“Authentic hope is not a distraction from reality, it is the premonition of a possibility.” Charles Eisenstein
With another UK lock-down looming and the US Presidential election mere hours away, it is easy to feel stuck somewhere between debilitating despair and longing hope. I hope that this blog can help calm your mind and inspire some joyful action.
Many problems feel huge and deeply established. I do not advocate doing nothing when it comes to these ‘big issues’, yet we must learn to recognise the overwhelming feeling of facing the troubles of the world and trying to plan our way out of them. I simply cannot solve climate change, eradicate poverty, nor eliminate racism or sexism. I cannot create a just political system. These problems are too big to face as individuals. Should I, therefore, give in to despair? Or try to stay positive and hope change just happens?
Maybe neither. I believe the solutions lie in the transformation of our own outlooks and actions. This can be achieved through the creation of passionate, transformational changes that are possible on a small scale; these are personal, local, visible and heartfelt. The world is too complex for us to be so confident in our egotistical world-saving.
I would like to tell one of my favourite Taoist stories. It reminds us that so much is unknown and that filling the gaps of the unknown with either hope or despair can be overwhelming, unproductive and unnecessary. The story is often known as ‘maybe’.
“An elderly, hard-working Chinese farmer and his son, had a single horse. They used the horse to plough the field, to sow the seeds, grow the crop, and transport it to the market. The horse was essential for the farmer to earn his livelihood
One day his horse ran away. Upon hearing the news, his neighbours came to visit. "Such bad luck," they said sympathetically.
"Maybe," the farmer replied. The next morning the horse returned, bringing with it three other wild horses. "How wonderful," the neighbours exclaimed.
"Maybe," replied the old man. The following day, his son tried to ride one of the untamed horses, was thrown, and broke his leg. The neighbours again came to offer their sympathy on his misfortune. "Maybe," answered the farmer. The day after, military officials came to the village to draft young men into the army. Seeing that the son's leg was broken, they passed him by. The neighbours congratulated the farmer on how well things had turned out. "Maybe," said the farmer.”
In remembering this story, we can be aware that neither hope nor despair will help the world. We need not despair in the face of another lock-down, nor at Trump being president for another term. But let us neither be blindly hopeful of a particular outcome.
Better to live with the wise farmer’s attitude and practice equanimity toward fictional outcomes.
As a little thought experiment, let us consider for a moment Obama’s presidency. At first, many were overjoyed, full of hope of what would happen next. "Finally, the world will change for the better". Now we have Trump. Let us consider the possibility that it was the Obama administration that paved the way for Trump, through a series of complex and interconnected events. In a sense this is undeniable. Both happened. Yet maybe Trump will pave the way to something beautiful. We cannot know. But maybe.
Such a way of thinking often appears to be mere philosophical ramblings that justify inaction. Yet we must remember that we are not simply avoiding despair, nor trying to induce positive thinking. We are aiming to create active hope, and this involves humbly embracing the unknown.
We do not know the outcomes of Covid-19. Nor do we know what will happen if Trump becomes president again, or what happens if Biden wins. Despair will not help us. Nor will hope.
Despair is the story of an outcome we do not want.
Hope is the story of an outcome we do want.
Active hope is the embodiment of the desired outcome, on a level we can participate in. It is through living in active hope that we transform our world.
Whatever action we take, however small, must be done with pure love and attention. If you dedicate your time to tending to your beautiful garden, volunteering for a cause you believe in or cooking healthy regenerative foods for your family, the world is a better place. The morphic field of ‘goodness’ grows thanks to your thoughts and actions. It is vital to see that achievement need not be huge and grandiose; big is simply part of the cultural fiction of success.
As Charles Eisenstein explains, "the logic of bigness devalues the grandmother spending all day with her granddaughter, the gardener restoring just one small corner of the earth to health, the activist working to free one orca from captivity. It devalues anything that seemingly could not have much of a macrocosmic effect on the world. It devalues the feminine, the intimate, the personal, and the quiet. It devalues the very same things that global capitalism, patriarchy, and technology have devalued.”
Hope and despair are two sides of the same coin. They can both be performed from the sofa and do not create change. Active, authentic hope, however, is a practice of love, and it begins with a clear view of reality. Equanimous to fictional stories of the world, we position ourselves to embody this reality. From this position we become able to identify what it is that we consciously hope for, determining our values and the direction in which to move forward. This kind of hope is deeply real, it does not even require optimism. It is simply the embodiment of the future we desire. It is, to employ the words of Gandhi, being the change we wish to see in the world.
So, what world do you want to live in? One without hate? To embody this world, we must stop hating Trump. So, let us begin here and now. Perhaps it is helpful to remember this: 'if i were the sum of all the experiences that [Trump] has lived, I would do exactly as he does'. To employ this reasoning can develop compassion and diminish hate.
If you volunteer for a good cause, take care of your elderly relative, petition for cycle lanes in your area, listen fully to the words of your young child, work to save a local ancient woodland, write music you love, or engage in countless other heartfelt actions, then you are already participating in active hope. This is exactly how we can live in a more beautiful world.