories of hope in the face of adversity, or competition, or great odds for good reason. If you believe that you create your own reality, hope is the bowl that holds the tools of conscious creation.

What is your relationship with hope?  How do you hold this paradox?