(Andy Goldsworth, Sticks in cobweb Wales? May 1980, from here via the lovely Lis)
Recently, I've started feeling queasy about my own hope in the same way that I do with really corny advertising. It doesn't feel true. I know from experience that hopes can be shattered, even when you are being cagey, trying not to hope too much. I know at some level, that is why I hadn't finalised a name for Haloumi before she was born, hadn't found out her sex - I was trying to arm myself against hope. But I still believed in it - and attempting to guard against it was really just replacing overt hope with secret hope.
I've gone through life with a naive idea that things will work out, that if I'm calm and careful, it will all be okay. In that moment when the car stopped moving after the impact, when people had arrived on the scene and were helping us, when I'd been able to wriggle my toes, and didn't feel any pain in my uterus, I was so certain that Haloumi would be okay. I was good, I stayed calm, I did everything I could to cooperate with the paramedics and firefighters. I didn't even let the idea that she'd died enter my head - I kept my hand there, on my belly, inconveniencing all the doctors and nurses wielding dopplers and ultrasound wands, because I was trying to keep her alive by hope alone.
And I was so so wrong - she was so so dead - even by the time they got me in the ambulance. That doesn't mean that screaming and losing my shit would have been a better response - but it has taken me a long time to try to get my head around this broken hope. I know it makes no sense, but I'm so sad my hope wasn't strong enough, that it failed when put to the test.
So, I'm exploring a bit about hope, and Pema Chodron's suggestion - "if we're willing to give up hope that insecurity and pain can be exterminated, then we can have the courage to relax with the groundlessness of our situation".* That sounds quite stark, but I know from my story (and from most of yours) that there are no guarantees, that the ground can fall out from under you at any moment. So, this approach is realistic at least - there really is no hope that you could live your life with nothing bad ever happening to you. But is it 'psychologically healthy'? Wouldn't it be morbid and negative to be continually mindful of your complete lack of any security? It seems counter-instinctive that you could be both thinking about your 'groundlessness' and 'relaxing' at the same time. So far, though, trying out this groundlessness has been calming in an odd way. It is helping me drive the panics back a bit - or rather - to acknowledge them and sit with them rather than run around looking for something I hope might 'make it better'.
But I still find it very hard to embrace the idea that giving up hope is a good thing to do - or that it is a part of appreciating that life is full of impermanence and change. I like hope! I'm always hoping this, hoping that - for myself and for others I care about. So much of the culture I have grown up in is based on the idea that "things will get better", that the good life is normal. But there is also a big sense of relief in accepting that this is really a bit of a crock. Yes, there are heart-achingly beautiful, good things in the world, but they don't last forever, and death and cancer, and embarrassment and disappointment are part of the nature of being alive.
And this bit especially made sense to me:
"Hope and fear come from feeling that we lack something; they come from a sense of poverty. We can't simply relax with ourselves. We hold onto hope, and hope robs us of the present moment. ... Rather than letting our negativity get the better of us, we could acknowledge that right now we feel like a piece of shit and not be squeamish about taking a good look....
We can drop the fundamental hope that there is a better "me" who one day will emerge. We can't just jump over ourselves as if we were not there. It is better to take a straight look at all our hopes and fears. Then some kind of confidence in our basic sanity arises."*
Now that I've started giving myself the tiny injections of the IVF drugs every morning (who knew they made such tiny fine needles! This is just like DIY acupuncture!), I know we're getting close to the extreme hope-dance that is an egg pick-up, an embryo-transfer. And I feel like I wasn't coping very well with hope for the last three cycles of TTC. So I'm going to try this groundlessness - to sit with the complete uncertainty at the heart of baby-making and do a bit less grabbing onto the hope of some other future moment making things better. Of course I want it to work. But I'm curious about how different things might feel if I just take each moment for the groundless, uncertain thing that it is.
I know this touches very close to peoples' belief systems and philosophy so I don't want to start any arguments, but I'm also curious about what you think - does this make sense to you? How do you deal with the hope thing - either around your grief (hoping it will get better, hoping you will hold your baby again one day) or TTC?
Fear is the other one I've been experimenting with, trying to get close up with. On the first day of our holiday we went white water rafting, and half an hour in, our guides pulled into a deep, still corner of the river, and pointed up. "See that little cliff?" they said, grinning. "You're going to jump off that". And we did. I felt the panic grip me and tell me to turn around, and I hesitated once, well, twice. But then I jumped, and the panic jumped with me and I screamed like a big girl and flapped my arms all the way down. The girls laughed their heads off. And I got to know my fear a little better.
(Someone else's splash, on a different river! Photo from here)
* Pema Chodron, When Things Fall Apart - Heart Advice for Difficult Times, Shambhala, Boston 2000, pages 44 and 41.