Finding Hope on Earth Day 2023

Apr 22, 2023

I shall be in London on Earth Day, outside Parliament with thousands of others in fancy dress and masks, carrying pictures and placards of every kind of animal on Earth. It will be loud, vibrant, happy, colourful; filled with all kinds of people moving like starlings, together and apart, individuals and families and community. It will be a lot of fun. We will be filled with hope. Especially if it’s sunny.

It’s not always like that.  Hope can be fickle, raised with this newspaper article, dashed again by that.  Hope can be tricky.  Keeping hopeful in this time of crisis is full of pitfalls.  The trick to staying hopeful is to understand where hope really lies and to stop looking for it where it isn’t to be found.

Hope isn’t to be found “out there”; it cannot depend on the actions of anyone else; it doesn’t exist in the future, and it will not be tied to a specific outcome.  Hope isn’t about me and what I would prefer in my life.  It isn’t to be measured by what’s on the news and it exists beyond the confines of reason.

Hope lives inside of me.  It is an inner quality that requires deliberate cultivation to grow and thrive, just like any other quality of the spirit. Hope is everywhere, as common as grass and as easy to overlook and trample on. It’s here in the present moment or not at all, independent of circumstances and independent of outcomes.

How can we cultivate hope? Joanna Macy talks about Active Hope, which is central to the modern climate justice movement and sets out a spiral of practices we can use.

A Case Study of Hope

A couple of months ago I joined a small crowd from Bristol Airport Action Network outside the Bristol Court of Justice to hear the outcome of our Appeal.  We were hoping that permission for the airport to expand would be revoked.  It wasn’t.  Those who had worked the hardest and the longest stood up to thank everyone for being there, and to share their grief and disappointment that the outcome wasn’t the one we wished for.   We were disappointed. Some of us wept, others cursed.   Four youngsters stripped in the February wind, knelt on a tarpaulin and poured blood-red water over themselves.  They sat soaked and shivering to be witnessed.  The Climate Choir sang a lament.  We opened up the Mic for people to speak their rage and their grief to each other and to the assembled press.  Banners were unfurled expressing our sense of betrayal to the lawyers and officials coming in and out of their offices.  People hugged each other, thanked each other, recognised each others’ hard work.  Then those who had worked the hardest and the longest stood up again, to start another fundraiser for another legal appeal, to start again with more research, more campaigning, more organising and networking and communicating, more drawing people together, more explaining and educating and empowering.

I chanced to meet two of the people at the heart of BAAN, when we were draping banners over the side of the motorway bridges near my home.  They were cheerful, even upbeat, calm, self-possessed and full of hope.

We lost. Again. So how, why be hopeful? We lost. Again. So where is the hope?

Hope isn’t out there and it doesn’t depend on the actions or decisions of others.  So the judge made the decision he made.  He isn’t in charge of the hope in my heart.  I am.  Joanna Macy grounds her spiral of active hope with Gratitude, and so did we, outside that chilly courtroom.  Gratitude is at the root because gratitude brings us into relationship and connection.  Be grateful for anything you can think of, the smaller the better.  If you have nothing to be grateful for, start with gratitude for this breath.  And this one.  And this one.  As you get used to being grateful, notice how before gratitude come awareness.  How gratitude grows out of paying attention, out of really seeing, really engaging with the world around you.  Being grateful for the breath, for the air, the quality of the air, the freshness, the scent, the coolness.  Being grateful for the movement of your lungs, your ribs, your blood.  Gratitude brings us into connection; connection brings us into gratitude.

Hope isn’t in the future, its in the present, and it doesn’t depend on a specific outcome.  There will be another appeal, which BAAN will win or lose, and another decision to make and further action to take, and eventually Bristol Airport will expand or it won’t.    Meanwhile, here in the present we have reaffirmed our connections, reaffirmed our gratitude for each other and for the earth.   Meanwhile, we have shared our grief and our pain.  We have been witnessed in our suffering and stood in witness for the suffering of the world.  Honouring our pain for the world, we have strengthened our bonds and remembered our love for Life.   We wanted to win our appeal, and have a rest from that particular campaign.  But more, we want humanity to survive the climate and ecological emergency.  We want the “great turning” towards a peaceful, cooperative, relational, sustainable civilisation that lives in harmony with the earth to be realised.  So we lost the appeal, but grateful and grieving we came closer to that way of being in the world that we are hopeful for.  I am hopeful for a world of relationship, of sharing, of honesty and creativity and love.  And that is what we made, for a moment, outside the courthouse.  That is where the hope is, not in the legal ruling.

Bristol airport pops up in the local news from time to time, and our little protest got a mention, carefully balanced to give both sides of the “argument” and reminding everyone of the outcome of the appeal.  Not the one I had hoped for, but hoped for nonetheless by others.  It was there for a moment or two on the airwaves, then gone.  I know, because I take part a little bit, that action for the Earth, action healing our relationship with the Earth and with each other, is happening every single day.  Even just in my local town, there are actions every day, banner drops and leafleting, people going door to door,  talks at churches, schools, community centres, choir practice for the climate choirs, resilience training, legal training, articles published, flags block printed. Vigils, and walks and flash mob singing on trains.  Repair cafes, climate cafes, guerilla gardening.  They’re not on the news.  You wouldn’t know a thing about it if you didn’t happen to be on the emailing lists, or the chat groups.  All these actions are barely measurable, and scarcely rational.  I’m going to change the world by writing a little article about hope?  By waving at the motorway traffic for three hours on Saturday morning?  By singing a cheeky song on a train?  Ridiculous. And yet if we see with new eyes, as the spiral of hope calls us to, we see that this is change in the world.  Change isn’t about what President Biden manages to get past Congress. It’s about what we do quietly in our own hearts.  We change the world as we change our own lives, small actions gradually growing out of our commitment, out of gratitude, and out of our relationship with the world.  Not reasonable.  Not rational.  But full of hope.

Finally, perhaps the hardest lesson of hope:  It isn’t about me. It’s not what I hope for myself personally that matters.  Call to mind the first three non-violent leaders of mass social change you think of.  How many of them were murdered?  How many of them were imprisoned?  I’m willing to bet on all of them. Not what they preferred for themselves, presumably. And yet they remain as icons of hope.

I happened to open the Dao De Ching to verse 13. “Hope is as hollow as fear,” it told me…

What does it mean that hope is as hollow as fear?
Hope and fear are both phantoms
that arise from thinking of the self.
When we don’t see the self as self
what do we have to fear?
See the world as yourself.
Have faith in the way things are.
Love the world as yourself;
then you can care for all things.

If you are looking for hope in this time of crisis, come into the present and focus on the good that is here and now.  Be grateful for whatever you can be grateful for, even – especially – the tiniest things. Honour your pain and share it, then do what is in front of you to do with whatever grace and courage you can muster. Nourish love for the world in your heart.  Remember you have no control over the outcome of your labour and keep faith.

~ Written by OneSpirit Core Tutor, Sarah MacDonald

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