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Posts Tagged ‘hope’

Last weekend my friend apologized to me.

It hadn’t been that big a deal, the thing for which he apologized, but the timing was bad. I didn’t think about an apology. I didn’t ask for one.

He gave me one anyway. He made amends, and then he offered the apology up to me like an unexpected jewel, and then he made some more amends. I watched him take responsibility for his actions, and I watched him not have to take credit for doing so. He did it without any fuss.

The apology was actually for me.

I accepted it, and I took it in, and it changed me. I hadn’t realized how hungry I had been for that very thing until I sucked it down and felt a palpable relief. I had forgotten such a thing was possible. I am used to being asked to dance in a mirror maze in which I am a mere spectre. And here I was, being offered the chance to be me.

I said yes, of course.

I’ve gotten pretty good at being me, in the privacy of these temple bones, in the sanctuary of this muscle heart, in the safety of this rib cage.

He could have said, “You’re too sensitive, Amy.” He could have said, “Well, it only happened because of x and y and z.” He could have gotten angry at me. He could have thought I didn’t think he was a good person. He could have thought for himself that he wasn’t a good person. He could have asked me to comfort him. He could have asked me to pretend nothing had happened, and I might have, because I have larger battles to fight.

He could have left me sitting there alone. The only consequence would have been me staying in my cage of bones, unwilling to come out where I would not be seen.

But he didn’t do that.

And so I have a stronger friendship than I did before.

And so I can begin to see a path to being myself outside these temple bones.

And so I have hope.

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Hope as Fuel

Let’s talk about hope today, shall we?

One of my friends posted this great thought about hope on Facebook, which I cannot share with you word-for-word because privacy, but he basically talked about the importance of maintaining a store of hope in order to continue accomplishing things in life. And then another friend texted me about hope a day or two later, and I said, “Yeah, I’m going to blog about this now.”

Hope really can be quite useful, I think particularly for more long-lasting and slow-to-reach goals and desires and projects. I don’t need hope to do small daily tasks around the house, but I do need hope to keep writing, for example. Without hope, it would be so much harder to discipline myself to work and do things that I find unpleasant or difficult.

So then, how do we cultivate hope? And not false hope that might keep us stuck, but rejuvenating, inspirational hope?

  1. We can do our best to be cognizant of progress. Instead of focusing only (or even primarily) on a big end goal, if we can be aware of what we have achieved, this maintains hope. It can be hard to notice these smaller shifts and achievements, but being able to identify progress I’ve made keeps me inspired to keep spending effort.
  2. We can give ourselves things to look forward to. I’m a huge practitioner of this one. If I don’t have anything at all to look forward to in the next six months, something has probably gone horribly awry with my life because I always make sure I have something, and usually the more somethings, the better. I often use trips for this purpose, but really there’s a lot of choice here: events, holidays, birthdays, parties, concerts, plays, movies, food, friend time, books, a day with nothing scheduled, and so on.
  3. We can reframe. Catching our negative thoughts and figuring out how to transform them into less harmful ones (or even actively positive ones) cultivates a smoother state of mind and, you guessed it, more hope.
  4. We can help other people. There is something about building connection that creates hope. It can pull us out of ourselves and remind us of the things we think are important.
  5. We can choose to celebrate other people’s successes. Your friend reaches a goal that you desperately want to hit yourself. Here is your choice: take your friend’s success as a reminder that the goal IS possible and celebrate with her, or feel unhappy with yourself for not being there yet. The first one builds hope; the second tears yourself down.
  6. We can remind ourselves of the inevitability of change. All things change, and so in this sense, there is always hope. Not of a specific outcome, necessarily, but sometimes all we need to is to know that things can be different.
  7. We can attempt to be flexible. Speaking of specific outcomes, the less attached we can be to specifics and the more we can adjust to what’s going on around us, the easier it is for us to maintain a general feeling of hope.

Hope without action is empty, but hope combined with action keeps us motivated to continue working towards our goals.

What do you do to replenish your stores of hope?

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“Be soft. Do not let the world make you hard. Do not let pain make you hate. Do not let the bitterness steal your sweetness. Take pride that even though the rest of the world may disagree, you still believe it to be a beautiful place.”

—Kurt Vonnegut

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“This is just too hard.” I declare this late at night, tears streaming down my cheeks, head rested on my friend’s shoulder.

To be soft is to be vulnerable. And to be vulnerable is to have those moments when it seems impossible to continue.

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Photo Credit: Send me adrift. via Compfight cc

Photo Credit: Send me adrift. via Compfight cc

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I tell my friend about a share my blog post about grief got on Facebook. “I have never experienced loss to this degree,” the person said about my post.

“Why?” I ask my friend. “I want to be the person who has never experienced loss. Why can’t I be that person?”

I have all the silver linings for loss and suffering memorized. They build character. They mean I am living life fully, that I am throwing myself fully into the world around me. They have helped me develop the resilience that allows me to pick myself afterwards and keep moving. They give me a depth of experience that I can use to help other people and that I can use to enrich my writing. I wouldn’t give up who I am today, and my experiences have shaped me.

But I’d be lying if I told you that whisper of “Why?” doesn’t linger in the background.

