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The Place Beyond

Fear and Hope
In difficult times it takes effort to stay grounded in the
present, but it is only there, says Margaret Wheatley, that
we will find a place unclouded by hope and fear.

H o p e a n d f e a r h av e b e e n i n t h e n e w s —and in our to be challenged by the terrible things that humans should not
experience—a great deal of late. We had watched for years as the be doing to other humans. Our Western worldview of material
future disappeared under disabling clouds of fear. Then sudden- ease and endless progress has been shaken. Economic failures
ly, we again could see the sky, bright with hope and the possibil- have worsened life not only for ourselves but everywhere in the
ity of change. world, among those who knew abundance and those who knew
President Obama’s election was heralded as the triumph of only poverty.
hope over fear. But since that glowing dawn of last November, Many of us have worked hard for many years to create a better
the world’s dilemmas and terrors have again cast their long shad- world. We have worked for a world where more people would be
ows. We continue to be confronted by the complexities of our free from suffering—the physical suffering of poverty, disease,
interconnected fates, resisting solutions. Our hearts continue and loss, and the emotional suffering of ignorance, mispercep-
tion, and invisibility. In this time of rekindling hope, we must
also acknowledge that suffering everywhere, both material and
M a r g a r e t W h e at l e y, Ed.D, writes, teaches, and speaks about
spiritual, has increased.
how we can organize and accomplish our work in chaotic times. She is
For me and most of my colleagues, life these days is a roller coaster
co-founder and president emerita of The Berkana Institute, a charitable
foundation that works in partnership with people around the world to
ride between hope and fear, oscillating wildly between what’s pos-
strengthen their communities using the wisdom and wealth already present sible and what is. Like all roller coasters, this one is both exhilarat-
in their people, traditions, and environment. Among her books are the clas- ing and terrifying, often simultaneously. We are fully engaged in
sic Leadership and the New Science and, most recently, Finding Our Way: being part of the solution, and then we plunge into despair at the
Leadership for an Uncertain Time. enormity of the challenges and the fear that our efforts will fail.

