This spring, after having ‘lost hope’ in many ways over the last year, I have been cautiously basking in the light of ‘hope’ like never before. I’m relishing the majesty of her purposefulness, and the razor’s edge of my expectations that cut me from ‘being’ in the moment. Like spring herself, hope’s ethereal quality only adds to my enjoyment while she resides with me.
Over the decades I’m slowly coming to understand how we can fully feel and be inhabited by an emotion without holding onto it. How to let them come and go, of their own accord, like the wild things they are. Working with and learning to embrace hope without holding onto her has turned into a sacred exercise that is helping me not be attached to my own irrational and disproportionately emotional leanings.
In my exploration of hope this old phrase came back to me “hope springs eternal”. These three lovely words and this expression is not one you often hear these days and if you do it’s likely with eye rolling and an ironic or sarcastic edge, usually in reference to a ‘lost cause’. But really it means that even in the worst of times there is always hope and to have faith that things with work out. And that the very nature of ‘hope’ itself springs eternal like a spring in the ground or as the spring returns every year.
So why is it that such a positive feeling, of all the tones in our emotional spectrum, has come to have such a bad rap these days when we might need hope the most?
I think we started to turn away from hope in the 1960’s in reaction to the 1950’s shallow version of a hopeful mechanical future, free of troubles with endless riches. This hope was a ‘false hope’. Not like the dawn that springs from the darkest time but like a contrived light meant to extend our day.
The Pollyanna TV version of what hope looked like turned its natural sweetness into a saccharine one that left a bad after-taste.
It’s strange too, like the world is mirroring our inability to embrace hopefulness, our actual physical spring is getting shorter, hotter and quicker, like we’re trying to get it over with. But not this year. The Earth is trying to bring us hope.
I’m not saying hope has no downfalls or risk. A good friend of mine even says “hope is a four letter word”, because of how it can keep us from actually facing the reality of our situation.
Even so, our society’s rejection of this emotion is strange.
It’s a tricky question, why we’ve become this way with hope, and I have a tricky brutal fact that points toward the answer. In the northern hemisphere the majority of people die in March, more than any other month, right before or in very early spring.
I remember when I first heard this I was quite surprised, imagining the depressing dark cold of late fall and winter would be the time of grim harvest, and that the buoyancy of spring would more likely have a reviving effect. But the reality is almost the opposite for most. When you’re close to death just the idea of revival is so exhausting, and unbefitting of your state you’d literally rather die than face the hopeful climb of spring again.
From my own struggles with embracing the pure positivity of hope and other seemingly frivolous ‘light’ emotions, and from this fact about dying I can draw that those of us who ignore or can’t face and embrace spring and her hopeful energies are caught in trauma, and are dying in some way. Collectively speaking, this is yet another sign to me that our culture is dying. The cynicism of our age that in part prevents us from feeling wholesome and positive is a symptom and not a cause. By pointing out the crippling cynicism of our time I’m not saying we should change it, I’m not that hopeful. Rather, I’m asking what personally, in you, might be wounded or dying that is preventing you from really embracing spring, life, and hope?
Hope is generally viewed as being not so much about reality as potential. So hope is criticized and shunned because it’s full of expectation. Yet, so is love. We mysteriously still bank heavily on ‘love’ but have turned our backs on hope. I feel these two Gods, Hope and Love, are siblings in a myth we have forgotten. They are the spring and summer of the same emotional year. You might argue that we are never ‘in hope’ like we are ‘in love’. While it might be more challenging, I think we can. I have been fully ‘in hope’ this spring just as I have the feeling of being ‘in love’. If you have doubts about the existence of love or hope beyond the human realm I believe the world and all the beings in it clearly demonstrate and embody the deeper truth of ‘hope’ and ‘love’ in the two seasons of ‘spring’ and ‘summer’.
Spring is a cup pouring over with hope that all nature drinks from. The birds, the plants and insects…everyone is racing around ‘hopefully’ and purposefully working toward and manifesting their dream of life, food-home-family. This hope that rebirths life anew each year is not an illusion, it is an archetypal force of the universe, embodied in the Earth, that grows life. And that assures us of our labour’s meaning.
But when we hold onto too tightly to the hope spring embodies, as is true with her sibling ‘love’, we are courting disaster. Because, it’s a certainty that some things will not work out. And for that matter, that eventually all our hope will run out with the last grains of our time. We say we “carry our love with us to the grave”, but not hope, she leaves us before then for the living.
So, does this mean you should proceed without hope, without any positive expectation for the future? No. Because living without hope is like a life without love, like a year without spring. In fact, however small it might be or however much you might hide it I don’t think it’s possible to go on without hope. She is one of the key ingredients of life.
Part of the mystery of our turning away from ‘hope’ can be found in the nomenclature. ‘Hope’ has two definitions. One we know well, that’s about our aspirations and expectation for the future, but the other is a stranger to most of us. Which is ‘hope’ as “a small bay or inlet”. If we see hope as a small bay or as a place to give the vessel we are a reprieve from the harshness of the sea on life’s journey, as a place that can even save us from being torn apart by the raging torrent of the oceans reality, then ‘hope’ takes on a new more graceful meaning. Like a gentle friend, hope is there for us as long as we need her. She is the whisper that gets us through the darkest hour. If you can’t find her in yourself, look for her in the spring of the year and in the dawn and morning light each day. Hope is never lost, it’s we who become lost. That safe bay is always there even in the worst storms.
But we can’t always be in or stay in hope. There’s no food there. Sooner or later we need to move on and leave the bay of hope to move back into the larger reality. We need to spring from spring into the failures and glory of summer, and further still into the decay of fall and stillness of winter.
When we are in our summer or fall of life, or any experience, it’s foolish to dwell on hopes and expectations born of spring. To do so is to remove ourselves from the reality of our time, and to suffer from our attachment to another potential reality.
So spring doesn’t just teach us about embracing hope, but about letting her go in time.