The Dance of Despair and Hope ~ Nondual Therapy

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The partner of despair is hope.

Need has no opposite.

In Need, hope and despair are one.

“You have succeeded in life when all you really want is only what you really need.”


The question “What is needed?” is one of the most important question we can ask the psyche. The intelligence of need underlies all duality. It is the impulse beneath the dualities of creation and destruction, being and non-being, presence and absence. As we said earlier, contractions occur out of a need to protect. They also release and transform according to inherent need. When we follow the sense of need beyond the parameters of the individual, we move beyond the tyranny of duality.

Both despair and hope are based on separation in time and space. We despair and hope for what we desire in the future and in doing this, we separate from the present moment. We despair and hope for specific forms and in this, we dictate boundaries on space. In this, the individual is denying the infinity and eternity of life as a resource and seeking fulfillment or relief through projection. The conditioned mind is not able to oversee the unravelling of life in its core, so desired outcomes are created through grasping, aversion and the absolute belief in separate identity. Every desired form of the future has a shadow that reaffirms the belief in separation from the whole. The needs of the present moment can only be found within the present moment, through following the sense of need, without agenda, expectation and conclusion.


This is one of 35 energetic contractions in the psyche detailed in the book Nondual Therapy: The Psychology of Awakening.

In some ways, to live in hope is to deny the intelligence of life. Although hope is prized as a virtue, it denies the present moment by seeking completion in the future.

While there can be a healthy and expansive flow generated by an optimistic outlook, the more energy reaches forward, the less it can relax back into itself, into the pure need out of which hope arises. The more the solution is projected into the future, the less the conscious penetration into the contraction. The resonance of the core of the contraction will be one of need, and we cannot hear it until we first allow the suffering within it. In this, hope can push healing away. In the first place, it defers the healing effect of conscious awareness.

Hope is often born out of a refusal to allow despair. This contraction from despair is born out of a general denial of suffering and a rejection of the painful aspects of being in form. The psychology of hope can become a liturgy that keeps us enslaved to the concept of future redemption through outer authorities. Redemption depends on condemnation, but also affirms it. What can be redeemed today can be condemned again tomorrow.

Hope tends to lack overview, perspective and unity with the whole, and in this way, it can be a last pitch of selfishness and illusion. Often, the chief hope is for the persona to be somehow sustained or revitalized. Denying the suffering that has come forward out of the deeper needs within the personality, hope seeks to bypass painful experience in a way that the personality is preserved and empowered. Where hope has become a compulsive defense of form, the deeper need is often to release structures of the psyche that no longer serve the whole. We hope for restoration, when the need could be to expand beyond the limits of who we thought we were, what we thought are and what we believed we would become.

At the same time, hope, in the form of prayer that calls for the unconditional support of a higher power, or for the kindness of other humans, does reach beyond the borders of the Separate Self. So, it’s important to check in on how the client is experiencing hope – what it means for them. Hope that ‘all will be well’ is unconditional, and can merge with unconditional trust in a source beyond the Separate Self. This is quite a different movement from hope for a personal outcome that averts individual suffering. The more expansive form of hope will not be moving in denial of despair, but will be attuned to it. Indeed, its depth and authenticity will depend on that receptivity.

The paradox is that the more we allow despair, the more unconditional our opening for support from the outside becomes. If we hope for an outcome, we are still trying to command the conditions of form. When hope arises out of the core of despair in naturalness, it will articulate precisely the curvatures of that despair, and in this will open the core of need. Hope as a denial of despair contracts us. Hope as a sharing of the depth of despair with the wider universe creates a resonance which is always answered in some way.


When experience is hijacked by the agenda to avoid despair, then despair can become the subtle backdrop to all experience, and the untouchable floor of Being. In the dimension of the unconditionally condemned, existential despair can feel like the core of all experience. Indeed, this bottomless pit of despair is paradoxically a floor on which whole aspects of personality are built.