S HAMBHALA S UN march 2009 79

then. take it all in. without fear at its side. don’t invite hope and fear. failure. He led and become wiser in their actions over time. to freedom from Soviet not attached to outcomes. Freed also from anger. often accompanied by laughter. our endeavors and ideas that seemed reliable and solid dissolve at an increasing will create the world we want.” Bahro offers insecurity as a positive trait. Life becomes meaningless. learning to live dream of a better world as the necessary first step in creating with the unrelenting constant of change. however. what to do.” As a poet-playwright-activist- accomplishments. and get to work. yet little known in Western thinking. Hell. and learn as they go. the former Czechoslovakia. make a plan. We’ve been taught to knowing that nothing ever remains the same. and urgency. the people perish. blessed you is crashing down is not easy. all of us. They exchange certainty for curiosity. is the first step on the jour- also afraid I’ll fail. a prominent German activist and iconoclast. but as the old culture turns to mush. And yet. we can’t envision life without hope. At such a time. It leads to the far more challenging prophets warned that without vision. but then. we afraid to be insecure. they are a single package. become a burden made heavy by its companion. This is also a core concept in Buddhism— Hope is what propels us into action. free from hope and fear. You can’t have one with- out the other. This clarity reveals “right action”—those actions that able to think that feeling insecure would increase our ability to feel genuinely appropriate in this moment without any concern stay in the work of creating something new? about whether they will succeed or not. I don’t know what Bahro meant by “insecure”. are those who are his nation. we de. fear for leader. we would feel stronger if we stopped searching for ground. Hope never enters a room a huge rush of energy. Rather than inspiring and motivating us. bundled to. have disastrous impacts in the future. realizing that even the one.” This is a familiar concept in by hope or fear. state: groundlessness. energizing. there’s gether as intimate. Systems As long as we “keep hope alive” and work hard.” The Hebrew ney beyond hope and fear. who have stamina for the long haul ways. wisdom gleaned from the experiences of those who have per. If I hope to accomplish something. aggression. we learn the sought only to locate ourselves in the present and do our work price of hope. we are free to discover clarity and energy. Whenever they discover something that does work. are able to see the situation clearly. doing only those things that have a high probability of success. don’t be deceived by appearances. Life now insists that we encounter groundlessness. This kind of insecurity is able. as experiments. and learn how to find The present moment is the only place of clear seeing unclouded the place “beyond hope and fear. treat their attempts sights. such a wild ride between hope and fear is unavoid. of hope. hope has from here. Here are a few markers of this journey. eternal partners. he has given the world many choice and compelling in- generosity. So we have to abandon hope. The nineteenth-century Tibetan master Patrul Buddhism. but then confronted by failure. Yet only in the present mo- describes the first step: “When the forms of an old culture are ment. I’m A willingness to feel insecure. We create a clear vision for the future we want. decisions being made in the present are harming people or will Rudolf Bahro. Systems and ideas that seemed reliable and solid are Rather. accepting that change is just the strategy. Here’s his description of hope: “Hope is a dimension of S HAMBHALA S UN march 2009 81 . then we set a good things won’t last forever. never taught that fear is the price of hope. Those of us raised in Western culture were Life now insists that we encounter groundlessness. but the the future. he warned Christians condemned there to “abandon all hope. Strat- had no hope that we’d succeed? egies that worked suddenly don’t. depressed and demoralized. Liberated from Rinpoche stated this perfectly: “Don’t prolong the past. nothing is these days. a state of being that is not dependent on outcomes. They plunge into the problem. according to Dante. Groundlessness is a frighten- Motivated by hope.” Of course. just dwell in present journey there demands behaviors we’re not familiar with or have awareness. People who asked for our trust betray or abandon us. They don’t seek security in plans or rule in the “Velvet Revolution. is the place devoid dissolving at an increasing rate. people become engaged in figuring out what works Contrary to our belief that hope and fear are opposites where instead of needing to be right or worrying about how to avoid one trumps the other. and discover especially necessary in times of disintegration. especially when we see that have yielded little or no results. It takes enormous effort and discipline to keep recalling our- severed and maintained steadfast focus even when their efforts selves back to the present moment. fear of failing. do we receive the gifts of clarity dying. All fear (and hope) arises from looking backward or forward. Yet is it conceiv. I’ve Vaclav Havel describes hope as an attribute we carry in us al- noted that those who endure. we become ing place. if we spair of changing things for the better. How could we do our work if we rate. Fear is the necessary consequence of feeling hopeful again. at least at first. ye who enter herein. trying to be present when everything around actively avoided. We focus strategically on way it is. the new culture is created by a few people who are not and resolve.

