HOPE 3: IN TROUBLED TIMES
Things have changed rather radically since last month when I planned the subject matter for this 3rd blog on Mindfulness and Hope. However, it seems to me that if what I was planning was authentic at all then it would be relevant for any time. So I have decided to follow the plan but tweak it for the current situation as far as I can.
But just a note first, that if you are looking for something which more directly offers support for the anxiety many of us are experiencing as we sit at home – alone or with others – then I have written something which you can find on the ‘Troubled times’ section on this web-site.
On hope, though, last month I talked about the different kinds of awareness that humans are capable of and how mindfulness meditation can help us to cultivate that kind of awareness which both keeps us connected with all that is going on but also keeps the wider perspective of space and time. And I suggested that it is this wider perspective which enables us to engage in hope rather than be overwhelmed and demotivated.
But there are also things we can intentionally do in the midst of it all to help to cultivate this kind of awareness and this kind of hope. And there are three things in particular that I believe can help with this – and specifically have helped me over the last few months.
When I sit alone thinking, I can very easily start to feel negative, alone, frustrated and powerless which can make me want to cut off further from engagement. So, isolation makes me want to isolate even further.
But when I have been able to gather with others, especially those who share something of a common vision, my sense of hope has noticeably returned. And there are a number of things at play here. First I am reminded of our common humanity – that we are in this together and that we all experience albeit different versions of the same thing. Secondly, it draws me out of myself and stirs compassion in me for others. And thirdly, it reminds me that together we can actually do something worthwhile even if it is still small. All these have been sources of hope for me in recent months.
There is obvious difficulty with this in these days of restricted physical interaction but if we keep the principles in mind we may find means of engaging with people in ways that kindle hope in us. So, it may be only email, phone calls, walks in the park (2 meters apart!), or on-line meetings if you can do that sort of thing, but if, each time we engage with others, we keep these three things in mind (sensing our common experience, allowing compassion, and agreeing to do something however small) then we can use all these interactions to kindle the hope we need in these times.
In fact it is worth noting that we may even find we are engaging more with our fellow humans in the midst of this. For instance I have set up an email support group for our part of our street which is experiencing lots of activity and messages of care and support, and I’ve knocked on some of my neighbours doors for the first time since I moved in.
Whatever access to the rest of nature you have (garden, park, or a plant in your house), paying some mindful attention in nature can have a very powerful affect on our disposition and on our perspective.
The thing is (as David Gee articulates so well in his blog – see link in ‘resources’) however awful all this is for humans, it is still, actually, part of nature doing what nature does. There is suffering in nature – sometimes devastating suffering. There is great loss and destruction at times and there will be the profoundest of grief to be experienced in the midst of it.
But as we pay a bit of attention to our wider context – that we humans are part of an inconceivably vast existence we call ‘nature’ – then we are reminded that all nature is ebb and flow, that this too shall pass, that there is no fundamental evil at work here seeking to undermine human goodness, and that, in the midst of this therefore, anything we do to relieve the suffering of ourselves and of others is worth doing.
So, it might be worth saying, then, that when you are out for a walk, if you are able to do this, bring some real attentiveness to where you are and the wonder of the smells, the colours, the shapes and the touch of all that is around you. Let us wonder at nature and the fact that we are a part of it.
I like to remind people that mindful awareness, which some people call ‘being mode’, is not about not doing things but rather it is about cultivating the kind of awareness which enables wiser doing.
So, there is the kind of doing which is unreflective, reactionary and ‘driven’ which may decrease hope as it raises anxiety and adds to frustration. But there is also wise action which can hugely increase our sense of agency and which will, in turn, cultivate hope.
In a sense we need hope to be able to act like this. But if we act out of hope rather than out of frustration or despair, then whatever hope we do have will be strengthened.
The usual problem, though, is that of overwhelm. What can I possibly do in the face of such an enormous challenge with my limited resources and now with these new restrictions?
The important thing here, though, is not to get too caught up in the results of what we are doing but rather to focus on the value of the action in itself.
So the more helpful questions to reflect on might be:
- What is actually happening right now?
- What gifts/resources do I actually have?
- So, what small thing can I do to contribute?
- And who can I do it with?
All these questions warrant a bit of mindful attention in themselves. But if we do, we might actually end up with a clearer idea of what is possible for me and perhaps a greater sense of the value in what I am offering.
And all this will encourage hope to sustain and grow. And hope is going to be absolutely vital in the coming months. So let us seek to cultivate it now.