“Hope” is the thing with feathers -
That perches in the soul -
And sings the tune without the words -
And never stops - at all -
And sweetest - in the Gale - is heard -
And sore must be the storm -
That could abash the little Bird
That kept so many warm -
I’ve heard it in the chillest land -
And on the strangest Sea -
Yet - never - in Extremity,
It asked a crumb - of me.
~ Emily Dickenson
I beg to differ with you, Ms. Dickenson. Hope can ask a lot of us, especially in the face of challenge and in times of darkness.
What is hope asking of you these days?
For me, and for many other, winter is a dark time, often spent in wait, in hope, for the return of spring. The days are shorter and the lack of warmth and sunshine can bring me to the edge of depression. (Note to self: get some vitamin D). Hoping for spring requires me to believe in something unseen. Of course it helps that I have made it through the cycle of seasons a time or two.
But sometimes we have wandered into new territory, a place where we have no road map to help us find our way. In those moments we have to have hope without benefit of having passed through the territory before.
Hope is defined as: "a feeling of expectation and desire for a certain thing to happen." I have written about how the radical practice of giving up hope can free us from that desire for (or attachment to) a "certain" thing to happen.
Yet, it seems there are times when hope is necessary. The idea that something can get better, that there is way forward, is useful. It can help us keep putting one foot in front of the other when what we face seems insurmountable, beyond our imagining. I would suggest hope matters most, when things seem hope-less.
Like all truth, hope is a kind of paradox. It keeps us waiting for something that may never happen and it is required for something to actually happen. One of the Shadow's most potent voices is the one that tries to cut us off at the pass, telling us that we can't accomplish something because the odds are stacked against us. That voice may be helpful if it's warning us not to count on another person to change. But it is distinctly not helpful when we are working on our own self-growth.
Yet hope can be a cruel master if we let it. If you are one of those people who often feels like you should be better than you are, you may benefit from taking things down a notch. One of the ways that we can inadvertently sabotage ourselves is by putting too much pressure on ourselves and inducing a feeling overwhelm by the seeming "enormity" of our work. If there's anything I have learned on this path, it is that every step, indeed every half-step, is cause for victory. Moments of self-compassion in the face of challenge are the balm that can soothe the anger of the inner critic. In fact, self-compassion is the only thing proven to support healing of the shadow.
Compassion is hope's best ally.
We can be tempted to try "to-do-listing" ourselves into a better self; especially in January when its all the rage to resolve to evolve. This year, rather than focusing on a long list of resolutions, why not give yourself a break. You could work up a little soul-cocktail: one part hope and two parts compassion. Consider it doctor's orders.
So if this winter has you down, or if this world has you down, try inviting a little hope and a lot of compassion into your life.