I felt I was betraying my causes. I didn’t give up saving the world to protect my health. or might even create re- sults contrary to what we want. wanting angry vehemence to give them vigor. Instead of grasping onto activities that we want so desperately to succeed. They con- tinue to force their failing spirits and tired bodies back into action one more time. Some of my colleagues were critical. I took Merton seriously and abandoned all hope of ever saving the world. This was extremely heart-wrenching for me. we discover those actions that feel right. from having to succeed. and calm down.” Hope is not related to accomplishment. If we free ourselves from hope and fear. in our very being. the truth of the work it- self. … In the end. It isn’t outcomes that matter. but the certainty that something makes sense regardless of how it turns out. freed from success or failure. I’ve learned to pause. It transcends the world that is immediately experienced and is anchored somewhere beyond its hori- zons. I’m learning what right action feels like. If we free ourselves from hope and fear. It’s our relationships that give meaning to our struggles. what I’m supposed to be doing. I hope. Beyond hope and fear. even frightened by my decision. It is. condemning the world to a terrible end. that our work will be worthless. a dimension of being human. come back to the present moment. its clarity and energy. what will happen? Still today. an orientation of the heart. we don’t have to accomplish anything. counseled a despairing friend: “Do not depend on the hope of results … you may have to face the fact that your work will be apparently worthless and even achieve no result at all. I gave it up to discover right ac- tion. that give meaning to our struggles. People who endure and persevere for their cause describe clarity as a force arising within them that compels them to act. and frustrated. the famed Christian mystic. but we choose to act from the clarity that this is right action for us. but on the value. To feel hope. our human spirits.” Merton’s advice is completely contrary to current career coaching. Merton spoke truthfully. more difficult than letting go of a love relationship. our fundamental human goodness. rather than those that might or It isn’t outcomes that matter. he says. How could I be so irresponsible? If we give up saving the world. our relation- ships. if not perhaps results opposite to what you expect. 82 S HAMBHALA S UN march 2009 . the rightness. destruc- tive emotions. …you gradually struggle less and less for an idea and more and more for specific people. Many years ago. If we know that we are hope. quite simply. I have many beloved colleagues who refuse to resign as savior. it is the reality of personal relationship that saves everything. the soul … an orientation of the spirit. rightly. we can see clearly and simply what to do. Then I act. But I no longer want my activities to be driven by these powerful. enraged. you start more and more to concentrate not on the results. They express this by saying. … It is not the conviction that something will turn out well. Grounded only in who we are. I take no actions until I can trust my interior state—until I become present in the moment and clarity emerges undimmed by hope and fear. I still get angry. “I couldn’t not do it.” Thomas Merton. We may not succeed in changing things. we discover that it becomes easier to love. achieve no results. Hope is always right there. might not be effective. Don’t worry. As you get used to this idea. It’s people. it becomes much easier to stop being blinded or seduced by hopeful prospects.

They led from faith. and we stop being disappointed in each other. groundless. wrote: “In my grief I saw myself being held. Augustine taught this in- furiating truth: “The reward of patience is patience. this journey’s destination.” Years ago. As long as we’re together. Patience is. I know this to be true from my work. we can perse- vere. Grief and love in the same place. and joy. I felt as if my heart would burst with holding it all. guidance. St. We don’t need hope. the Dalai Lama coun- seled a group of my colleagues who were depressed about the state of the world to be patient. For love would be love of the wrong thing. there is yet faith But the faith and the love and the hope are all in the waiting. Eliot de- scribes this better than anyone. not hope. in her darkest moment. the result of a dictator gone mad. from a relationship with something greater beyond their comprehension. patient.” Thomas Merton was right. Insecure. but they also knew they would not live to see these promises fulfilled. be still. Zimbabwe has been the most compelling teacher— watching our friends and colleagues there deal with the descent of their country into violence. We are consoled and strengthened by being together. us all holding one another in this incredible web of loving-kindness. through The Berkana Institute. A Zimbabwean. We stop scape- goating. in “Four Quartets”: I said to my soul. “Your work will bear fruit in 700 years or so. perhaps. and starvation. we find ourselves receiving the gift of patience. We’ve learned that no matter how despairing the circumstance. Liberated from hope and fear. T. And together. We don’t need specific outcomes. “Do not despair.from having to succeed. ♦ © 2009 by Margaret Wheatley S HAMBHALA S UN march 2009 83 .S. We need each other. They carried promises given to them by their God. it is our relationships that offer us solace. beyond hope and fear. we stop blaming. We abandon the pursuit of effectiveness and watch as our urgency fades and patience appears. We’ve stayed in close contact by e-mail. We realize that we truly are in this together. and periodic visits. as long as we feel others supporting us. wait without love.” he said. but not in our lifetime? Can we cheerfully plant seeds with little concern for the harvest? Consider the visionary leadership of Moses and Abra- ham. and that’s all that matters. with col- leagues in very desperate places. phone.” Can we do our work without needing to see results? Can we be content that our work might bear fruit. and wait without hope For hope would be hope for the wrong thing. we discover that it becomes easier to love. terror. My heart holds the image of us journeying in this way through this time of disintegra- tion and rebirth.