“Hope is the thing with feathers
That perches in the soul
And sings the tune without the words
And never stops at all.”
– Emily Dickinson
In Greek mythology, Pandora was the first mortal woman to be created by the Greek Gods. The Gods entrusted her with the responsibility for safe keeping of a jar that she was not supposed to open. But curiosity got better of her. As she opened the jar, all manner of misery and evil got unleashed – the hardships, the suffering, the pain, the trauma, the grief and more. One thing though did not leave the Pandora’s Jar. And that was the thing called HOPE.
There are various ways Pandora’s jar (popularly called Pandora’s box) myth can be interpreted. One positive way is to think of hope as the good spirit that never leaves the side of human being even when all the misery and adversity come unleashing upon us. True, indeed. Hope always stays with us, no matter what. It is the most precious gift we can make to ourselves and others when in trauma or pain.
Hope is the essential seed
It is from the seed of hope, that the fruits of resilience and post-traumatic growth germinate. Joe Biden, the US President, is resilience personified. From conquering speech stuttering, and becoming the second-youngest senator at 29 years of age, to losing his wife and daughter in a road accident just six weeks later and being told that his sons had a poor chance at survival from critical injuries, to raising his sons with utmost devotion, to championing the climate protection cause, to losing his beloved son to brain cancer in 2015, to just five years later successfully leading a tough election in the midst of a pandemic and becoming the 46th president of the USA at the unlikely age of 77 years – Joe Biden lived his life with grit and hope. He once shared in a speech what his mother would say to him – “Joey, out of everything terrible that happens to you, something good will come if you look hard enough for it”.
Can there be a better way to explain what hope is all about and what fruits it yields? Hope is about looking deep enough for what might be possible, despite the the difficult circumstances we are faced with. Even as the seed of hope is itself tender, light and subtle, its effects are deep, profound and strong. Here are just a few of the various fruits of the seed of hope –
1. Better coping and healing of stress and burn-out.
2. Increased levels of self-motivation and optimism.
3. Effective shield against anxiety and fearfulness.
4. Greater ability to respond to life circumstances and challenges with clarity, courage, conviction and confidence.
5. Deeper wisdom and peace to accept and face the trials and tribulations of life.
6. Facing and living with grief and trauma with faith, calm, compassion, affirmation and gratitude.
7. Greater overall well-being at physical, psychological, mental, emotional, social, relationship and spiritual levels.
Landscape of Hope
Hope has a rich landscape where it has the company of its trusted buddies of faith, patience, resilience, courage, strength, gratitude and meaning. Sometimes these resources foster hope. And sometimes hope nurtures and reinforces them. They mutually feed each other.That said, hope does call for ability to wait, and make persistent efforts. Alexander Dumas wisely says, “All human wisdom is contained in these two words – wait and hope”.
Hope does not mean absence of despair or anxiety or vulnerability. In fact, hope is to be found sitting right next to where fear lives in our psyche. Hope helps us accept our state of fear, doubtfulness, despair or vulnerability. And it gives us strength and purposefulness to go past that. It remains more steadfast than fear. The legendary Sufi mystic Mevlana Rumi hums, “Where there is ruin, there is hope for a treasure”. Indeed. Hope is the light that shines only in the dark of despair. We have to be present and mindful enough to recognise the glimmer of hope.
Unlike its close cousin optimism which is about outward expectancy and believing that a new reality will emerge, hope does not wish away the reality. Instead hope seeks to work with the reality-as-it-is, and in the process transform it. Hope is about believing inwardly. It is trusting our capacity to find or create the possibilities within and around the reality as it is. Interestingly even optimism builds itself on hopefulness.
‘And’ – the good friend of ‘Hope’
Hope changes our self-narrative from ‘this or/but that’ to ‘this and that’. The psychology of ‘and’ is such that opens up new possibilities, unlike or/but that close doors. Hope has a mutually happy friendship with ‘and’. They feed and reinforce each other. When we operate from a stance of ‘hopefulness’ and talk to ourselves in the language of ‘and’, we find or create new pathways and options. Whether out of natural disposition or through mindful contemplation, a hopeful mindset helps us change the story we tell ourselves from problem to possibility frame. Let us see how.
