Sunday, October 14, 2012


 Definition: to cherish the outcome of desire’s good. 
-- The Web’s Brainy Dictionary

Can we really define hope? 

Theologists and poets through the centuries have tried. Perhaps we should accept Emily Dickinson’s enduring abstraction:

                                    Hope is the thing with feathers
                                     That perches in the soul
                                    And sings the tune without the words
                                    And never stops at all.  

Hope is the vital ingredient that makes all things possible in psychotherapy, religion, and –yes, even our understanding of science. A mother once approached Einstein to ask him how her young son could improve his mathematical skills. Einstein’s reply was, “Try telling him some stories.” Einstein understood that the imagination and hope are entwined in finding scientific solutions. Hope must be tied to the life of the imagination, for the nature of hope is to imagine what has not yet come to pass but still is possible. To use an expression from Martin Buber, “hope imagines the real,” thus distinguishing this form of imagining from the unreal absorptions of day dreams or fantasy whose object tends toward solitary self aggrandizement.

            As William Lynch writes in Dr. Leslie Farber’s book “Images of Hope” (1965):
 Since ‘hope cannot be achieved alone,’ imagination must be admitted to be dialogic in character. In other words, we imagine WITH. Even the novelist or poet grimly describing the absolute hopelessness of the human condition is till imagining this landscape WITH his reader; though he conceals the fact, he must possess some hope to achieve his description.

           Erik Erikson believed the first psychosocial task of trust, essential in the first year of life was entwined with hope, and without it, the human was impaired in relationship and future endeavors:
Hope is both the earliest and the most indispensable virtue inherent in the state of being alive. Others have called this deepest quality confidence, and I have referred to trust as the earliest positive psychosocial attitude, but if life is to be sustained, hope must remain, even where confidence is wounded, trust impaired. Clinicians know that an adult who has lost all hope regresses into as lifeless a state as a living organism can sustain…Hope is the enduring belief in the attainability of fervent wishes, in spite of the dark urges and rages which mark the beginning of existence ... The fact is that no person can live, no ego remain intact without hope and will.
                                              Insight and Responsibility, W.W. Norton & Co., l964, pp. 115-118

Ted Bowman, educator and consultant writes:

  Hopelessness can find reinforcement if and when our stories are not heard or when our stories are not validated, or when our stories are superseded by stories that “someone” deems more important  . . .  An essential element of hope is the belief and conviction that one’s story will be heard, even if it is a story one does not want to tell. “I don’t want  to be a widow.” “No, not me. It can’t be cancer.” When someone is dealing with grief, especially losses that alter one’s identity or self-perception, the story becomes all the more important.

Ted reminds us that hope can be rekindled or restored by focusing on hopeful actions

          * By acts of care for self and others

          * By future commitments, even in the next few hours

          * By writing, music, talking ... to make sense of and to give voice to your    thoughts and feelings

          * By connections to life in the midst of death

          * By practice of disciplines like the serenity prayer — awareness of    what you can change, what you cannot, and the wisdom to tell the difference.

          * By telling and hearing stories of hope.

                                             Finding Hope When Dreams Have Shattered. St. Paul, MN. 2001

My favorite story about Hope is a tale that circulated following the 9/11 attack. It is actually an old Native American teaching.

A grandfather was talking to his grandson. He said, “I feel as if I have two wolves fighting in my heart. One wolf is the vengeful, angry, violent one. The other wolf is the loving, compassionate one.”
          The grandson asked him, “Which wolf will win the fight in your heart?
 The grandfather answered, “ The one I feed.”
Feed Your Hope.

           Regardless of how hurt or wounded the individual may be, there exists a healthy part of the self straining to flower like a seed that takes root and naturally pushes through the earth toward sunlight. Biblical commentary on the Book of Genesis suggests that over each blade of grass there is an angel praying, “Grow! Grow!”  Such faith may considered romantic, delusional or overly optimistic… but we can hope, can’t we?

Blessings to you, my reader.

P.S. To exercise your imagination and writing skills, try the Creative Meditation: “In the Orchard of Hope” or the writing prompt under Exercises for Growth and Healing.

Exercises for Growth and Healing

1. Read Steve Porter's essay "The 50% Theory" .
Now write your own essay or poem choosing your own percentage of positive vs. negative events based on your life experience.

2. There is a great story in one of the Chicken Soup for the Soul books about a mother whose son is accidentally struck in the eye when he is playing darts with his twin bother. When she finds out that he will lose the sight in one eye, she is filled with anguish. How can she tell him that he will never see from that eye again?
She tactfully tells him,  "The Lord created everyone with two eyes — one to see the world with a good eye and one to see the world with a bad eye. Right now you have  the privilege to be able to see the world with only a good eye.” 
The boy was silent for a moment, and then said,“Boy, I’m sure glad the arrow didn’t hit my other eye!”  
Writing Directive: Draw a line down the page and entitle the two columns "My Good Eye"and "My Bad Eye". Write a list of what you see with your "good eye" and your "bad eye". Which list is longer?

3. Read the Meditation of "The Orchard of Hope". Then do a creative visualization of what you have read. Follow with writing about the experience

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