I recently read a blog post by Jay Michaelson (Hope, Ten Percent Happier website, Jan 27, 2021) that really resonated for me, and helped me look at hope from a few fresh perspectives. My hope for the future is really mixed with other emotions right now, and I suspect yours is too. Anxiety, frustration, grief and anger are all swirling about when my heart turns to hope- it’s complicated in here! Seems almost better not to hope, Michaelson muses in his article, and I agree it’s tempting to try to shut it out.
How do you deal with such complicated hope without shutting it down entirely?
Michaelson offers some mindfulness perspectives to consider. The first is to simply and wholeheartedly enjoy this experience of hope, noting when our minds wander into less pleasant stories about it and gently bringing ourselves back to the positive aspects to continue enjoying.
The other options he mentions are about principles with which to approach any emotion. One is to note hope as one would any distracting thought in a meditation, and let it go- detach from it. This seems to me to be slightly cruel in our current hope-hungry global situation, but I can also see the merit in not hanging onto any state. As Michaelson reminds us, though, the key is to detach with a measure of self-kindness, not criticism. The final approach that he describes is to surf the waves of emotions with a sense of freedom or liberation, knowing they are all going to pass. Holding the knowledge gently and kindly that hope and other emotions and thoughts co-exist, and that’s ok.
Any or all of these methods of handling hope can be useful depending on the circumstance and your needs at the time. What they all have in common is self-compassion, which, if you’re like me, is a skill-in-progress.
According to Dr. Kristen Neff, noted self-compassion researcher and educator, giving yourself compassion has 3 basic elements. The first is directing some kindness- warmth and understanding- to yourself for the experience. The second is to recognize the common humanity in our situation or emotion- we’re not alone, and many others have felt the same way, or faced a similar challenge. Third, bringing mindfulness to the experience- stepping back and considering the larger perspective, or observing rather than getting so caught up in the experience. It’s important to bring a non-judgmental, gentle and open attitude to yourself rather than resisting the feelings/experience.
When I bring this practice to my experience of mixed hope, it helps me hold space for all the emotions with much less conflict and self-judgment. I can then act on the hope from a more grounded position.
Many people still misunderstand self-compassion as ‘letting yourself off the hook’ and fear it will weaken the discipline and self-flagellation they feel is necessary to succeed. On the contrary, however, research has shown that self-compassion is in fact much more effective in building confidence and self-motivation.
Have you felt hope lately? How are you responding to it? How would it feel to have self-compassion for those mixed-in elements?