By Amos Clifford
This morning I was invited to write a blog post on hope. It’s certainly topical. We are hoping to get through the current array of crises with our well-being, and that of our friends and family, intact. Hope, when we find it, can be a bright light, a candle in the dark. But with every light comes its shadow. In the past weeks, as we’ve moved into social isolation because of the virus, I have experienced the shadow of hope as anxiety. Anxiety lives in my belly. Anxiety tightens the tissues in my shoulders and arms. It builds a toy train track in my mind; the train runs in loops with a shifting cargo of loud, colorful worries.
Hope lives somewhere else in my body. When I tune in to locate hope I feel it in the space that encompasses my throat and my spiritual heart center (just imagine the physical heart but more centered beneath the sternum). The throat is where our voices come from; where the words we wish to speak are formed and birthed into the world, with all their creative power. If we speak words of despair and anxiety, we are bringing those into being, in the sense of Logos (the word) becoming real and shaping our minds. But if we slow down for a moment before uttering words and connect with our heart center, perhaps it can help guide us to a positive way of speaking, and speaking thus, to a hopeful way of thinking and feeling.
My heart is carrying a great deal of sorrow these days. I’ve just had my physical heart mended through a triple bypass surgery. But the illness in my heart was not just in the physical organ. The spiritual heart is a tender and sensitive organ. It is affected by relationships, by messages in the environment, by our experiences of change in our lives and in the world. When my heart carries sorrow I notice that often my choice of words becomes less optimistic. My speech carries stories that are demeaning; they work against hope. There are always multiple ways to view an experience. For example, when experiencing the consequences of some past choice, I could say, “What I am experiencing is a result of my stupidity,” or I could say “This is an opportunity to learn, and I am capable of learning and growing from the adversity caused by my unskillful actions; perhaps I called in this adversity because it carries the lesson my soul needs now.” These two modes of self-talk have dramatically different effects on how my life will develop going forward.
Hope may seem faint, especially if we are insistently attached some specific hope of what we project as an ideal future; for example, the hope that heartbreak can be avoided. But perhaps hope is more accessible if we look for how and where it authentically and spontaneously appears. Think of hope as living thing, an autonomous energy not generated by us but by its own beingness. I wonder how our experience might shift if ask Hope itself what it is trying to offer, rather than expending our energy trying to shape hope according to our view of an ideal outcome.
I’ve been working toward developing a set of precepts to guide me through these difficult times, and through my own sense of broken (and mending) heartedness. One of my goals is to generate positivity in my mind and emotions and spirit. So, one of my precepts is to take up the discipline of finding a positive, hope-full way to frame my experiences, my self-assessment, and the events in my relationships. Doing so is not always easy; but in living the precept there is the possibility of holding silence when a positive way of seeing things doesn’t appear. Choosing words, telling stories carefully and listening to how others mirror me, and holding silence may all be elements of ways to nurture hope in difficult times.
I’m curious to know what your thoughts are about hope. Please share in the comments below.