I was talking with a friend recently, and he was sharing with me some of the ways he was struggling, trying to figure out how to help his adult daughter who is going through some hard times. I related to his struggles because Hannah and I have been worried about our adult daughter, although she is doing really well right now; just three months ago she hit bottom, and we were very aware that there was only so much we could do to help her.
Then my friend started to talk about various physical challenges he’s been dealing with, and it turned out my list was longer. These physical challenges are part of life, and regrettably, they seem more frequent as we age. My friend is probably going to have to use antibiotics to arrest an infection, and I’m probably going to need one or more root canals to resolve some dental issues I’ve been having.
These kind of challenges—seeing loved ones struggle, dealing with physical malfunctions of our bodies—are not necessarily the result of negligence or foolishness. We can’t control how our loved ones choose to live, and we can’t control completely the process of aging. We can do a lot to take care of ourselves, and my friend and I are both very conscientious about doing so, yet bodies are not invulnerable.
What helps you get through the tough times?
So, we asked the question, “what helps us the most when we encounter tough times?” We identified two characteristics that we rely upon to get through tough times: hope and personal conduct. I’ll say a little about each of these, which in my mind are very different, yet related.
By “personal conduct,” I mean, how I conduct myself. This is the primary measuring stick that I use in my life. Regardless of what’s going on, or how things turn out in any situation, I focus on my conduct. If I conduct myself well, I feel good and proud—maybe even thrilled. I especially thrill myself when I conduct myself well in difficult circumstances. (If you don’t understand the reference to feeling “thrilled,” you might want to read this article.)
One of the reasons I like focusing on “personal conduct,” is that the qualities or traits that help me the most will vary from situation to situation. In some situations humor is what’s most helpful, in other situations, maybe what’s needed is compassion. Personal conduct is an umbrella that includes many characteristics. When I pay attention, listen, contextualize what’s going on, and ask, “What’s appropriate in this situation?” I can decide how to conduct myself best. Asking that question is one of the ways I wake myself up.
Three kinds of hope
For me, “hope” is tricker to embody. When I have hope, the world is a different place, full of possibility and promise. But, at times, hope seems elusive. That’s why I like how one of the world’s leading researchers on hope, Dr. Shane Lopez, explored the topic. He developed a simple “quiz” for students in his classes. He would say, “On the count of three, please point to where YOUR hope comes from. Given your background and all of your life experiences, where do you think hope originates . . . in your head—that thinking part of you . . . in your heart—the feelings that move you . . . or from the holy (his hand makes circles above his head)—whatever you find sacred?”
I don’t think that there is a “right” answer to the quiz, but I intrigue myself with how the quiz relates to the model Hannah and I’ve been developing for the past couple of years. Our model is based on three different levels of consciousness: safety, heart, and spaciousness. I envision overlaying Shane Lopez’s head-heart-holy model on the three levels of consciousness. Head-hope relates to safety consciousness, heart-hope relates to heart consciousness, and holy-hope relates to spacious consciousness.
Most of my life I created hope by thinking my way there; this is what Shane Lopez refers to as head-hope. As I’ve aged and faced certain challenges like I mentioned earlier—loved ones struggling and aging bodies—I find it harder to think my way to hope. Maybe I know too much, have seen too much to rely only on thinking my way to hope.
More recently, I’ve accessed heart-hope by learning to shift my level of consciousness from safety to heart. In safety consciousness, I’m focused on being productive and doing things to help me feel more secure. In heart consciousness, I’m focused on all the people and things that I value and appreciate. In heart consciousness, I find it easier to access hope because this is where love and gratitude reside. When I truly connect with love and gratitude, I feel hopeful. And it isn’t hope based on results or outcomes—things going well, me feeling better. It’s hope in the power of love. Hope that when I can’t control the outcome, love will be enough. Hope that when I lose those I love, my love will endure and sustain me.
In situations, like with my daughter, in which I don’t control the outcome, I can create hope by loving her, and loving her mom. I can engage with my daughter with an open heart. What if that’s all I can do—show up with an open heart and love people? Will that be enough? I hope so.
Is hope enough?
Is hope alone enough? I don’t know. For me, there is great value in combining personal conduct and hope. I rely on personal conduct—which for me means managing myself well in safety consciousness—as a bridge that helps me get to heart consciousness. Managing myself well in safety consciousness includes making the time to meditate every day, if even for just a few minutes, setting clear boundaries with other people, setting realistic expectations for myself, speaking as if words matter, redoing myself as quickly as possible when I behave in ways I don’t feel good about and minimizing unnecessary distractions in my life.
And if head-hope and heart-hope aren’t enough, there’s always the addition of holy-hope, which is what I access when I enter the state of spacious consciousness. I find my way into spacious consciousness through meditation. It’s a non-verbal experience, which makes it hard to explain in words. Spacious consciousness is non-verbal and timeless. It is a state of pure awareness without labels or judgments, highly expansive. In this state of non-attachment, I no longer care about things I once thought important, and curiously, this makes me hopeful.
Out of appreciation for the work Shane Lopez did on the subject of hope, I’ll close with his words, “Hope is created moment by moment through our deliberate choices. It happens when we use our thoughts and feelings to temper our aversion to loss and actively pursue what is possible.”