Question: If you don't have hope, does that mean there is less hope, no hope, or things are just hopeless?
It has been a year since my last article on the Huffington Post, and it has been quite a 12 months. I cannot believe the time has flown by so quickly, but the rocky road I have travelled has been completely overwhelming and at times -- consuming and blinding.
Setting aside the seemingly all too common struggle to make ends meet paying bills, putting food on the family dining table and keeping an income, I have had to experience and attempt to accept a potentially serious illness of a family member, the breakdown of the relationship between my mother and her partner of 10 years, very close friends going through the turmoil of a miscarriage, the closure of one of my businesses and all manner of friends being made redundant and losing their jobs. Most worrying of all were the countless trips to the hospital with various symptoms relating to our unborn second child.
In times of suffering and despair, the one thing that we all need to help us carry on day to day, carry on getting up and taking the fight to the world is hope. With hope there is possibility. With hope there are alternatives. With hope there is help. Hope is help.
The various reference publications define hope as:
"a feeling of expectation and desire for a particular thing to happen" - Oxford Dictionary
"the emotional state which promotes the belief in a positive outcome related to events and circumstances in one's life" - Wikipedia
We all know what having hope feels like. We all know the good mood we find ourselves in when we are hopeful and looking forward positively. Understanding that hope can help is the first step to a better future. Yet we do find ourselves, at times, with no feeling of hope. In fact, I would go so far as to say at times, we find ourselves feeling hopeless. It was during one of these hopeless moments that I reflected on my particular situation. Starting off with the disbelief and denial that such moments create, I continued reflecting and thinking. As the time went on these thoughts and feelings transformed until I found myself feeling very positive. Why? I had found hope -- apparently from nowhere! It was not given to me. I did not buy it. I created it. The hope I had was real, it really did physically uplift me and create positive inertia. Let me explain what happened.
I have an analytical mind -- by no means to the level of a scientist or mathematician, but I do find myself analyzing things. Almost subconsciously, I think and compare situations, outcomes, options, feelings, emotions and possibilities. I compare those things to previous moments in my life when the same or similar circumstances existed. I think back to how I felt, what I did, what I said and how that all resulted, whether it was based on feelings, emotions or physical responses. This forced analysis is not always positive as it can sometimes, albeit momentarily, make the current situation, feeling or emotion worse. For example, my beautiful partner and I have an amazing little boy. He has brought nothing but delight and joy into the world but the pregnancy with him, as well as his birth, was not straight-forward. In fact it was textbook "how not to have a child". When we became pregnant with our second and again, had all manner of problematic symptoms, it got me thinking about the horrible "what if" scenario. I thought how I would feel if we lost the baby. This in turn made me think about generally losing someone. Which in turn brought back memories of losing my father and sister, which created a moment of sadness, reminding me and creating a rerun of the feelings I had at the time. This was not a positive moment! Fortunately it was not the first time this had happened, so experience had taught me that the feelings of negativity will pass. This is the first lesson in finding hope -- time never stops. As much as sometimes we would want it to, it cannot. With the changing of time comes the changing of the present and all that the present encompasses. This includes the physical such as location or pain, and also the non-physical such as emotions, feelings or thoughts. However, it is often the daunting monotony of time not stopping and circumstances not changing that create an even greater risk of losing hope. So I repeat, this is only the first lesson in finding hope.
The second lesson: As you walk life's varied path, a number of severe challenges will present themselves (I wrap these challenges into a singular term and just call them "suffering") and each time you are dealing with suffering, it may feel like you have the weight of the world on your shoulders. You may feel that there may be no obvious answer or resolution and therefore no way out. But then somehow you move on, you deal with the situation and things become more positive. Somehow you find an answer that means the suffering dispels or lessens and you continue on life's wonderful path. To begin to search for an answer or resolution, when everything seems pointless takes a catalyst. That catalyst is hope!
A human being's ability to deal with suffering cannot be measured other than retrospectively. What I mean is that when you look back at your life, you can identify some really tough moments that you dealt with, or made it through. Moments when, at the time, you thought "that's it, no way out here." Yet, in the face of adversity, you did make it through, you did deal with it. This retrospective microscope is life's barometer for experience, in this case suffering. And the bar keeps getting reset as we get older as the suffering seemingly intensifies. For example, I am sure we can all remember a relationship we had at school that may have ended, crushing us and our hearts. At the time we thought life could not continue. But it does and as we grow up we have other suffering to deal with that puts those earlier challenges into perspective. This perspective is what resets our benchmark. I thought the worst thing I had dealt with was a business losing money or the failure of a relationship until my father died. In an instant, my benchmark had been reset.
Now when I am dealing with a challenge, I find myself comparing it to what I have experienced previously. I compare it to my current benchmark and that more often than not provides me with the much sought after hope. Following my father's death, I had a business venture that lost me a lot of money. Whilst it was very hard and we really did severely struggle at the time, because it was not a patch on losing my father, I was very hopeful that things would get better and that encouraged me to keep plugging away trying to get a new job, more business and income.
Naturally there are times when this comparison and analysis against your barometer doesn't make a difference, let alone generate hope. There are times when your benchmark is not coming close to what you are dealing with at that time and hope is nowhere to be found. One such time for me was when my sister died. Even though I had lost my dad, had a number of business ventures fail, and been plunged into financial desperation, my barometer was faltering. It was faltering because it was being reset. How can I find hope if the thing I use to help in the search is not available? The answer is the third and final lesson.
Take a moment and close your eyes (after you have read this though). Imagine lying on a quiet white sand beach. Your bare feet are digging into the warm sand and you can feel the grains falling between your toes. Now imagine the heat of the sun on your face and body. Throw your head back as though you are really soaking up the rays. Now add in the noises. You can hear the lapping waves of the ocean and the cries of some birds chirping to each other. Just lay there a while, really focusing on this experience. Feel the heat, the sand. Hear the waves and the birds. Now intensify all of it. The colours are brighter, the noises louder, the warmth warmer. Stay there for a few moments thinking about it...
Did your mind take you there? Were you really on that beach? That is the power of the mind! You can actually bring into the present, the feelings and experiences of the past or future. It's the possibility to bring into the present things that have not happened that gives us the third and final lesson: You can generate positivity and hope by focusing on exactly the thing you are attempting to do, or achieve.
To then help magnify those feelings of positivity it helps to identify moments when you have experienced of pure joy and happiness. Times when things have gone well for you and you have been blessed with a truly positive outcome. For me, this year's highlight and positive moment was the birth of our beautiful baby girl. After all the worry through the pregnancy, we had an amazingly straightforward, fast labour and birth. We now have the most incredible five month old baby girl who has been the perfect addition to our family of four. By thinking of the positive moments, these compound the hope with drive and determination.
Some people create hope by simply believing that without it, life and the world in which we live would be a dark place. They cannot imagine a life without hope. Other people create hope by focusing on the perceived success or happiness of others -- thinking that if someone else they know is happy, and "if they can do it so can I." This is absolutely fine if those individuals can rely on those assumptions, and more importantly create positive intent and action from them. In my experience, these assumptions can let those individuals down when they need hope the most. When they are immersed in the darkest of moments, these assumptions can fail because they have no personal connection with the individual. There is no experience to have proven to the person that they can be relied upon (Lesson 2). Without this personal backup, they soon create doubt. Doubt is the kryptonite to hope.
In my opinion, you must have the personal connection to really anchor your feelings of hope. That anchoring will allow you to trust the hope and create momentum and mental positivity which can only lead to a better future.
So in summary :
Look back at yourself and the personal barometer you have created. Hope is available for us all to find!
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