Perhaps you’ve noticed we are living in challenging times. Times in which hope, while never needed more, can sometimes seem inadequate for the crises we are facing.
I have been facilitating workshops that explore and identify hope for many years, and repeatedly witnessed its power to guide people through the darkest times.
An acquaintance recently told me hope is empty. A futile abstract concept that cannot be seen or felt; a reaching for the future, irrelevant in the “here and now”, cruelly dangling that which can never be obtained before the eyes of those who need it most.
I was saddened by this condemnation and it made me want to redefine and rehome hope in the context of the mega-challenges we face today.
I believe hope is far from an abstract concept that lives in the mind and hovers wistfully around the heart, reaching for an ideal, impossible future and empty of real substance.
I believe hope is a solid and profound, eternal foundation of humanity, bastioned through deep experience, and indestructible; an incandescent filament, linking past, present and future, grounded, life-affirming, undeniable.
When we are children we might say “I hope I get a bike for my birthday”. Later in life we hope we’ll find the perfect partner, the ideal job to provide for all our material needs and desires.
We hope we’ll travel to exciting places, and perhaps we hope we’ll change the world. When we have a problem, we hope it will be solved for us.
But that’s just practicing. There are levels of hope, and that is Entry Level.
We all have the capacity for Advanced Level Hope within us, waiting to be ignited. Sometimes it needs to be awakened, in stages, through the levels. More often it is awakened already, and we just don’t realize it. Entry Level Hope is a shallow longing for happiness and plenty. For dreams fulfilled. We want something and we hope we’ll get it. That’s basic hope, and perhaps what my recent companion was referring to.
We arrive at Level One Hope when we realize that, in addition to vaguely trusting that they’ll come our way, we must work towards the things we hope for, and they may not arrive as and when we will them to. “Hope to catch the bus – and run as fast as you can” is a good adage for Level One Hope.
Level Two Hope often arrives following disappointment or disillusionment. We got what we hoped for and it didn’t work out. Or we didn’t get what we hoped for, but what we got instead was richer than we ever imagined it could be. We begin to realize it’s OK to not always achieve what we want. That what we want is not necessarily the same as what we need. Learning to trust in a “bigger picture” and hope for what we need, even if it isn’t exactly what we want, is a valuable milestone as we rise through the levels. Trust is an essential component of hope.
Level Three Hope comes as a rite of passage, and often we are not conscious of it happening, as we are too distracted by the chaos that surrounds it.
By the time we reach adulthood, most of us have experienced loss, despair, hardship, adversity. Most of us have found ourselves in a dark place and not known how or whether we will get through. And then we find we have got through, with hope as our companion even when we felt most alone. Especially then.
We know we have achieved Level Three Hope when we have suffered, and come through dark times we didn’t know we could survive, to a brighter tomorrow. Things may not be perfect, but here we are! We have borne that which we deemed unbearable, and we know we can do so again (even if we hope we won’t be tested). An element of faith enters the equation, another component of advanced hope.
Level Three Hope is that within us that drives us forward in spite of the darkness that seeks to drive us back. It is the remarkable capacity of the human spirit to transcend adversity, and it is awesome in the fullest sense of that much-misused word.
All of us who have experienced real adversity and survived are graduates of the Hope Academy. We have achieved Level Three Hope, and every time we survive and transcend further, we become more qualified as Hope Practitioners.
Advanced Level Hope is achieved when we are able to look back, see the gifts born of our past challenges and know, based on these experiences, that there is always a gift – something to be learned and gained – in any crisis or adversity. Advanced Level Hope Practitioners can often see the gifts in the challenge while the challenge is in action, and even take advantage of the challenge to create more gifts. Advanced Level Hope Practitioners can inspire others to climb up through the levels and do the same. Alongside hope, trust and faith, and interwoven with all three, is wisdom.
When we reach such a level of Hope Awareness that we know whatever life throws at us, we will transcend and emerge richer and more effective as change-makers in our own lives, our communities and our world, we have become Masters of Hope.
Of course when our lives are wracked with devastation and we are worn down by a harsh relentlessness and chaos we can hardly bear, we may feel that hope has fled, if it was ever there to begin with. But what is it that inspires us to keep on taking that next breath, to keep reaching for life when death seems more appealing? What animated those who survived the concentration camps, the killing fields? What propels the bereaved and the pain-wracked to rise from their beds each day, what leads the multitude of dispossessed to cross oceans in crowded boats, seeking refuge against all odds?
Hope is what keeps us going and raises us up far beyond our perceived limitations. It is not an empty vision of a better future, or a straw to grasp when things cannot get worse. It is a reflex, just as breathing is. It is a constant and rock-solid promise born of our proven capacity to move forward with courage and fortitude in every situation. It is a human virtue we all possess, whether we know it or not.
Anne Frank had hope, Helen Keller had it, Nelson Mandela and Martin Luther King and Viktor Frankl had hope. Archbishop Tutu and Karen Armstrong and the Dalai Lama and all the women and men around the world who marched in defiance of Donald Trump and what he stands for on 21st March 2017 have it. So do the hundreds of thousands fleeing their homes to seek sanctuary, and those creating new lives in lands far from their own.
Hope is what still drives us forward when we feel hopeless. It is what animates us, just enough, when we are too jaded to take another step. And then we do. And then another, and another. Because when we are ready to give up, hope is not.
By recognising what we have survived and transcended, and the powerful inner resources we have to survive and transcend again and again as we need to, we rehome hope at the centre of our hearts. We know it as part of our soul’s eternal make-up. We viscerally connect with that of ourselves that is programmed to survive and transcend.
Those who oppose oppression and embrace compassion do so because they – we – have hope. Because we do not just envisage but we know a better future can be ours, and we know we have the capacity to make it happen. We might not like the challenges we face, but we know we are equal to them.
This goes for communities, and even countries, too. My work with Hope was greatly inspired by time spent in Hiroshima, a city infamous for the devastation wreaked upon it by the dropping of the first atomic bomb in August 1945. Over seventy years later, Hiroshima is again a beautiful, bustling, positive city, its river delta lined with trees that stun the eye in the Autumn with vibrant reds and yellows and golds. As well as a thriving centre for business, Hiroshima is a living memorial populated by survivors dedicated to world peace. Far from the sadness and outrage you might expect to encounter, it radiates a message of hope, reconciliation and compassion.
We live in times of challenge and chaos. Many feel that they are losing hope, and there are those who seek to destroy it through bullying and intimidation. But hope is rarely lost or destroyed, merely overshadowed. It is still there, and it will remain, solid and steadfast, fortifying itself to guide us, as individuals and communities, through the greatest challenges of our time.
When compassionate hearts awake and come together, radiating hope infused with passion, love and fierce determination, there is no challenge that cannot be faced. With hope awakened in our hearts, we can heal ourselves and change the world.