Last year a good friend went through a true dark night of the soul brought on by medical circumstances. The prednisone she was given for an acutely painful condition weakened her bones, leading to a serious fracture of her lumbar spine. Even in rehab, the excruciating pain contributed to a trifecta of misery. Like many who have suffered intense pain know, it’s hard to keep the faith when your body is relentlessly challenged. Friends kept a flame of hope going for her, lighting candles and sending love and prayers. She says the support was key to keeping her going.
I had the enormous joy last week to spend a little time with her. She shared how every morning before she starts her day, she lifts her arms in gratitude and appreciation for the apartment she returned to, for her friends, and for her life. She doesn’t kid herself that the future ahead will be easy or that her years will be without sorrow. In her profound gratitude, she embraces life. She radiates hope.
Being with her gave me hope. (I’ve started her practice of raising my arms in gratitude when I wake up. )
Is hope a distraction?
Some argue that hope distracts us from being present to life. Meg Wheatley writes that it’s time for us to give it up. She believes that hope sets us up with expectations and attaches us to results, According to her, we would be more present to life if we were more hope-less.
What Meg Wheatley is referring to is what I call “small hope,” hope that leads to almost certain disappointment. I may hope for a pony for Christmas, that I will win a contract, or that our country straightens itself out. When I was in 8th grade, I fervently hoped that Roger Wilcox would look at me.
He didn’t. Many of these little hopes won’t come true. I never got the pony at Christmas and had to wait until I was 42 to buy my first horse.
Small hope can deceive us into sitting back, believing that somebody or some group “out there” will fix the environment, and to no longer observing carefully or listening for what we may be called to do.
Finding deep hope
Yet hope can be more than that. A deeper kind of hope can infuse our spirits without attaching us to specific results. It can support us to listen and be more present. My friend blesses the day, not because she is going to get everything she wants the way that she wants it, but because she is grateful for the spirit of life moving through and around her.
Deep hope is a power, a state of being in the world that can say “yes” to life, even as we say “no” to a lot that is happening.
Deep hope lets us stand with an open heart in the face of an uncertain future.
Deep hope allows us to sit at the bedside of a beloved living with pain, and still find blessings. Deep hope allows us to cry about climate change while working with others for solutions.
Deep hope tells me that despite all the disappointments, and failures of the little hopes, I matter, you matter and this world matters and that it is still worth believing in truth, in goodness, and in compassion.
Deep hope asks us to be present and within that presence trust the calling we may feel, however it comes–the whispers that invite us to step into more of ourselves and to do our part for the world, however small that may be.
Deep hope does not seek proof in outcomes but offers us an invisible force and energy we can tap.
Vaclav Havel said it eloquently:
“Hope is a dimension of the soul. . . an orientation of the spirit, an orientation of the heart. It transcends the world that is immediately experienced and is anchored somewhere beyond its horizons. . . .It is not the conviction that something will turn out well, but the certainty that something makes sense regardless of how it turns out.”
In these times when it’s so easy to despair about the state of the environment, we need deep hope to expand our imaginations, trust, and perseverance. Deep hope has spaciousness and helps us expand to find more of the creative potential we can use to solve problems. Deep hope allows us to stand together.
Without that hope, the force of constricting despair can become oppressive.
When I think about hope, a key question I ask is, “Is my hope such that if I don’t get what I want, hope will remain?”
Do I write a book hoping to become a New York Times bestselling author? If so, I’m setting myself up for all kinds of anxiety, expectations, illusions, and potential disappointment. Or do I write, because committing myself to writing my book expands me and feels in sync with the path that is calling me forward? Whether I am published or not, I am larger and more hopeful for having said “yes.”
Thomas Merton urged us to “concentrate not on the results, but on the value, the rightness, the truth of the work itself.”
No matter how dark the world can seem, I claim my right to be hopeful, to expand my spirit in partnership with the universe, and to find the strength to stay awake and present even when I don’t understand what is happening.
I can stand like my friend, with arms outstretched in the morning, and give thanks for each day.
I like the combination of hope and acceptance in this poem “Perhaps” by the contemporary Chinese poet Shu Ting.
Perhaps these thoughts of ours
will never find an audience
Perhaps the mistaken road
will end in a mistake
Perhaps the lamps we light one at a time
will be blown out, one at a time
Perhaps the candles of our lives will gutter out
without lighting a fire to warm us.
Perhaps when all the tears have been shed
the earth will be more fertile
Perhaps when we sing praises to the sun
the sun will praise us in return
Perhaps these heavy burdens
will strengthen our philosophy
Perhaps when we weep for those in misery
we must be silent about miseries of our own
Because of our irresistible sense of mission
We have no choice
~ Shu Ting ~
Thanks to Meg Wheatley for the article from which I drew the quotes.