Hope Springs eternal
“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.
November 14th, 2021
Straight from the horse's mouth
Until recently I had only a fuzzy idea of what a blog was. Then I published a book and was encouraged by my promotion consultant to start one, so here I am, writing my very first blog. At first I felt some apprehension as I thought about becoming a blogger. I laughed when I noticed my ego trying to take over this enterprise. I then relaxed and turned it over to my heart, focusing on what was the most important thing I wanted to say to you.
This excerpt from a well-known children’s story illustrates with a profound simplicity what I want to say. It is from the best-selling book called “The boy, the mole, the fox and the horse” by Charlie Mackesy. Sometimes” said the horse. “Sometimes what” asked the boy? “Sometimes just getting up and carrying on is brave and magnificent.” In my book, Old, I write that just being old takes courage. I would go further than that now and say that just being human takes courage.
Courage and vulnerability go together. It takes courage to live in a human body that is subject to illness, accident and death. It takes courage to form relationships and to start a family when we don’t know how all this will turn out. When we are children, it takes courage to go to school each day, especially if we are being teased or bullied or having trouble keeping up in the classroom. It takes courage to show up for work each day, not knowing what challenges we will face.
There are days when we don’t feel like showing up at all, when we are discouraged, ill, depressed or just plain tired. Yet most of the time we do manage to get up and carry on. “No big deal” we would say. We don’t expect kudos for that and would probably scoff if someone called us magnificent. But think about it. Isn’t there something magnificent about daring to carry on in the face of the unknown when we are feeling so vulnerable and fearful about the outcome?
Have I convinced you? Maybe not. Brave and magnificent are words usually reserved for special people and exceptional deeds. Getting up and carrying on sounds pretty mundane and ordinary. Well, yes it is, but there are times when we feel so overwhelmed that we don’t want to keep going. Our mind tells us that we can’t do it or it is too much for us. These self-doubts drag us down. But there is also something else in us that is brave enough not to listen to this voice of doubt and derision and we manage to get ourselves up and carry on. What happens next? Do we listen to the horse’s wisdom and congratulate ourselves for our bravery and magnificence? More likely we continue our self-minimizing thoughts like “No big deal” or “so what.”
I am going to suggest something radical which may feel uncomfortable at first. What if we became our own cheerleader? What if we recognized and respected our own unique magnificence and cheered ourselves on? It has taken me a lifetime to realize the truth that our magnificence comes from our being truly ourselves. That is our gift to the world. No one else knows how to be us better than we do. Each of us has our own way of being ourselves as we carry on, whether we are going to work, cooking meals, cleaning up or doing the laundry.
Sometimes this being ourselves is harder than it sounds. Sometimes we forget who we are because we have been so used to trying to be what others expect or want us to be. When that happen, the best thing we can do is remind ourselves of who we are and carry on again. If you still don’t feel very brave, I would like to suggest an exercise. Think of the times when you have gone to a really good play or concert and been part of a standing ovation with everyone shouting out “bravo” to the performers. Each time you get up and carry on when you don’t feel like it, imagine that a crowd of angels are shouting out “bravo” to you. Or, if you don’t believe in angels, you can just give yourself a standing ovation. Bravo! Bravo!
Welcome to my blog! I am a Reverend and the author of OLD: A Time For the Soul To Flourish.