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We cannot erase the why. But there isn’t always an answer to that question. There isn’t always a reason.

Life doesn’t always have a satisfying narrative.

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We don’t get to determine why. But we can try to affect the how. We can strive to retain our softness, or we can allow ourselves to harden in defense. We can allow a moment of impossibility to extend to a lifetime, our doors remaining securely locked, or we can reject that idea and live to fling the door open once more. We can withdraw in fury or fear or hopelessness, or we can look for a way to give, to reach out, to make our time count.

We can believe the world is still a beautiful place. Maybe not all the world, and not all the time. But we can start with a small moment: the beginnings of a smile, the release of a sigh, the comfort of a hand on a shoulder.

Why? We do not know. But the beauty remains, if we allow ourselves to remember how to see it.

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I really like the metaphor of the phoenix for transformation.

I remember learning about metamorphosis in grade school, and being excited I could remember how to spell it. (I had a happy gift for spelling.) The caterpillar stuffs its little self as full as can be, and then it spins a warm, comfy cocoon. I imagined it sleeping inside, engaged in curious caterpillar dreams, until one day it would wake up and break free, transformed. It sounded so easy.

That’s why I like the phoenix. The phoenix doesn’t have it easy at all. When it’s time for the phoenix to change, it literally bursts into flames. Being burnt to ash has to be excruciating. And there might very well be some uncertainty involved as well, because what if it doesn’t work this time? What if the phoenix does not become reborn? And even if it does, what if it’s different in some critical and upsetting way? What if it is no longer its self? What if it’s lost something valuable in the process of being reborn?

Photo Credit: Ryan McCurdy via Compfight cc

So often, that’s the reality of transformation. We don’t always know exactly what the end result will be. When I sit down to revise a manuscript, I often have the troubling thought, “What if I end up making it worse instead of better?” When I set out to change myself, I can only guess at the ripples that are going to spread out from that change. And those ripples, once they start moving, are extremely difficult, if not impossible, to control. Who knows where they’ll travel or how fast they’ll spread?

What we can know is the process will hurt. It will be uncomfortable. Bursting into flames, even if it’s only metaphorical, is clearly not the easiest path available to us. Excising large portions of a manuscript that represent hours upon hours of effort can be nausea-inducing even while it’s liberating. Any large change is going to require an adjustment period when nothing feels quite as it should. When you rip off the band aid, you take some skin and hair along with it. When you fling yourself into the world newly altered, you flail and whack one or more of your limbs against obstructions that you hoped to avoid or didn’t even know were there.

But the idea of the phoenix also encompasses hope. The phoenix is reborn. It returns renewed and refreshed, brighter and fiercer. It is a thing of beauty and fascination. Through the pain of the fire, the old is burned away, leaving space for something new and wonderful.

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Ever since I read an article in Psychology Today entitled The Double-Edged Sword of Hope, I’ve been thinking about the nature of hope.

I’m a natural optimist, and possibly as a result, I carry a lot of hope around with me. It’s not that I don’t see anything wrong in the world or in my life, but I tend to try to find the hope in a situation. Sometimes that means thinking of the best case scenario as well as the worst case one. Sometimes it means brainstorming what I might be able to control myself in order to turn things around. Other times it’s more of a blind hope–things might suck now, but things do change. (Tuesday’s blog post is a great example: We might not have a strong space program now, but that doesn’t mean there will never be one in the future.)The problem with hope is that it sometimes persists past the point of reasonable returns. We have such an ethos in our culture of not being a quitter, of persistence as a virtue, of not giving up. Many times these are beliefs that hold us in good stead and keep us going when things become difficult. But there is a line that we don’t want to cross, beyond which is the Sea of Wishful Thinking.

The Sea of Wishful Thinking, for all that it has a poetical name, is a painful place in which to reside. It is from this place that we continue to try, even though in our heart of hearts, we understand (or at least suspect) that things aren’t going to work out the way we want. We continue to hope even in the face of odds that are truly insurmountable. Perhaps there is still hope in the bigger picture (or perhaps not), but we continue to obsess over the battle that we are consistently losing.

The difficulty, then, is determining whether we are indeed in the Sea of Wishful Thinking, or whether we’re still dwelling in the Realm of the Possible and have merely fallen victim to a passing Dark Despair Cloud. If the latter, then by holding fast, we can wait out the cloud and still have the potential of a positive outcome. And indeed, in most ambitious endeavors, there will be times when we have to hang on even though things seem bleak. If the former, then at some point we will need to cut hope loose and move on to some more promising possibilities.

Hope can be a beautiful sentiment, but ultimately it is a tool we can use for both the good and the not so good. It can trick people into thinking they don’t need a practical plan, or it can keep someone going until they reach the next stage of mastery. It can bring the strength needed to survive, or it can offer someone an excuse not to take responsibility for themselves. I think as soon as we become aware that hope can both help and hinder us, we are better able to recognize how we’re using it. But sometimes its promise will burn too brightly for us to see clearly, and sometimes it will gutter and die too soon. Perhaps that is part of what it is to be human.

Hope springs eternal, the saying goes. But it is up to us to decide how we are going to use it.

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