Keeping Hope Alive (when Things Seem at their Worst)
3 ways to keep hope alive in the face of a grim reality.
Turn on the radio, open your emails, or flip on the tv and you’re sure to get barraged with bad news. Even meeting a friend for tea the other day left me feeling like I wanted to bury my head in my arms and have good cry. Life can get us down, but there are ways to keep hope alive.
The news from climate research tells us that we are in a bleak place. Exploding populations, thinning ozone layers, and rising seas are merely the tip the rapidly melting ice-cap. There is a temptation to shut down— it’s a lot to take in after all. Kate Davies, an author and teacher whose life work is steeped in environmental and social issues, wants us to remain hopeful. Her new book, Intrinsic Hope: Living Courageously in Troubled Times is a beacon for those who choose to believe we can still make a difference on our planet.
She writes that our first step is to name the way we feel about our current situation. Most of us have deep fears about what is happening on our planet. Davies suggests writing these out. Giving them voice can keep them from paralyzing and controlling us. Feelings of self-righteous anger and frustration can be counterproductive because when we get angry at others, their defenses are triggered, and it becomes impossible to come to any solution. Anger at the situation can activate you, anger at someone is simply not helpful.
Among other common emotions Davies has found about our current situation is grief. Grief for the known and the unknown, and for future generations. Davies writes, “when we have the courage to name and explore our feelings about the global eco-social crisis, our hearts break open so we can experience love. In other words, our pain and suffering for the world reveal the love that lies underneath them.” This is the heart of discovering intrinsic hope; a light that allows us to carry on.
Davies offers these “Habits of Hope” to nurture intrinsic hope:
- Being present. Davies offers mindfulness and meditation as ways to be present, but she also includes less obvious way, such as wonder, or “being in the presence of something truly amazing that transcends the mundane and the everyday. It humbles us, lifts us up, and expands our awareness.” She writes of the importance of bearing witness as a way to stay present. The power here is to observe and report on what you have witnessed—good or bad. It keeps you in the present, because you leave your judgement and ideas aside.
- Loving the world. Davies contends that in loving the world, we become hopeful, because that is the stance of love. At the core of this practice is an open experience of love combined with a deep sense of compassion. A third way of loving the world is to nurture a sense of community. “This isn’t rocket science,” she writes, “It’s about being a kind, thoughtful and caring human being—someone who recognizes that what unites us is more important than our differences and that we are all part of the human community.”
- Taking action. The power of this practice is that “transforming an insubstantial thought into something tangible, it breaks us out of apathy and denial.” Hopelessness leaves us paralyzed, so when it arises, it’s important to do something positive, “call a friend, hug someone you care about, smile at a complete stranger.” This will bring you back to movement, and from there, decide what small step you can take to help the environment. Start with something small, Davis suggests “not eating meat or taking the bus to work” and then let that contribution grow.
Ultimately, Davies calls on her Quaker and Buddhist faiths to, as she writes “cultivate a deep, abiding trust in whatever happens and in the human capacity to respond to it.” This is very different than having the belief that life will give us what we want. This “intrinsic hope" accepts life just as it is and works with it, whether or not it’s what we want.” She offers the message that intrinsic hope is a resource that cannot be used up. “It is inherent in life and motivated by love,” she writes, “the more we live from intrinsic hope, the more we have.” In this moment in time, choosing to be hopeful in this way allows more room for breath, and more room for life.