On the construct of HOPE

We are amazing human beings. Why amazing? Because of the way we rebuilt hope and strength after a big failure. How are we so optimistic, so careful not to trip and yet do trip, and then get up and say “IT WILL BE OK”?

What is that thing that propels us to get up after loss, after heartbreak, after failure? What is that immutable rope that pulls us out of our own depths — depths we hardly know until that moment when the light of the surface vanishes completely and unreachably? How do we create that thinking of “The difficult I’ll do right now. The impossible will take a little while”?

And yes, somehow we access the root of hope and create in our heads an image of the life we want.

Once we have glimpsed the world as it might be, as it ought to be, as it’s going to be (however that vision appears to us), it is impossible to live compliant and complacent anymore in the world as it is… And so we come out and walk out and march, the way a flower comes out and blooms, because it has no other calling. It has no other work, than HOPE.

I am interested in finding the meeting point of hope and history, how hope happened and what we make of it. What has happened is met midstream by people who are spiritual beings and all that implies of creativity, imagination, crazy wisdom, ancient wisdom, passionate compassion, selfless courage, and radical reverence for life. And love—for one another absolutely, and that love that rises out of us, for something larger than ourselves.

Life’s purpose – to save the world? If we do save it, we save it from what?

Well, I am not here to save anybody or to save the world. All I can do — what I am called to do — is to plant myself at the gates of Hope. Life’s challenges are always in our way. Sometimes they come in; sometimes they walk by. But I do stand there every day, at the gates of hope. And I call out HOPE every day, regardless my barriers, I call out till my lungs are sore with calling, and urge them in toward beautiful life.

There’s something for all of us there, I think. Whatever our vocation, we stand calling, singing and shouting, planted at the gates of Hope. This world and our people are beautiful and broken, and we are called to raise that up — to bear witness to the possibility of living with the dignity, bravery, and gladness that befits a human being. That may be what it is to “live our mission.”

That mission, of course, is different for each of us.

We stand where we will stand, on little plots of ground, where we are maybe “called” to stand (though who knows what that means?) — in our classrooms, offices, factories, in fields of lettuces and apricots, in hospitals, in prisons (on both sides, at various times, of the gates), in streets, in community groups. And it is sacred ground if we would honour it, if we would bring to it a blessing of sacrifice and risk…

P1070934Our mission is to plant ourselves at the gates of Hope — not the prudent gates of Optimism, which are somewhat narrower; nor the stalwart, boring gates of Common Sense; nor the strident gates of Self-Righteousness, which creak on shrill and angry hinges (people cannot hear us there; they cannot pass through); nor the cheerful, flimsy garden gate of “Everything is gonna be all right.” But a different, sometimes lonely place, the place of truth-telling, about your own soul first of all and its condition, the place of resistance and defiance, the piece of ground from which you see the world both as it is and as it could be, as it will be; the place from which you glimpse not only struggle, but joy in the struggle. And we stand there, beckoning and calling, telling people what we are seeing, asking people what they see. We create stories, for others to use to make their lives better.

At the end, how do we construct HOPE? My opinion is that hope is built on memories. If we focus on good memories, we can create hope. When we focus on negative memories, we create disaster.

But memories are not recordings, but stories that we retrieve from the compost heap that is our long term memory; We construct these stories to make sense of the events we have experienced so far. To tell you the truth, they change over time as they become distorted, merged, turned over, mixed in and mangled with other other experiences that eventually fade. But some memories remain as vivid as the day they happened or at least they seem so – those episodes that refuse to decompose. These are the events we can’t forget.

When we witness something that is terrifying, then a memory can be branded in your brain, like a hot searing iron that marks our mind forever.

A bit of psychology…

Reason

This is because emotionally charged memories are fuel injected by the electrical activity of the limbic system. Arousal, triggered in the amygdala, produces heightened sensitivity and increased attention. The dilation of our pupils reveals that our vigilance systems have been put on high alert to look our for danger. The world suddenly becomes very clear and enriched as we notice all manner of trivial details that we would not normally care about. It’s like the scene has suddenly been illuminated by bright light- as if some paparazzi photographer has lit up the world in a brilliant blaze of light during our moments of terror-which is why these recollections are called ‘flashbulb’ memories. And we experience the emotion – we feel the past.

We usually lament our loss of memory as we age but sometimes it is better to forget. While many flashbulb memories are associated with the more joyous events in life such as births and weddings, most are generated by the horrors. Victims and survivors typically experience traumatic memories that they can’t erase- a common symptom of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Our emotional systems seem compelled to never let us forget the worst things that happened to us. In truth, details of flashbulb memories can be as false as any other memory, but they just seem so accurate.

Maybe flashbulb memories serve some form of evolutionary value to always remember the worst case scenario. When it comes to surviving, it would seem that Mother Nature has decided that it is more important to remember how we felt when endangered compared to the pleasures of life.

One way to combat PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder) is to administer a beta-blocker such as propranolol immediately after the event. Beta-blockers dampen the arousal of the limbic system so that events are not encoded with he same degree of emotional kick. People still remember what happened but feel less upset.

Memory

What is a memory? Can you hold one? Can you make one? Can you copy a memory?If we are our memories, can we be re-created?

Memory is information stored as a pattern of electrical activity that “re-presents”the original pattern at the time it was formed. The representation is memories are – although human memories are not rigid but dynamic and continually changing as new information is encountered.

If we are our brains and our brains are a network of physical cells connected together in a pattern of weighted electrical activity, then it really should be possible to copy a memory in the same way we can copy any information. We should be able to copy our selves.

The possibility of copying memory is at the heart of what it is to be unique.

Whatever way we achieve it, let us assume that we have the technology to reliably duplicate anything. Imagine now that you step into the machine and an identical physical copy of you is created.

What would this new you be like? If we assume that there is no spirit or soul, what makes us unique?

Our autobiographical memories are crucial to our sense of self. We know now that our bodies can be copied but not our memories. Our memories are what make us who we are.

Just to get back to our focus today, how do we construct HOPE?

1) I believe that hope is based on memories. The more we recall the good memories, the more we create hope for a better reality and new positive memories.

2) Hope is based on focus on the good parts of our lives.

3) Hope is based on the stories we tell to ourselves. The stories that we tell ourselves, whether they be false or true, are always real. We act out of those stories, reacting to their realness. William James knew this when he observed: “My experience is what I agree to attend to. Only those items which I notice shape my mind.”

4) Hope is based on critical thinking .

IMG_4712To live with sincerity in our culture of cynicism is a difficult dance — one that comes easily only to the very young and the very old. The rest of us are left to tussle with two polarizing forces ripping the psyche asunder by beckoning to it from opposite directions — critical thinking and hope.

Critical thinking without hope is cynicism. Hope without critical thinking is naïveté.

Finding fault and feeling hopeless about improving the situation produces resignation — cynicism is both resignation’s symptom and a futile self-protection mechanism against it. Blindly believing that everything will work out just fine also produces resignation, for we have no motive to apply ourselves toward making things better. But in order to survive — both as individuals and as a civilization — and especially in order to thrive, we need the right balance of critical thinking and hope.

A plant needs water in order to survive, and needs the right amount of water in order to thrive. Overwater it and it rots with excess. Underwater it and it dries up inside.

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