Spiritual Practices: Hope
Balances/Counters: Despair, Impatience
The Basic Practice
Hope is a positive and powerful spiritual practice with the strength to pull us through challenging times. It is usually described with light metaphors — a beam, ray, glimmer of hope; a break in the clouds; or the light at the end of the dark tunnel. It is often discovered in unexpected places.
Sophia skipping through the pasture as she spreads milkweed.
We were hopeful that the seeds would take and new milkweed plants would grow.
Almost eight years later, there are countless milkweed plants
throughout our farm.
Our dedication to spreading milkweed seeds has paid off!
(Taken on October 20, 2007)
Hope can be learned with practice; and certain attitudes support it. One is patience or an ability to tolerate delays and a willingness to let events unfold in their own time. The other is courage or having an attitude of confidence even when facing the unknown. A third is persistence or the determination to keep going no matter what happens. We have hope when we can say, all will be well, and we mean it.
Why This Practice May Be For You
Hope is the basic component of optimism - or a tendency to dwell on the best possibilities. It goes well with another spiritual practice — enthusiasm - which is equally energizing.
But a more common — and very telling expression — is "Hope for the best, but expect the worst." As the Spirituality and Practice website said, "The more likely outcome, it implies, is the worst. When we are without hope, we easily fall victim to such negativism. When the light of hope is absent, we are overcome by gloom and doom, despair and defeatism."
The Chinese have a saying: If you keep a green bough in your heart surely the singing bird will come.
— Chinese saying quoted in The Web in the Sea by Alice O. Howell
A singing female rose-breasted grosbeak on
a pine tree in the pasture.
(Taken on June 10, 2011)
Hope is the foundation for creativity, inspiration, joy and all those emotions which allow us to transcend ourselves.
— Verena Kast in Joy, Inspiration and Hope
Soul of a Citizen - Living with Conviction in Challenging Times by Paul Rogat Loeb
I also found a book at the library called The Cure for the Chronic Life - Overcoming the Hopelessness that Holds You Back by Deanna Favre and Shane Stanford.
Cast Away - I have watched this movie several times and it truly does capture the essence of hope.
Places in the Heart
According to the Spirituality and Practice website, "Rock music is basically a hopeful medium, despite all the lyrics about personal woes and the messes and miseries of the world. When we need a boost, nothing is quite as effective as putting on a pounding rock song and joining in the defiant and hopeful chorus."
The site suggested several different songs to listen to including:
- "I Can See Clearly Now" by Johnny Nash
I remember this song when it came out in the 1970s. I liked it then and I still enjoy listening to when I hear now. It's one of those songs that instantly uplifts your mood. The lyrics are so hopeful:
I can see clearly now, the rain is gone,
I can see all obstacles in my way
Gone are the dark clouds that had me blind
It's gonna be a bright (bright), bright (bright)
I think I can make it now, the pain is gone
All of the bad feelings have disappeared
Here is the rainbow I've been prayin for
It's gonna be a bright (bright), bright (bright)
Look all around, there's nothin but blue skies
Look straight ahead, nothin but blue skies
- "You Can Make It If You Try" by Sly and the Family Stone
I had never heard this song before. The solo keyboard music about a minute or so in reminds me of a band I used to listen to in the late-1980s, The Wallets. Only that part - the rest of the song has more of a 70's flair to it.
- "I Shall Be Released" by Bob Dylan
The video that accompanies this song has lots of pictures of prisoners, some famous people who were imprisoned, and prisons. It would be nice to know what all the images are to give them some context, but it still is an interesting compilation of images to reflect upon as one listens to the music. One must have had hope to be able to endure the situations shown in the photographs.
- "I Will Survive" by Gloria Gaynor Stevens
This is a live version of this song. For the first minute it is a bit slow-going, but then the song kicks in and it is the way that I remember it. In some respects it looks like she is someone in deep despair at the beginning of the song, but then moves to hope and living her life to the fullest as she gets rid of someone who didn't have her best interest at heart. She will survive...and will do well in her life!