The feeling of despair thrives off the core belief in unworthiness. Whatever we do, whatever we think, whatever we feel can only dilute the all-pervading sense of not being ‘OK’, as is. Through layers of personality and Ego, we can distract, cover up and divert our consciousness from this feeling of despair – for a while. Yet it is always already here, deep within our inherited conditioning: we are condemned just by being born; punishable for breathing air; forever failing in some cosmic test which constantly switches parameters. We are insufficient, never good enough, unworthy.

Where many in the Nondual community will talk about universal presence, or the pure, undivided awareness that is the ground of all being, not many will talk about universal absence. Absence is denied. The argument is that if we must first be present, to be aware of absence. Yet the experience of absence which is part of the expansive feeling of despair can feel more cuttingly truthful than the concept of presence, filling the horizons of our awareness with existential lack. This has an honesty about it that can purify the illusions of self. In a way, we are deeply disillusioned, which isn’t conventionally seen as a spiritual process. Naked, unpeeled and irrefutable, despair has a cutting edge that sees through form, including the varying vibrations of awareness. Yet rather than being untinctured in the manner of pure emptiness, despair is peppered with the belly of our worst contractions. We can feel as if we are in a universal ocean of betrayal or abandonment. It can feel like eternal condemnation. Awareness appears as bereft of any purpose, belief, value or meaning.

It is not the absence of hope that opens despair, but a deeper sentient disconnection from universal need. This kind of despair is exposed when we fall through the web of personal strivings, agendas and hopes. We fall through the experiential veils into the unconditional experience of emptiness suffused with the atmosphere of failure.

This despair is without context, seeming to be ubiquitous, formless and absolute. The surviving parameter in the experience of existential despair is the belief in the Separate Self. Even this boundless despair is still conceived as separate from the suffering of the whole. It is a private suffering, but robbed of the comfort zone of known patterns. It can feel like absolute condemnation of the individual: ‘I’ am the one in the Dark Night of the Soul, forever separate from God, the universe, other forms of life, and the ungraspable source of whoever ‘I’ am. Even the ‘I’ seems to be failing and falling through the helpless depths of the pre-conscious.

Can we disentangle the traumatic shock of aloneness from trauma to tap into the power, authenticity and purity of undivided consciousness?

The first word that clients will use to describe this inner void is often: ‘Alone’. If relaxation is possible in that Felt Sense of alone-ness, then sometimes, the first need desire can be something like: “I need to disappear.” This is quite literal. The ‘I’ – the great hanger on which the personal cloak of identification is hooked – is disintegrating. The client is skirting an ancient and strangely familiar area of the borders of the psyche, where the duality of existence and non-existence appears. Realization of the illusory nature of this duality can open the Nondual gateways of unity.

Our ability to relax more deeply into despair can be at first limited. We grasp, distract, change the subject, or create an urgent, momentously important project. We offer hope to others, where we refuse the despair within ourselves. Yet when we can allow the collapse into the experiential veils of despair, we will fall beyond and beneath despair and crack the fundamental illusions within the dualities of being and non-being; and of existence and non-existence. When we can agree to merge with the living experience of despair, there can be a fast root to the core of many interconnected contractions. So much of human striving through the generations has been based on the refusal to allow the simplicity of formless suffering.

Through allowing ourselves to endure the unendurable, a deeper attachment to experience is released. Experience becomes far less definitive, as it’s realized as phenomena arising in awareness within the parameter of conditions; impermanent, changing, full of nuance, composed of flux. This release of the conditions we place on experience, whether it be experience of pleasure or pain, liberates experience itself as well as the deeper authority of universal peace.

When despair loses its power as an experiential deterrent, it is the end of the autocracy of fear. When experience is realized as non-definitive, fear loses its grip on the manifestation of the psyche. Our form is no longer shaped according to the agenda of “that which must never happen” or “that which must never be felt.” In this, the separate ‘I’, directed by agendas of private redemption, begins to break through its skin of limitation, awakening to the infinite field of possibility within consciousness.

