I want to talk about hope. I’ve been derailed many times in my lifetime – in all the big ways. I can check off the list of major stressors like a resume for survivorship –
- Death of loved ones (both parents – one suicide, one cancer)
- Diagnosis of a life threatening illness – twice
- Diagnosis of a life threatening illness – spouse
- Childhood trauma
- Threat of the loss of my home (3 debris torrents)
- Experiencing two large magnitude debris torrents
- Two home robberies (including a car theft)
- Two roll-over car accidents
- Chronic pain
- Severe depression
I am a student of survivorship and aspire to be an apostle of hope. I’m not talking optimism here – I believe that’s a side-effect of hope, which runs much, much deeper. How does one keep their hope alive? I can only rely on my own experience here. I used to vacillate between hope and despair like a rollercoaster. Since my first cancer diagnosis, I’ve been more solidly grounded in hope. It was a gift. I quickly realized that cancer was misery enough and I didn’t need to perpetuate it with fear, complaints and negative thinking. I found reasons to live. I realized an understanding that I was actually worthy of hope, and hope became my anchor to navigate the disease. My hope became sorely tested upon my second diagnosis which came within five years, and I dipped back into despair for four months until I could come to acceptance. My safety net had dissolved. Again I found hope. I learned that it was better to have hope without expectations – a Buddhist paradox. Expectations can crush. It became a hope centered around trust. Webster’s dictionary describes hope as a noun this way – a feeling of desire for something and confidence in the possibility of its fulfilment. Look at that closely – a feeling of desire is the key to hope and trust separates it from wishing – it involves faith. I want to have hope like I’d want a life raft in a flood. Hope inspires action. My confidence isn’t about outcome, but rather knowing that I could accept and handle whatever comes next in order to keep moving forward. Hope feels like a blessing and I am distressed that not everyone has it. It is essential to living to me, even more than love. I seek to be inspired by hopeful people, and inspire in turn by how I live.
I can’t talk about hope without talking about spirit. My spirit was crushed by repeated childhood traumas – living with a violent, alcoholic father who was unsafe and unpredictable. I could see that other people had good lives – living without fear and shame, and I had a desire for that, which became my hope. I fought for that, tooth and nail, well into my thirties.
I’ve been in a hopeless state often, and even today I can feel it’s potential to rise up when life gets hard. At it’s worst, I feel like dying, so I check my thoughts, and patiently wait for the feeling to pass until I can get to the other side of it. I know it’s an old voice that I don’t have to listen to anymore. I used to be a victim, now I’m a fighter. Hope sometimes requires great patience and creativity, and sometimes in order to get it, you have to give it up – remembering these words from TS Elliot.
“So, I said to my soul be still
And wait without hope
For hope would be hope for the wrong thing
And wait without love
For love would be love of the wrong thing
There is yet faith
But the faith and the hope and the love are all in the waiting
And do not think
For you are not ready for thought
So the darkness shall be the light
And the stillness the dancing
Keeping my spirit lively is key to keeping my hope alive. There are many ways I do this –
- Intention setting
- Healthy eating
- Sleep quality
- Reading inspirational stuff
- Arts & crafts
When you find something that speaks to your spirit, you’ll know it immediately. You’ll feel uplifted. I pay close attention to my thoughts. I recently realized, while cycling, my eyes and hands hadn’t been co-ordinated like they used to be, so my reactions were off. After doing my new eye exercises for convergence deficiency, my bike began steering in the direction of my eyes. It felt magical because it was “all of a sudden”, but it was actually a direct result of the work I put in. Thoughts are like that. They direct the spirit. These days, I’m often a mixed bag of fear, anger, compassion, sadness, frustration, anxiety, elation, and excitement with a solid basis of hope. My home is worthless on the market, I don’t have enough money and my husband has a life-threatening illness. I could spend all day thinking about these things but I know I need balance, so I acknowledge the joyful things in my life, and I create new joyful experiences. I retreat into the present moment for respite. A friend of mine put it this way – “Keep your radio tuned to what you want to hear”. While volunteering for the Ironman event in Whistler, I heard the most beautiful words of encouragement and hope given by a young woman to an athlete who wanted to quit – telling her that she’d made it this far and she didn’t really want to quit, how it was much easier from here – and then she said “What do you want to hear?”. What an awesome question. It struck my core as I watched her words resonate with the athlete. Why not ask ourselves the very same question?
During the time that I was caretaking my mother who was dying of cancer, I realized that her pending death was predominant in my mind and, because I didn’t want to look at her that way I began thinking “She’s alive today” – that was hope speaking and it changed my spirit.
My husband and I have always had a “whatever it takes” attitude to sustain us. Were we born with that drive? Why doesn’t everyone have it? Do you have that kind of willingness to live out your hopes? I hope for all beings to have access to even just one small thing to keep their spirit and hope alive. It may come where you least expect it, so keep your mind open – even Google has some great articles on how to build hope.
I leave you with this encouraging message (from Johann Wolfgang von Goethe):
Until one is committed, there is hesitancy, the chance to draw back, always ineffectiveness, concerning all acts of initiative (and creation). There is one elementary truth, the ignorance of which kills countless ideas and splendid plans: that the moment one definitely commits oneself, then Providence moves too. All sorts of things occur to help one that would never otherwise have occurred. A whole stream of events issues from the decision, raising in one’s favour all manner of unforeseen incidents and meetings and material assistance which no man could have dreamed would have come his way. Whatever you can do or dream you can, begin it. Boldness has genius, power and magic in it. Begin it now.