I have been reflecting on hope — as I experience the spring unfold. The buds going from tight and hard to gently unfurling, the tiny blue flowers poking up through the hard ground, the forsythia broadcasting its yellow triumphant hue for all to see. Along with noticing the way the plant beings step into the light, withstand the shock of unexpected snow, rejuvenate after various blights, I have wondered what to take to heart about their way – that seems filled with hope – that growth is possible, that healing happens, that beauty returns.
Bolstering these musings is this quote from a book I just read: I’m Still Here: Black Dignity in a World Made for Whiteness, by Austin Channing Brown. She writes:
So I have learned not to fear the death of hope. I don’t really want to recount all the ways that hope has let me down; it’s so damn painful. But all of this comes with living, with struggling, with believing in the possibility of change. The death of hope gives way to a sadness that heals, to anger that inspires, to a wisdom that empowers me the next time I get to work, pick up my pen, join a march, tell my story.
In the Buddhist way, hope is not encouraged – being with what is, noticing, observing, having compassion, witnessing – all this is encouraged but not hope per se. I appreciate Austin Channing Brown’s teaching – that letting go of hope connects her to feelings and a sense of how to move forward.
As I was writing this, I came across this passage, written by Reverend Elizabeth Nguyen, a local colleague. Her words captured so beautifully some of my inner dialogue:
This week is Lunar New Year, celebrated by Vietnamese folks as Tết. In my family it means lighting incense on altars, honoring ancestors, red envelopes of money and feasting on candied dried coconut and winter melon for a sweet new year. It means calling out “Chúc Mừng Năm Mới!”(Happy New Year!). It means remembering the ancestors of mine who found a way to hope in the midst of war and immigration and loss and violence.
In the face of…uncertainty and brokenness, I’ve been thinking a lot about hope…One of my mentors shared a powerful insight: that given the violence and racism, the power of white supremacy and depth of greed in our world, I’m not in a place where I can think myself into hope. Any attempt to logic my way into hope ends in despair. What I can do is put myself in the way of beauty, art and the things outside logic…
….We may not have reason to hope, but if we put ourselves in the way of it enough, we may remember how to believe in it.
I so appreciate these two writers’ words, and their outlook is helping me as I sit with what feels like the seductive nature of despair or the perennial questions about whether or not it is “worth it” to hope.
I believe we are not here to simply hope for a better future. Nor are we here to despair of things never changing. Rather I believe we are here to remember we are human. We are here to deeply understand the specific and particular way we have shown up in this lifetime. We are here to experience being human and to be challenged to expand our heart, to sit with pain, to deepen our capacity for compassion – for ourselves and others. We are here to listen – to witness others’ true stories – without advice or platitudes or guilt or condescension. We are here to notice our desire to hope for something “better” and to step in to what we are called to right now. Where can we speak up? How can we remain vulnerable when/if we feel threatened? What helps us let our heart expand with compassion when it wants to shrink and shield itself into “us and them?” How can our breath be supported? Can we be tender with the human impulse to avoid others’ suffering? How can we learn to ask for support? Can we encourage ourselves and others to stay with whatever is arising right now and to find generosity within – to hear, to feel, to give?
Pema Chodron writes: “We could say that looking for alternatives is the only thing that keeps us from realizing that we’re already in a sacred world.” (from When Things Fall Apart). As the daffodil blooms and the red-winged blackbird builds its nest, I feel the pull to remember that the more than human world reaches towards light; it reminds me to find the sacred in each and every moment; it calls me to show up fully as myself and to be with others as heart-fully as possible, Our human incarnation is a sacred opportunity not to aim for hope but to believe that there are always steps towards repair, healing, growth, and connection.