By Ron Pevny
Hope is a verb with the sleeves rolled up.
In Winter, the season of darkness in the Northern Hemisphere, since time immemorial people have enacted ceremonies to affirm their trust that the light of hope continues to shine brightly even as the days are short, the nights are long, the natural world is in hibernation, and the life force itself, within the human family and without, seems held in suspension. Christmas, Hannukah, Kwanza, indigenous solstice ceremonies –all celebrate hope and trust that the light will yet again return to give light to all of earth’s beings.
The world’s wisdom traditions teach that seasons of darkness are necessary for renewal, both in the natural world and in the psyches of human beings. In the physical world the seasons provide the opportunity for renewal. In the inner world of human beings, the seasons of our lives are not so predictable, yet are necessary for emotional and spiritual renewal, for healing of imbalance, and for the emergence of new vision and creativity.
Perhaps the most significant gift of the Winter season in the natural world and its celebrations of trust that light shall return is Winter’s ability to remind us of the necessity for our inner winter times and of the importance of cultivating hope to see us through our dark times in trusting anticipation of the return of the light.
What is this Hope that we celebrate and seek to cultivate? It seems to be a multi- dimensional facet of our humanity that can be cultivated in multi-dimensional ways.
At one level—perhaps the level on which most of us operate most often—hope is the combination of a strong desire for our individual and collective lives to unfold in a way that we believe is positive, and at least some optimism that this can actually happen. We all know how having such hope can lift us out of inner darkness, bring our energies alive, and enable us to see life through what seems to be a much clearer lens. For most of us most of the time our sense of wellbeing and our energy for fully engaging with life depends upon how much hope we are feeling at a given time.
As we experience our lives in today’s chaotic world, with, all too often little apparent light to be found, our hope can easily wane, and with that we lose our joy, our optimism, our energy, and our desire to give our gifts. I and many people I know build into our lives activities and experiences that serve our emotional and mental needs to keep the flame of hope burning. We develop friendships with people who inspire us. We read and listen to teachers and others who seem to radiate hope and trust in the future, and see our energy is raised and our mood elevated. We look for signs that elements of the future we long for, for ourselves our descendants and our world are alive and healthy, amid the surrounding darkness. We give our gifts as best we can, knowing that we feel much more alive when we do so.
Hope at this level is important, and it is incomplete. It is rooted in and dependent upon us seeing evidences that what we desire has a decent chance of materializing. Our sense of well-being and our energy for serving are tied to how much optimism we have that the future will unfolding as we desire it to.
However, there is another level at which hope manifests in which our aliveness is not tied to external events. Becoming able to bring the energies of this level into our lives is one of the primary goals and gifts of the deeper inner work of most spiritual traditions and certainly of conscious eldering. I have heard this understanding of hope expressed in various ways. For me, the closest I can come is “Trust.” Perhaps another meaningful term is “Deep Hope”. We trust not that things will unfold the way we want them to, but rather that there are larger forces at play, in our personal and collective lives, than we can perceive—and that the outcomes will serve the greater good, even if that doesn’t look like we want it to.
With this type of hope, our commitment to, and energy for, giving our gifts to the world is not dependent upon how optimistic we are feeling. Rather, our trust/hope is grounded in us realizing that our integrity and our true well being require us to give our gifts and express our God-given aliveness because that is what we were born to do. And with this realization comes a powerful trust that if we give our gifts and express our best selves, we will be supporting a larger plan that is seeking to unfold, in the world around us and as we face our own experiences of darkness. Who can be better examples of this in today’s world than Victor Frankl who kept his humanity and true hope alive during his holocaust yeas in a concentration camp.? And the courageous people of Ukraine, who, against all odds do what they can out of love for their homeland and for the preservation and growth of democracy.
Hope at this level is not easy to find and embody. It is important for us to strive at the emotional and mental levels to keep hope alive, while also doing the more difficult work of cultivating our ability to a strengthen our connection with our spiritual dimension. It is this dimension that lies at the heart of Winter’s ceremonies and empowers our access to our Deep Hope and our endeavors to live from that source of wellness and strength.
May the light of hope shine brightly within you during this holy season when light pierces darkness and we remember what is most true about our humanity.