Daily Cue, Reminder, Vow, Blessing
• Turning on a lamp is a cue for me to practice hope.
• When I plant a seed or a bulb, I am reminded to plant hope in my heart.
Whenever I have planted a bulb in the fall or spring, it is always with hope that it will grow. I envision the colorful flowers emerging months later - brightening the yard and bringing happiness to everyone who seems them. Sometimes the flowers come up, sometimes they don't. Regardless, I still will continue to plant bulbs with the hope of transforming the environment.
The girls were planting nasturiums and bulbs in the backyard.
(Taken on May 27, 2011)
The same is true for trees. I think of all the trees we planted in May - 43 of them - in the pasture and front yard. Will I ever see them at their full size. No, probably not. But, that's not important. Someone will see them and enjoy them in the future...and they'll know that someone took the time to plant them so that they could enjoy them. Hopefully that cycle continues indefinitely.
Practice of the Day
No true effort is in vain. Look at the fields over there. The grain sown therein has to remain in the earth for a certain time, then it sprouts, and in due time yields hundreds of its kind. The same is the case with every effort in a good cause.
— Badshah Khan quoted in Nonviolent Soldier of Islam by Eknath Easwaran
To Practice This Thought: Sow some grain for a good cause, and don't concern yourself with results.
I do have many packets of wildflowers that could be randomly tossed into the field and see what happens. Will they germinate? Hopefully...and with that the landscape would be significantly more beautiful. Butterflies, bees, and other pollinators would have more food.
The only way I can do this is by opening the packets of seeds and sowing them. Imagine if they did yield hundreds of their kind. What an amazingly beautiful image people could hold in their minds as they go about their days and lives.
A bee on a wildflower in the pasture.
(Taken on September 25, 2011)
• Write affirmations to express your hopes for yourself and a better world. The sacred texts from all traditions contain assurances that give rise to hope. For example, "Even though I walk through the darkest valley, you are with me."
I haven't had a chance to do this yet. We just started working on the Barn Quilt Trail and it is taking quite a bit of time to get everything set up.
These are all things I would like to write about at some point:
• Quickly write a list beginning with "I hope for . . ." Try writing it with your non-dominant hand to access your less expressed feelings.
• The Chinese have a saying, "If you keep a green bough in your heart, surely the singing bird will come." How and where can you make a place for hope in your life? Describe specific opportunities.
• Write a reflection on the ways you have been a life-bringer and a bearer of hope to your family, friends, or community.
Visit to the adoption agency that helped us adopt Sophia and Olivia.
(Taken on March 8, 2012)
Discussion Questions, Storytelling, Sharing
Again, I haven't had the opportunity to reflect on these questions but would like to at some point:
• Share the story of a time when the strength of hope was a spiritual resource that helped pull you through a difficult period.
• What do you think people mean when they say to you, "Don't get your hopes up too high?" What would be a good response to this advice?
• Does the prospect of the future fill you with anxiety or hope? Why?
Household, Group, and Community Projects
I haven't done this yet, but I think it is worth doing some time during the upcoming year:
• Have a family meeting to talk about your attitudes toward the future. Identify people who have nurtured your optimism. Then find ways to honor these mentors of hope — writing letters, adding their pictures to a household shrine, or making a contribution to an organization in their names.
• Plant trees. Many people plant trees in whose shade they will never sit during their lifetimes. This act reflects confidence and hope in the future.
Olivia planting a tree in the pasture in April 2015.
Olivia, Sophia, and I planted 43 pine trees this spring in the northwest pasture and the area next to the driveway.
Sophia planting a tree in the pasture in April 2015.
They are seedlings at this point - ranging in height from 6-8 inches tall. How different everything will look when these trees are three feet...six feet...twelve feet...twenty feet tall. The shade and shelter that they will provide to animals and people makes me so happy...and hopeful...for the future.