Holding Hope Lightly

Things happen. The old joke tells us, “If you want to hear laughter, tell God your plans.” Whatever the cause of your disappointment, you will not get everything you want.

Your future depends on what you do then — what attitude you take to the downturns of life.

Buddhists say, “Live the life you have, not the one you want.If you aim for stardom in the National Basketball Association, but Mother Nature and your ancestors’ genes allow you 5’5″ (1.65 meters) of height, the life you want is above you, beyond your short reach.

A wonderful lifetime might still be yours, but it won’t be in the arms of your first love career.

The German philosopher Martin Heidegger said beings are “thrown into life.Moreover, we emerge in circumstances we didn’t choose; lucky, unlucky, or a mixture. Skin color, nationality, the care we receive growing up, our inborn body and brain all greet us from the start.

Over time, no matter those who love us, oversee or mistreat us, we are left to give control of our lives to others or take responsibility for ourselves.

What choice do we have? What does responsibility even mean?

Every individual decides whether to take a direction set by someone else (an advisor, parent, protector, or Divinity). If he accepts the necessity of following that route, he will find limitations imposed on his choices and behavior.

For example:

  • Go to church on Sunday?Yes.
  • Take the name of the Lord in vain?No.

But, as many have noted, there is no certainty of the authority behind those answers. If we accept them, we trust both the guide and his or her guidance. We take them on faith. The world of worshipful belief offers over 200 varieties of Christianity in the USA alone and an estimated variety of more than 4000 religions worldwide.

Instead, Heidegger advises, we can give our actions importance and weight from within ourselves.

The job entails examining the world of things and people, including our history and that of the world. We must behold life’s wonders and risks to find our own human and moral internal grounding for the beliefs and behaviors we create.

We can provide reasons for shaping our own life without an answer to the question of what external to us might ground our being. No absolute knowledge is possible, the philosopher states, of how we came to be, why we came to be, or what necessitates the continuation of our being and planet and all its other current and future inhabitants.

The boundaries we impose will be of our own making, knowing when to stand firm and when to give in, when to go first and when to wait, when to say yes and when to say no.

Whatever we decide, we will obtain mixed results.

Unlike the practical, industrious piglet of the “Three Little Pigs” fable, we humans discover that the effort required to build our security is sometimes inadequate to unpredictable whirlwind events blowing our houses down.

Nonetheless, we can hope our mindset will allow joy in the precious moments without demanding life to behave itself and be what it cannot. Grief and the best of times stand beside each other in all but the luckiest and unluckiest lives.

Potential insecurity follows from the freedom and responsibility of grounding ourselves without a religious belief system. Choosing one’s own path omits the comfort attainable by people of abiding faith in an all-knowing, all-powerful, loving Deity. Religion can also be a buffer against mortality and enable a sense of support in periods of misfortune.

Either way, we make our selection and, if we are sympathetic to the array of other life forms present and ahead, consider more than our own happiness. Responsibility doesn’t mean doing anything we want. We must adjust our stance as our living of life informs us of what we require, what we love, and our duties to others and the world.

The psychologist Robert Wright reported attending a meditation retreat for several days. Little opportunity for conversation occurred. Rather, undertaking individual meditation was the focus, with occasional consultations from an experienced guide.

Wright has written and spoken about struggling to achieve a satisfying practice of this art. However, to his delight, he achieved a transcendent experience in the midst of a long meditation session, a sense of benign well-being and relief from the burden of life, something beyond his imagination.

Soon after, he told his advisor what happened. Our professor of psychology received an answer both sobering and enlightening.That’s fine, but don’t get too attached to it.

In saying this, his mentor reminded him that too much desire, too much “wanting,” would contribute to suffering. Nothing lasts, and the transcendental moment might not return.

What then?

In an ever-changing world, in an ever-changing body and mind, we are in transit. More joy may be available if we hold our hopes lightly: keep the shortness of our days in the back of our minds and our eyes on the possibilities of the moment we are in.

Cheers to the happiest possible life, my friends.


Letting Go is the name of the first image, the work of gnuckx. Next comes A Sunrise Over the Virgin River by Laura Hedien. A Semblance of Hope, a photo of Jojo Lacerona, follows. Laura Hedien’s March 2021 image of a Utah Sunrise completes the array after the Three Little Pigs video.

The first and third of these were sourced from Wikimedia Commons. Laura Hedien’s work can be found at https://laura-hedien.pixels.com/ She has given me her kind permission to use the photographs displayed here.

10 thoughts on “Holding Hope Lightly

  1. “In an ever-changing world, in an ever-changing body and mind, we are in transit.”
    ~ A profound truth. Moreover, the planet we live on is always in motion.
    ~ When we think we have everything under control, something goes awry.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Beautifully said. The only certainty is change. And if we can accept a changing reality, we have a greater chance of contentment.


  3. Gerry, great synthesis of two thinkers / schools of philosophy. Although I don’t know whether the moral philosopher, John Rawls, saw a connection with Heidegger / existentialism, he makes good use of the idea of “throw-in-ness” in building his philosophy of justice. Here is an excerpt from Wikipedia that aptly summarizes this approach:
    “Rawls’s theory of “justice as fairness” recommends equal basic rights, equality of opportunity and promoting the interests of the least advantaged members of society. Rawls’s argument for these principles of social justice uses a thought experiment called the “original position,” in which people select what kind of society they would choose to live in if they did not know which social position they would personally occupy.”


  4. Clare P., my guide to Heidegger, did agree with a likeness between Heidegger and existentialism I offered in her class but was careful to emphasize the differences. Thank you for the Rawls, a philosopher with whom I am not familiar except as a name. The principle you quote is the best I’ve heard on the subject of how one might come to a consensus on the question of fairness. Finally, much appreciation for your praise, not a thing I take for granted, Phil.


  5. I am listening to a Michael Singer’s course, who wrote The Untethered Soul, and what you write here is exactly what he speaks about. Our desire for things, attachment and control is what leads us to misery, instead of observing what unfolds before us. He recommends we “relax and release” the “stuff” we hold inside of us, and to start small, such things we find aggravating. I find this helpful and have been practicing this. I also am meditating 60 minutes for 60 days, and once I adjusted to time, I find it flows smoothly. I enjoyed your read, Dr. Stein.


  6. When I lost my faith and finally realized that that which I was brought up to believe in probably didn’t exist, or had no truth in reality, the most amazing weight was lifted from my shoulders. That source of comfort that religious and spiritual people say they receive from their belief in a deity was never something I truly experienced. My experience was one of almost constant questioning whether I was going to hell, that I was disappointing God, trying to silence the niggling doubts and inconsistencies, etc. I’m glad to be free of that burden. To each their own I guess.

    I actually enjoyed that little cartoon of the 3 Little Pigs. My thoughts at the end were “if only life WERE that easy.” Some people work their behinds off, with almost nothing to show for it other than burnout and stress. This “hustle” culture that’s being thrown around fails to appreciate the variability in our experiences, situations, and personalities.

    Love the title of this post (and the post in general), “Holding Hope Lightly”. Such a great phrase! Thanks for writing and sharing.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. drgeraldstein

    Interesting you should say you felt liberated by your lost faith. A number of philosophers (the Existentialists come to mind) say our lives and our choices are also our responsibilities, to make a life where we create a code of living, not one handed to us as one finds in religious texts. Agreed absolutely that questioning God in the light of the evils which befall us is important for those not convinced of the existence of an all-loving, all-knowing, deity. As to the essential unfairness of life (as in doing hard work without the hoped-for results) is a concern shared with many, many people everywhere. Thanks for your thoughtful comment, Rayne. Be well.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s