“I’m not talking about blind optimism when I’m talking about hope. I’m talking about hope in the face of uncertainty. Hope in the face of difficulty. That sensibility is something I’ve found very valuable. The people I intend to admire most, Nelson Mandela, Abraham Lincoln, Mahatma Gandhi, are folks that fully absorb the tragedy of their times and of their moment. They don’t sugar coat it. It’s only after they have absorbed that pain, that hardship, whether it’s the civil war, or the oppressive nature of apartheid, or the challenges of colonialism in India. It is only after you have fully absorbed that, and then you still insist we will prevail, that’s when there’s a depth to your hope. It’s hard won. It’s not easy. It’s not based on everything’s always going to work out. It’s not premised on the notion that progress is a straight line. If you can get there, then I think you can get stuff done and you can win over trust with people because you will have hardships and things will not work out at certain points.” President Obama on Brene Brown Unlocking Us podcast
It would be a lie to say things are “working out” for us this year. Our nervous systems are not coping well with this global pandemic and political unrest. Many people are struggling to be productive and many more are shaming themselves for how they are coping. Some have lost economic security and millions of people worldwide have died. Some are convinced Covid-19 is a hoax and people seem to be increasingly vulnerable to believing conspiracy theories. Families are trying to maintain cohesion and support for each other while polarized. Its kind of a mess!
This is the time when we need all of our resources and resilience. We need an educated population who are interested in understanding facts and care about the truth. We need media and politicians who put public health and safety ahead of their greed for money and power. We need a nervous system that doesn’t derail us by going into fight/flight/freeze at the very time we need the sophistication of our pre-frontal cortex and cognitive faculties.
We need the hard won hope that President Obama speaks about. The grit and resilience of keeping going through hard times. To consider the well-being of our neighbors as well as our own. To balance our rights with responsibilities. This would be a whole lot easier if our primitive brain wasn’t running the show.
During this pandemic, I’ve thought so often of World War Two, where people didn’t see loved ones for years and the millions whose people didn’t survive through the war. I’m thinking of 2020 when people are so afraid and stressed and desperate that they are willing to break the law and risk the lives of people they love for the chance to be together in person on cherished holidays.
These times are so hard. Our body and nervous system is responding to actual physical threat and to financial, social and emotional distress. We don’t know what will happen. That is true. We have seen millions of people coming together to protest injustice. That is true. We are seeing some ugly behaviors. That is also true.
Hope and hopelessness are both very personal experiences and while they might be pervasive, they are not fixed and unchanging. Notice the response in your body as you are reading this right now. How is your nervous system reacting? And are you shaming yourself for feeling the way you do? It is quite a practice to allow our actual experience.
Try the inquiry and relaxation below and see what comes up for you. Notice any feelings of powerlessness and resistance to what is happening. Bring into your heart all of the people you know, know of, and the billions of people around the world who are joining together for social justice and change.
What is your own heartfelt deep desire for justice and fairness? Let yourself feel that.
Notice your feet on the ground and the strength in your legs. I am not giving up!
Put your hand on your heart and sit with what is here, with kindness and compassion. Let yourself feel that.