How to Find Hope in a World on Fire
As the poet and activist adrienne maree brown writes: “Focusing on what I [can] practice [brings] me back into the realm of possibilities.”
It’s paradoxical, but something I heard recently about hope being pointless filled me with… hope.
It was said by the writer Pico Iyer, about the writer Elizabeth Gilbert:
“Her sense of hope [is] based not on a confidence in happy endings, but just the conviction that something makes sense — even if not a sense that we can grasp.”
Where has my hope gone?
It must’ve burned in New Mexico’s record-breaking forest fires when I was out there last month. And drifted farther away with every Covid death as we approach 6.4 million. And run out of my eyes when I first read about the shooting in Uvalde. And followed Congress out of Washington, D.C., to their recess.
But how Gilbert sees it reminds me that hope is a practice. And like all practices worth practicing, it’s uncomfortable.
My hope doesn’t lie in rainy season coming early out West or 535 members of Congress going against the wishes of their corporate funders. It’s “just the conviction that something makes sense — even if not a sense that we can grasp.”
The conviction. That everything makes sense. That nothing is foreign to this world. That everything is part of some larger whole my mind just cannot grasp (the Universe? God?).
I find some comfort in the fact that forest fires are nature’s way of clearing out dead plants and trees. And that indigenous people practiced them for millennia before capitalism took over the planet.
Those fires near Santa Fe must’ve been clearing the forest out for something even more stunning. That boy in Uvalde must’ve been hurting so bad he had to take it out on children. He must’ve felt so disconnected — from others, from the earth, from himself — that he needed to do something that would horrify himself and others enough to feel connected again.
It all must make some sort of sense. I guess. I don’t know.
Maybe that’s it; embracing the “I don’t know.” And giving attention to the small, present moment things that can be known. My morning meditation practice. The next conversation with my partner. The copy of Braiding Sweetgrass on my nightstand. The buzz of another early summer out the window, on the ancestral lands of the Iroquoian-speaking Susquehannock peoples and Algonquian-speaking peoples of the Cedarville Band of the Piscataway Conoy, the Piscataway Indian Nation, and the Piscataway Conoy Tribe.
The poet and activist adrienne maree brown writes:
“Focusing on what I [can] practice [brings] me back into the realm of possibilities.”
Focusing on my breath, feeling it fill my chest, listening to the postal truck pass out front of the house. These things leave me with hope — because I don’t know what’s going to happen next. There are possibilities. Beyond what my mind can grasp.
I didn’t write this to say we should give up, focus only on ourselves, abandon dreaming of a better world together.
It’s just that if we let our minds stay at the level of whether oil and gas companies are going to stop drilling or Congress is going to pass gun control legislation, our hearts harden to the possibilities. And a hard heart never does anybody any good — especially if the only way we can find our way out of this mess is together.
Hi, I’m Jeremy, a writer, therapist, and meditation teacher. Subscribe to my weekly email to get posts like this straight to your inbox here.