Not a single soul on this planet has lived without feeling at one time or another, of being at the edge of deep sadness or despair. No one has gone without grief, fear and in some cases, terrorizing circumstances with seemingly nothing to grasp onto, no anchor, no apparent ground any longer to hold one up.
Yet, when all chips seem down, there is the fundamental idea that “the sun comes up every day”, that the darkest night turns into bright dawn with the sun cresting over the hill, shining its bright light in a thousand directions that virtually nowhere can escape.
What is it about hope that can pull us out of the doldrums? Sad, depressing, irresolute and meaningless as life can sometimes feel like, that the sun does emerge from darkness is an uplifting fact that can liberate us at least temporarily and instill in us a deep sense of hope.
It could certainly be said that this metaphor of the sun breeds and has the ability to beam and breathe hope into us no matter where we are on the planet. If the sun rises up every day and shines, surely, it suggests, so can we.
Looking at the planetary eco-system as a whole and the harmonious ways its “10,000 things” as ancient Chinese Taoist philosopher Lao-Tse would say, appear to interact with each other, the human species, while no less part of the whole, seems to hold itself ‘outside’ it and loses track of the ‘organic uplift’ that is inherent in life itself.
As a result, humans sometimes have to scurry around and ‘manufacture’ hope to keep themselves uplifted enough to “suffer the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune” that we as a species seem so oddly inclined to subject each other to and bring onto ourselves. After all, have we ever heard of an ant of an ant colony bringing drama or neurosis to his colony?
History is a story of much great cultural, scientific and technological progress and so much pillage and conquest. To celebrate the good is easy, but to weather the pain of plagues and plunder not so much. Hope then becomes an essential ingredient of our psychology and sometimes survival. We could call it ‘survival psychology’. Certainly there are many times in history where it was such an essential ingredient.
Currently, the world is besieged with a state of mind that appears bent toward varying degrees of totalitarianism under the guise of nation-states around the world acting as though they are qualified as doctors and protecting their people from a phenomenonc called a pandemic.
Any disease that is transmissible in itself is problematic enough. When it seems to be used for purposes of restricting long-held rights, freedoms and liberties in traditional democracies when a specific medical intervention isn’t embraced by the entirety of a given population, any human should be alarmed at such encroachment and imposition on their fundamental rights guaranteed by, in this case, the U.S. Constitution. This sacred document has been made mockery of in the last few years so having hope that some politicians, or more important, judges, recognize this and reverse any policy, bill or mandate interfering with these inalienable rights.
It is this kind of medical and political imposition that we saw the most egregious expression of in Nazi Germany not that long ago—has history faded in the minds of people so quickly? It wasn’t long ago that the Nuremberg Code was agreed upon universally because of the heinous, totalitarian, wholly undemocratic, undermining perpetrated on the Jews and many others.
The Holocaust represents one of the lowest ebbs of human behavior and of mass hypnosis, really psychosis, in all of human history. It would be wise to reflect on its possible relevance and parallel to what is happening right now in Germany, Austria and across the planet.
This is the kind of time when hope is needed more than ever. It provides a ground to believe in the higher nature of human beings, a footing, even when things are at a low ebb across the planet.
The nature of hope
In business or a professional context, in a family or in a personal relationship, it is frequently hope that navigates us through the rockiest of all shoals. Hope is not just some kind of superficial state of mind, nor does it need knowledge of an outcome considered desirable. Hope provides the physical undergirding needed to literally lift heavy cars off of bodies trapped under cars, or heroic actions in the face of daunting danger.
Hope is not the same thing as optimism. It is not the conviction that something will turn out well, but the certainty that something makes sense, regardless of how it turns out.
It is hope that keeps us going even when it looks like there is nothing that we feel is going to work out as we had expected or even hoped! Curiously and paradoxically, we can “hope against hope”. It is paradoxical. It’s the one thing in this world that when it may feel, or appear that there is none of it, it still exists.
Hope is underneath everything as the supporting girder of the human heart and mind. When no hope can be found, for one who looks, it is still there. Hope may well be the most propelling force of all, equivalent to love, a wish to belong and the desire for meaning in the human psyche.
Hope in personal relationships
Who hasn’t been in a romantic relationship that goes well for some time and then, for any number of reasons, leads to a ‘break-up’, a feeling of hopelessness? This can feel like someone has ripped out your heart and the future looks dim.
One’s heart feels broken into pieces, never to come back together again. Meaning behind most everything feels lost. One is “looking through a glass darkly.” Everything is pain-laden and even walking and talking are painful.