The despair in us becomes inseparable from the despair of the whole. The suffering of the whole becomes inseparable from the need of the whole. Even the happiness in us is inseparable from the happiness of the whole. The deeper needs of the here and now on behalf of the whole opens a more authentic form of navigation and direction. The whole itself expands. When despair is allowed, an alchemy of service can be born in which suffering transforms to passion, and energy rises directly in alignment with local and universal need. It can look like a death process of the personality. Yet every death process is, at a deeper layer, a process of rebirth.

Need: Nondual Quality

In Nondual Therapy there is a differentiation between wants and needs. When we use the word ‘want’, we are referring to desire, which tends to involve fast gratification. For example, a recovering alcoholic might want a shot of gin, but it’s not what she needs. Someone suffering rejection might want acceptance, but what he needs could well be to move deeper into the experience of rejection, and to find freedom within it.

Colleagues who have contributed to the evolution of Nondual Therapy have used this differentiation to bring insight into the nature of contraction. Contractions are alive. They are sub-forms seeking resolution within duality, to return to the flow of the whole. The origin of each contraction is protective. That is, contractions are naturally formed and liberated through the intelligence of need.

In Nondual Therapy, we hold space in awareness for the contraction, to allow the continued unfolding of need. When the short-term need for protection is gone, there is the possibility of rebalancing and realizing duality and reuniting with the whole. When the mind can express the Nondual Quality of curiosity, then the question can be asked: what is needed here? When we ask this question to a physical cramping in a body, a story can unfold which is often the most intelligent prescription. When we ask it to an emotional contraction, the process is the same.

Yet at first, contraction will appear as an enemy and our first agenda will be to ‘get rid’ of it in some way. This notion of ‘getting rid of’ infects the whole healing process and sits comfortably with misconceptions that dictate separation from the whole and that negation is possible. Yet the trashing of contractions is inherently flawed, as they are made with the precise ingredients needed to manifest Nondual Qualities through the human dimension.

Our undivided need is to evolve and evolution is deeper than physical survival.

Take a contraction around grief, for example. To get rid of the grief would be to also get rid of the joy of connection on which the grief is based. Who would want to be free of contraction with a method that aims to existentially eliminate the one thread connecting us to the beloved that has passed away? That essential joy is embedded in the grief: indeed, the grief is made of it. The ’wanting’ to be done with grief and to pick up life again might, however, be the first presentation of the contraction. It needs to be heard. The second layer is to ask what the contraction needs. Needing answers through the language of feeling. It can be unhooked from mental agenda. At first, the utterance of need might be a conceptual leap. In the case of grief, it could be: “I need peace”. The art is to continue to inquire: if you have that, how will you feel? In showing how the feeling would be, the contraction itself supplies the precise elixir of need. Perhaps the feeling brought forward with the infusion of peace is a need to reunite with the living joy in the connection with the Beloved, outside of time and space.

Whereas what we want tends to be based on agenda and the conditions that appear in waking consciousness, what we need is more tactile, embodied, somatic and resonant. In this, the language of need has the power to uproot many contractions at once by removing certain bottlenecks of energetic flow in the psyche.

Contractions around hope and despair are formed at the edges of the psyche, a moment before reunion with need. In this Dark Night of the Soul, through which structures of Ego, personality and ancestry can break and reform through choice-less rejuvenation, the strongest guide is universal need. The deeper need, whether it is experiential or connected with service to the whole, always reduces the suffering of the Separate Self.


  1. Take a situation where you live in hope. Feel how the body reacts on this, in terms of density of energy or stress. Take a short walk, and abandon all hope. Imagine the worst-case scenario and let there be despair. Allow the despair to expand, while bringing your attention to your feet and impressions of the here and now.
  2. Take any area of suffering, and let it take form in awareness. Ask the question: “What is needed?” Try to ask the question with feeling, not words. Open to a sentient response. Be patient. When any kind of response appears in awareness, trust it. Ask how the contraction will feel when it gets what it needs. Share the Felt Sense of the fulfilled need with the area of contraction and beyond.

Form does not differ from Need

And Need does not differ from Form.

Form is Need and Need is Form.


The is an extract from the Quality compendium of the newly released book by Georgi Y. Johnson: Nondual Therapy: The Psychology of Awakening.