Blog

The Practice of Hope (for real life)

paper sign on pole

Did you make a resolution or start any new habits so far this year? If so, how’s your commitment? Are you maintaining focus and discipline?

I’ve read that it takes 21 days to build a new habit. Others claim 30 days. If that’s the case, you should have your new habit well established and easily accessible by today. (after all, it has been 60 days since we started 2021). So, congratulations!

What? That’s NOT the case? You’re struggling to find the commitment, the motivation, the desire to even do the thing?

Rest assured, you’re not alone. 😊

It’s not surprising, actually. Discipline is a hard-earned trait. It takes effort and time. In actuality, building a disciplined habit is more complicated than the 30-day promise. Building positive habits requires more like years of committed effort. It starts with one day, Today.

With 90-100 days of consistent (ideally DAILY), attention and skilled focus and effort. The more divergent the new behavior is compared to its current or previous habit, the more difficult the retraining. Additionally, the more tangible (more integration of the body’s senses) the practice, the easier the reprogramming. However, our brain is hard wired to find short cuts.

In our culture of instant gratification and prolific habits of numbing, effort and hard work are hard to sell. 😊 We want a solution (and a guarantee) that looks and seems doable in the length of our 15-minute attention span (that’s on a good day!). Tapas is the yoga concept of wise effort, often translated as discipline. Most habits of worth require a bit more effort, i.e. discipline. The challenge: How do you build discipline in the absence of discipline?

Perhaps a better question is: What is the key ingredient that helps us stick to the practice of a new ritual long enough that it becomes consistent and reliable, aka a habit? Maybe it’s discipline, maybe it’s confidence, maybe it’s a drill sergeant of a teacher, or maybe…

It’s HOPE.

What has worked for you to build intentional habits of living well?

With Spring beginning to poke through the soil, hope is on the rise. As they say, “Hope springs eternal.” But what does that even mean?

Hope, aspiration, desire, wish, expectation, ambition, aim, plan, dream, daydream, longing, yearning, craving. Pick you synonym of choice!

Hope is both a noun and a verb. A noun, as you might remember, is a person, place or a thing. A verb is an action word, a doing (non-doing, re-doing or un-doing).

  • Hope: (noun) a feeling of expectation and desire for a certain thing to happen; A feeling of trust.
  • Hope: (verb) desire or the WANT for something to happen or to be the case.

What is Hope?

Hope is BOTH the thing (the feeling) and the action or effort sustaining the thing (i.e. doing things without evidence that they will prove effective) based on a belief that change is inevitable and bends toward good. Martin Luther King, Jr. paraphrased his understanding of hope: “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.” MLK put this hope into practice through acts of civil disobedience and social activism.

Hope is the union of patience and perseverance based on trust. Hope is patience in the process of persevering. Hope is the fuel that ignites discipline and perseverance to get through the challenges and obstacles of learning a new skill. Hope is the feeling that suspends doubt and fear until confidence and competence can be cultivated. Hope is strength to be with what is just as it is while trusting that this too shall pass. Hope IS the condition that makes the strategy of a consistent practice work. Hope is the opposite of suffering but not necessarily in the absence of pain.

Culturally we have a number of popular adages regarding hope. They provide context and depth to what might otherwise feel naïve, esoteric or remote. Consider:

  • Hope against hope: Our human tendency to cling to a mere possibility, despite conflicting evidence or even within struggle.
  • Hope for the best: Perseverance while waiting patiently for a favorable outcome.
  • Hope springs eternal: Celebration of human nature as a tendency for optimism to find fresh starts and eventuality of the cycle of life.
  • In hope that/ in hopes of: To do something with the aim of a desired outcome, having the end in mind as a motivator for sustained effort.

Whatever the details, hope in general means a desire for things to change for the better and to want that better situation very much.

What do you hope for?

We’re coming up on a year into this pandemic coping life. Sure, we’ve learned some things, overcome some things, experienced some loss and maybe even had some wins along the way… but many of us are counting on life getting “back to normal”. This idea of normal is the balm that soothes our fear, comforts our heartache, defines our longings and fuels our effort to do the things, even the most normal, everyday things. My concern is that we’ve mis-placed our hope in a false promise. A promise that cannot possibly be realized.

A year ago this week, my kids’ schools closed due to the pandemic, community activities were cancelled, businesses were shut down and we all held our breath for at least a moment as the unknown settled into our communal, conscious awareness. This was something entirely new.

There was a bit of excitement in the newness, in the interruption of business as usual. But that didn’t last, did it. The adrenalin wore off and the tedium of integrating safety measures, cleaning protocols, and minimizing risk from an invisible enemy weighed heavy and required a new level of effort, attention and skills. Our daily life was threatened and as a result our way of living was tested.