Think of a problem that you are currently dealing with. Sit back and notice your self-talk. What do you consciously or unconsciously tell yourself? Does your self-talk fill you with doubt or motivation? Now notice your underlying feelings. What feeling-state drives a possibility mindset? And what feelings are further triggered and/or reinforced by possibility mindset? In all likelihood you answer would be – hope, self-belief and more such feelings. Hopeful state of mind fosters a belief that one can find or create desired solutions or possibilities and strive forward with a future focus.
Hope lives in action
Hope is not a rosy-eyed romanticised feeling. It is a felt human experience. A virtue, a value, a trait, an innate quality, a life-view, a thought, or a feeling – hope is all of these. It unfurls opportunity out of adversity That said, for hope to do wonders, it must live in our action. Positive Psychology expert and ‘Grit’ researcher Angela Duckworth emphasizes the value of effort when she says, “effort counts twice”. While she is talking of the value of effort in contrast to that of ability, we can apply the same principle in case of hope as well.
Hope matters. And it matters big. However, for it to be fruitful, it calls for purposeful committed action. Hope is a long journey, in faith, with patience and through mindful efforts. We have to be willing to wait, sometimes very long. And we have to be willing to continue making purposeful efforts, no matter how hard or painful the journey may feel.
But what if hope is not your natural response mechanism or style? Nothing really to worry. William Paul Young says – “In the midst of all your pain and heartache, you are surrounded by beauty, the wonder of creation, the sounds of laughter and love, of whispered hopes and celebrations, of new life and transformation.” Even if just as a faint hint, hope resides in every heart and mind. It is very much possible to consciously practice a mindset of hopefulness. The holocaust concentration camp survivor and logotherapy creator Viktor Frankl attributed his survival to a self-talk filled with hope and will to live and return to world. While most people in the concentration camps were succumbing to the tortures of Nazi brutality, Frankl found himself wondering if there was some “meaning in suffering”. He nurtured a world-view of hope and possibility, and focused on affirming life, despite all the horrors and uncertainty. And he imagined a meaningful future beyond the unimaginable suffering. Hope is not missing in those for whom it is not a reflex response.
HOPE, my friends, is a whisper of the soul. It is what poet Emily Dickinson called “the thing with feathers” that “perches in the soul”. Faith, will to succeed, can-do mindset, self-belief, conscious effort and patience is all that it takes to cultivate and practice a ‘hopeful’ mindset even by someone for whom ‘hope’ is not an innate trait or quality. Here are a few practical tips to cultivate, maintain and practice a hope-full way of life –
1. Map the expectations – Anticipate the obstacles and barriers that you might have to deal with when faced with a certain problem, trial or challenge in life. Think of the expectations that life has of you and from you in such an eventuality.
2. Imagine the fruit of Hope – Imagine you have found a break-through or uncovered possibilities beneath the problem you are faced with. Visualise the fruit of resolution or success taste like. How does this fruit look, smell and taste like? Feel the flavour and fragrance in the present moment. And allow this feeling to trigger and strengthen a sense of hopefulness.
3. Maintain a ‘hope journal’ – Much like the ‘gratitude journal’ that I talked about in 5th January 2022 issue, you can also maintain a ‘hope journal’. Write down your random feelings or conscious reflections about your life experiences about hope. Feel the feeling as you write about them. Refer to your notes when stuck in a problem and in need of a hope booster.
4. Self-inquiry – You can also use your ‘hope journal’ to reflect on your inner experiences and belief system. Consciously pick and choose beliefs that foster and fan a mindset of hopefulness.
5. Create a ‘Hope Mural’ – Is there an object – a photo, a memento, a prize that you received or a precious gift that someone gave you – that makes you look forward to in life with a sense of hope, faith, belief, willpower and motivation? Place it at your desk or any other prominent place where it meets your eye every now and then.
6. Hope movie – Recall your high-point experiences in life when you faced life’s challenges with a stance of hopefulness. Create an internal movie that you can play at will in the theatre of your mind. Watch this movie as and when you feel like.
Bye for now on a poetic note
Let me close today’s article by sharing with you my poem on hope that features as one of the eleven poetic affirmations in my book “Grief ~ Growth ~ Grace – A Sacred Pilgrimage”.
The shy smile of a new bride.
The sweet-fatigue smile of a new mother.
The crinkled smile of a dying patient.
The dazzling lone star on a dark cloudy night.
The balm, the nectar, that we offer to our despair.”
Invite ‘hope’ to your heart and home. Compose your poem of hope and see life buzzing and blossoming with possibilities even in the midst of despair.