But somehow, as deep as we may emotionally sink, so it can and does happen that the smallest moment of beauty, of sunshine, a sound of music, a funny incident on the street out of nowhere, ‘breaks the spell’ and a positive feeling and sense of hope that the world isn’t so bad after all, are restored. Our heart starts to re-assemble and we re-connect with life.
In Chinese Energetics, we say that Shen, or Heart-Mind, our Spirit housed in our heart, is re-balanced. Breathing in hope again, God willing we now forgive and have an even more open, loving, compassionate heart from the pain-ridden experience.
This is true in our own personal lives in our relationships as just described as well as in society’s larger, institutional macro-levels. After all, institutions of all sorts and sizes, corporate suites and Presidential palaces are populated with just people.
When we maintain the hope and desire to reach decision-makers to shape their thinking to be in accordance with the values of Democracy, of freedom of choice in respect to health, medical decisions, education, energy policy, war and peace, it is my opinion that we are using hope very intelligently.
Hope through history is embedded in our psychology & wisdom traditions
The psychology of hope, therefore, confers a perspective that is both fortifying and empowering.
The psychology of hope brings forth energy in the face of adversity. It is what gives underdogs, be it in battle or in sport, the sense that they can come together, cooperate, commune and overcome any obstacle.
Neuro-Linguistic Programming (NLP) has an interesting tenet in its teaching which is that of “chunking”. One can “chunk down” an obstacle, shrink it to “bite-sized” pieces, smaller and more digestible chunks, to make the possibility of success closer at hand. One version of hope is like an engine, a motor driving forward, and step-by-step, overcoming and overpowering the obstacles in its way.
Renowned author, teacher and colleague Andrew Harvey wrote an entire book on hope called The Hope: A Guide to Sacred Activism. When things are looking down, the beauty of a flower, petting one’s favorite pet, a twinkle in a child’s eye, the subtle smile of a grandmother sitting on her stoop enjoying children playing in the street, all these bring a moment of joy and the sparkle of hope.
Popular music is replete with examples of hope moving mountains, of love being restored, of the depths of misery and a broken heart being brought back and uplifted with new love.
The belief underlying Christian Science and the work of Mary Baker Eddy focuses on the power of prayer, the embrace of a Universal Intelligence and mind to move us toward healing. Beneath this is that there is hope in Spirit to heal.
This is mirrored in Jewish Science as well, with really the same tenets and precepts that we can evoke and invoke a healing power, a higher intelligence often called God to shift our molecules to health and balance.
Religious and spiritual teachings, indigenous and shamanic, going back to before the Bible, align with the same, fundamental idea: Hope, mind, prayer, focus, image, word, sound bring about healing, with hope charging through all as foundation.
I will wager that hope has another, transcendent element to it. Hope can assuage pain and suffering and can also save lives. Sharing hope with another can be considered an act of generosity—the antidote to negative karma.
Giving hope can inspire others to be great, to reach for their highest potential, to move beyond their comfort zone, to be courageous and even to stay alive even when medically, it may not be looking very good.
The physiology of hope
I put it this way: Hope is so organic to the quality and essence of our lives that Mother Nature made sure that the experience of it, the embracing of it, bringing it to mind, leads to an array of healthy neuro-chemicals cascading through our system, as well as hormones and up-regulating of genes to fortify us, literally conferring the mental, emotional and physical strength to move forward through the current challenges, even without having certainty of outcome.
The Jews in the concentration camps are a remarkable example of this. With nothing to look forward to day by day except for the prospect of hard labor prior to gas chambers, they played music by night or performed Yiddish skits in their humble abodes, making laughter and entertainment of highest importance, creating community and hope, even though there was so little about which they could reasonably be hopeful.
Hope is not just some abstract, philosophical or existential notion to intellectualize about or to academically consider, but has a physiological substrate that can take a dying person and help to bring them back to life.
Has hope been confused with being Pollyanna-ish or naïve? Sure it has been, and it’s worth making some distinction. One wants to be sober while being hopeful. But as I hope I’ve made clear: hope isn’t about an outcome but rather, it is a state of mind, heart, body and being.
But it’s also very much worth recognizing that mind and perception create reality. When some people see no hope and others do, the psychology and physiology of those with hope has propelled wonders including revived health as above, even sustaining life itself.
This is not a fact that has penetrated medical science for whatever reason. How we hold something in our minds influences our body. When a doctor says when looking at a PET Scan that “I don’t like what I see. You have a 10% chance of living”, that is, in effect, a death sentence issued by someone who has taken an oath to “Do no harm”.
He or she has no ethical right at all to say this as it’s only a statistic, not the living reality of a unique human being. Medical students need to be educated about the role of the mind and stress in respect to bodily disease or inadvertently, causing more of it.
