“Hope springs eternal in the human breast.” This quote from Alexander Pope suggests the universality of hope in the human heart, no matter the circumstances. In other words as long as have hope, we can keep going. I am reminded of a folk tale about my favourite mythological character, Nasrudin, also known as the holy fool or trickster.
One night a neighbour noticed Nasrudin outside under the street lamp brushing through the dust. “Have you lost something, my friend?” He asked. Nasrudin explained that he had lost his key and asked the neighbour to help him find it.
After many minutes of searching and turning up nothing, the neighbour asked him, “Are you sure you lost the key here?”
“No, I lost it inside the house” Nasrudin answered.
“Then why are you looking for it here?”
“Well, there is more light out here, of course,” Nasrudin replied.
Nasrudin sure sounds foolish in this story, doesn’t he? Why would anyone look for their key where they knew it could not be found? Well, don’t we all do that in a way? We think that the key to our happiness (pun intended) lies out there, in the familiar, external world, not within the mystery of our own human heart.
I have been thinking a lot about hope recently. For most of us, hope is tied to a positive outcome. Sometimes hope becomes wishful thinking and when this happens, it loses its power. When we undergo a crisis in our lives, such as the death of someone we love, a critical illness or the loss of a job, our hope is that things will get better in the future. But what if they don’t? Where is our hope then? Do we give up in despair or is there another kind of unconditional hope?
It’s only after a lot of looking for answers outside ourselves and coming up empty that we may finally decide to look within for our hope. Like Nasrudin, it is easier to look for solutions to our problems in the known places, rather than the unknown. Going within and exploring our divine soul may seem like undertaking a wilderness journey. It is an unknown, mysterious place with no signs to guide us. Most of us like to stick to known, familiar territory where we feel safer. This may work well enough until we hit a crisis in our lives. Then we may need to look deeper into our being.
I will give you an example from my own life. I have had chronic arthritis for many years, bringing with it much pain and discomfort. I have tried pretty well every solution I can find “out there” – chiropractors, physio-therapists, doctors, pain clinics, pain pills, supplements and a variety of healing modalities and practitioners. I tried one thing after another hoping for improvement. None of these have brought substantial or permanent change. Recently I came to the realization that my condition probably would not change very much. I will still continue to do everything I can to improve my health but at the same time I am learning to accept my body the way it is right now. In surrendering to this reality, I discovered within myself a different kind of hope.
I turn to the poet, Emily Dickinson to describe this indescribable hope.
“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 love that Emily depicts hope as a bird, which to me symbolizes freedom. It also has feathers which are very light. Having this kind of hope brings a lightness to my quest. It also never stops singing its song no matter what storm is raging on the outside.
I can only access this hope when I am residing in the present moment. If I focus on the past (the way things used to be) or on future decline or improvement, I don’t hear the song of hope. I am learning not to identify so much with the pain but to witness it. This doesn’t chase away the pain but it keeps it at a distance - it becomes less a tyrant and more of a severe teacher. I feel that this has become my soul’s curriculum for this stage in my life. I am learning to embrace the mystery of who I am as a divine being living in a human body. In doing this I can’t help embracing the divinity of all beings and of life itself in all its beautiful and terrible manifestations. If this sounds like Nasrudin on a fool’s errand, looking for his key in the light, then so be it. I admit to even enjoying my foolishness.