hope is one of those things that can go both ways. let me first tell you about what i believe to be the negative aspects of hope, and then about the bright side of hope.
the carrot and the stick
hope can be the carrot of the famous “carrot and the stick”. it can be that delicious something in the future that is always dangled in front of us but which can never (or rarely) be attained. “i love you but i’m not ready for commitment” – ever heard that? what that often means is “if you just stick around long enough – because YOU love ME, don’t you? – then some time in the future i might just be ready to get married.” but the person who dreams that their lover will eventually come around will often not have their hopes fulfilled. in the meantime, this person has spent a lot of energy wishing for something that might never happen – and when it finally becomes obvious that it won’t happen, more energy will go down the drain of disappointment.
getting lost in the future
this is closely related to the fact that hope is about the future. planning and thinking about the future is a good thing but when we overdo it, the precious moments of the present can get lost. we often take the useful, rational planning for the future that is often needed and overextend it into wishful thinking. the subject of weddings comes up again: i’m sure you’ve all met people who have turned wedding preparations into weeks and months of headaches over obsessive planning, in the hopes that they will have the perfect wedding. in the midst of all that planning, precious relationships with people in the here and now can get damaged for years to come.
ok, now for the good news.
when i think of my personal relationship with hope, the words that come up are reality, affirmation, work, and open hands.
i firmly believe that to a large degree, we make our own reality. quick, think of the first 10 words that come up when i say the word “china”.
these ten words constitute an important part of your personal reality about china. whenever you hear or see the word “china”, the people, things and concepts that these words stand for will colour how you deal with any new information about china that you receive. the memory of these people, things and concept have come to you because of your unique experiences, thoughts and feelings. since we have a great degree of control over our experiences, thoughts and feelings, we therefore have a great degree of control over our reality.
hope is a large part of my reality. so just as you have these particular 10 words that you immediately think when the word “china” crops up – whenever i hear someone speaking of a problem, a challenge, a sadness, the concept of hope immediately crops up for me. it’s almost as if i insist that there is hope. maybe it’s because when i grew up, my mother would often say, “the only thing you can rely upon nowadays are miracles”. as long as a person is not dead, there is hope. this i affirm.
this hope is not an empty, sweet-talking hope. because the next thing to do is to get up and see where that hope is, what it looks like, what avenues lead to it.
that is hard work. i’ve had a number of clients who in the beginning of working with me just couldn’t handle that. i ask them then whether i can hold their hope for now. i’ll hold their hope until they’re ready to shoulder the work. i think of a client, for example, who had lost hope of having a connection with god. i held that hope for him for over a year, gently reminding him of it once in a while, and then slowly, slowly, he came and picked it up. but it wasn’t easy. there were lots of aborted prayers, uncomfortable meditation sessions, fearful dreams about what that god might look like.
it seems important to me to hold that hope with open hands. if i close my hands on it, it gets all squished up and turns into something else (wishful thinking? crazy fantasies?) i want to hold that hope, fully aware of all the possibilities it entails: that it might come true, that it might come true in a way that i am at this time unable to imagine, that it might not come true. yes, that’s a paradox: on the one hand i totally insist on the hope, on the other i am fully aware that it may not be fulfilled. i don’t know what it is – it just seems that this openness is the oxygen that hope needs in order to breathe and grow.
so … in the end, yes, i fully believe in hope – as long as it’s sweet, gentle hope, hope full of question marks and possibilities.
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