How many times have medical professionals reviewed statistics of people who are diagnosed with a rare illness and the doctor says the patient has a 10% chance of surviving. Other statistics show that when the patient embraces hope and a healthy state of mind, the rate of success is impressive. Not only has it happened that a patient survives, but goes on to thrive.
The examples of this are too numerous to count, as are the medical studies proving this out. Yet many of us remain hopeful that 21st century medical science will come to recognize as standard, the science that shows the effects of hope, gratitude and love on and in the human body, reversing illness and optimizing wellness is very real, and ignoring this can be fatal.
How does hope affect the brain?
Belief and expectation – the key elements of hope – can block pain by releasing the brain's endorphins and enkephalins, mimicking the effects of morphine. In some cases, hope can also have important effects on fundamental physiological processes like respiration, circulation and motor function.
(Quoted from Google, Apr 11, 2013)
Studies on the physiological benefits from the felt experience of gratitude and hope are extensive. I believe that these emerged from the logical and intuitive understanding of the relationship between mind, emotion and body as a single system and the human wish to understand, define and explain these systemic relationships scientifically. Ancient wisdom traditions, indigenous understanding across the planet for tens of thousands of years, speak of and understand these core principles. Modern medicine awkwardly seeks to grasp at them with disciplines such as psychoneuroimmunology but seems to fail in grasping its true significance because in most cases, drugs or surgery would not be needed and the profitability of the intervention would be questionable.
We are inundated by medicines for everything from a sore toe or a moment of grief, both of which heal naturally. In fact, almost everything heals naturally, though it is wonderful that we do have herbs, acupuncture, traditional medicines, foods, sleep, movement and modern, western, allopathic medicine. Each has a valuable role.
But it is a bit ironic and interestingly paradoxical that for thousands of years up through today, people are being healed by fasting alone, absent all medicines, even herbs. This is an ancient, time-tested healing method in which Nature, left alone to exercise her intelligence through the Body-Mind, heals. There is an organic reason for hope.
In more modern times, the work of Dr. Larry Dossey in his Prayer is Good Medicine has this idea of hope and mental state at the base of his assertions of the importance of prayer in healing. Those said to have “no hope” of surviving have gotten back on their feet in a statistically significant way. Thousands of studies of the role of a mental attitude of hope and that of prayer, of visualizing someone attaining health populate the literature.
The work of Dr. Bernie Siegel reiterates and demonstrates this same phenomenon of hope with prayer, mental attitude, positive suggestion and visualizing a state of health and well-being.
These two doctors became world-renowned for their decades of work and documentation of the role of psycho-emotional, mental work and discipline toward creating health out of sometimes what are considered fatal conditions.
Back in the 1970’s Dr. Simonton, pioneer in psycho-oncology, was using art and drawing with cancer patients to identify what an illness looked like in their mind’s eye, and then to alter it so that they were clear of it. The results were positive and laid out a path of therapy that could have possibly saved hundreds of thousands of lives lost to conventional, medical treatment.
Drs. Siegel and Simonton have focused primarily on the treatment of cancer using mind, self-expression, art, meditation, support groups, with significant success over decades.
The work of Dr. Milton Erickson, Dr. Ernest Rossi, of cellular biologist Dr. Bruce Lipton, neuro-scientist Dr. Joe Dispenza, of hypnotherapists the world over, have demonstrated the same thing: the role of hope, mental state, affirmation, prayer, belief system and visualization in altering a disease process and shifting it to a healing one.
So in this time of darkness, when corporations more than less dictate (yes, dictate) the terms of legislation, political and economic policy to serve their own good, and the richest corporations are usually pharmaceutical companies that pay the salaries of the anchors of news broadcasts, hope for change is needed as during the darkest times in human history, right now!
Impartial journalism is barely a part of mainstream media anymore save a report on a hurricane or two or the occasional inner city mugging. Media plays an important role in today of inspiring more fear than optimism or hope so sensitivity to its communications is important for maintaining a healthy and balanced, hopeful state of mind. Avoiding mainstream media is perhaps one of the most hopeful acts we can take unless we simply demand our air-waves back and demand that objective, unbiased reportage be returned to our TV screens.
We are in a time of “dumbed-down democracy” and censorship as in the darkest days of modern history. It is all the more important that we use the power of hope and the joy of love and compassion to move forward with what we feel, each one of us, is most important to manifest in our society, not just for the few but for the good of all.
This takes a lot of hope and a lot of disciplined work which will ultimately make us better people shaping for us all, a better world full of hope.