Yoga & Hope

Yoga is often defined as a practice of non-attachment. If hope is the practice of working for desired change based on a belief that change is possible, can yoga and hope coexist? Can we practice yoga and still embrace hope?

YES and absolutely Yes!

In times of crisis, we can choose to succumb or to overcome. Access to hope might just be the difference in how we make that choice. The best choices are made in compassion (ahimsa) and in alignment with truth (satya)… these are foundations of yoga living.

Aparigraha (non-attachment) is one of the key principles embodied in the practice of yoga. As the 5th yama (moral guidelines) after ahimsa (compassion), satya (truth), asteya (non-stealing) and brahmacharya (wise energy-use). Non-attachment is NOT the same as un-attachment. More on this later… let’s get back to Hope as a practice of yoga.

Yoga is a strategy for cultivating compassion and awareness of what is and learning how to be with it. Asana, pranayama and meditation are the three practices used to hone the three tools of the body, the breath/spirit and the mind. Patanjali delineated ten key ethical principles, five yamas (moral guidelines) and five niyamas (personal observances) as two limbs of the eight-limb (ashtanga) yoga practice. The other six limbs include: (3) asana, (4) pranayam, and meditation or (5) pratayahara, (6) dhrana, (7) dhyana & (8) samadhi.

As Michael Stone explains, “With clarity, flexibility and steadiness, yoga teaches us how to move responsively through the details of life.”

Now that I’ve shared my perspective on hope as a mindset, lets explore its application as a tool for coping with what is when what is is not what we want. Hope is different from optimism in that it accepts the reality of what is real and true in the moment and extrapolates from past lessons and experience to create the impetus for intentional change. There’s a lot right now that is NOT as I want it to be. 😊 In the waiting and in the persevering, Yoga is the strategy to nurture the mindset of hope.

Hope is a mindset for coping with what is when what is is not what we want.

According to Yoga philosophy, Manas or “mind stuff” includes the intellectual brain, the emotions of the heart and the intuition of the belly or gut. Together these “organs” of sensation process information and stories of our experience to facilitate knowledge and cultivate wisdom as the wise application of that knowledge.

How to access Hope?

Yoga is the strategy for bringing the mind stuff into alignment. Furthermore, yoga practices help to align the body and the spirit/breath with the mind stuff. “We practice yoga to wake up the mind and body in order to find liberation and joy.” According to author and Yoga Teacher Michael Stone.

Yoga practice is the strategy for cultivating the conditions for hope as the absence of suffering and the practice of joy. Michael Stone, author of The Inner Tradition of Yoga, explains “Yoga practice is about breaking free of the cyclic force of habitual activity and distorted mental and emotional forces that drive us to act in ways that maintain suffering.” In other words, Yoga is the practice of learning how to live with what is in anticipation of what’s next.

Yoga is the perfect strategy to practice the skills and plant the seeds of hope. In short, we practice. We nurture hope as a mind set and practice hope as an intentional action by practicing Yoga. We cultivate the conditions that allow for hope and build the skills to be in transition with patience and perseverance.

Philosophy of Hope

Immanuel Kant, the German philosopher and a key influencer during the “Enlightenment”, defined the reason for living as pursuing happiness.  As such, Kant defined happiness as having three ingredients:

“Something to do, something to love, and something to hope for.”

Victor Frankl, author of A Man’s Search for Meaning and Holocaust survivor, believed that humans are motivated by something called a “will to meaning,” a desire to find meaning in life. He argued that life can have meaning even in the most miserable of circumstances and that the motivation for living comes from finding that meaning. Frankl identified three possible sources for this meaning: purposeful work, love, and courage in the face of difficulty. In a nutshell, Frankl believed that HOPE was the critical foundation that enabled the will to cultivate meaning in our lives.

How do these philosophies correlate? They both speak to practice as a means to cultivate the conditions of living well.

Kant: life of happiness Frankl: meaning of life found in
Something to do (paid or not) Work
Something/Someone to love Love
Something to hope for Courage in the face of difficulty

 

  • By having “something to do” we find meaningful work.
  • By having “something to love” we find love and connection.
  • By having “something to hope” for we find courage in the face of difficulty.

Hope is a BIG idea and practice is a BIG commitment. It’s a good thing March gave us 31 days to share and discuss these ideas of yoga and hope. The discussion isn’t over, in fact in many ways it’s just begun. We have a long way to go as a community and a culture to bend toward justice and build a world from the seeds of hope planted by generations before as well as those we plant today.

In the words of T.K.V. Desikachar,

“We begin where we are, and how we are, and what happens, happens.”

May the practice continue. May Hope be evidence of our disciplined effort.

Join me next month to explore BLOOMING as an opening to beauty.