Stefan Chmelik is co-founder of and inventor of the Sensate stress reduction system, which is based on his over three decades of clinical experience working with anxiety, stress and trauma. His mission is to positively impact the lives of 100 million people by 2025.
Are optimism and hope much the same thing?
No, they are not. Optimism is a positive emotion expressed as confidence that something you want is likely to happen. But if this thing, whatever it may be, doesn’t happen, this optimism turns to pessimism (“Why does this always happen to me?”). Hope is more steadfast and is something we can choose, if we want to, to hold onto no matter what the circumstance. Hope is the active choice to not give up, making it infinitely more powerful than optimism.
This is the lesson of Pandora: The story goes that Pandora was unable to resist opening a box (large jar actually) that had been left in her care, thus releasing various afflictions, but closed it just in time for Hope to remain, the idea being that ‘there is always Hope’.
Mungi Ngomane, granddaughter of Archbishop Desmond Tutu, notes that we use the word ‘hope’ to express something we want like ‘I hope it will be sunny today’. In the South African idea of Ubuntu, hope is about fostering compassion and understanding for all others, forgiving even those who have wronged us, as they are humans too, who have been wounded in their own time (Everyday Ubuntu, 2019).
During an inspirational All Hands meeting yesterday, a wonderful story emerged:
”An anthropologist proposed a game to children in an African tribe. He put a basket of fruit near a tree and told the children whoever got there first won the sweet fruits. When he told them to run, they all took each other’s hands and ran together, then sat together enjoying their treats. When he asked them why they had run together like that as one could have had all the fruits for himself, they said: 'Ubuntu, how can one of us be happy if all the other ones are sad?'
Abraham Maslow and Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, the originators of the needs hierarchy (even though he never depicted this as a pyramid, but that’s a story for another time) and Flow theory respectively, discuss hope as a critical factor in self-actualization and human transcendence (Scott Barry-Kauffman, 2020).
The thorn (prickly actually) on the rose is that being in a place where transcendence is possible or available requires of us the ability to step back and reflect and notice, to hope, that things could be different. This ability to reflect, to stop and pause, is very difficult to access when we are caught up in neurological overwhelm, activating the survival response, which blocks the thriveal response. To step outside of our comfort zone (the only place where growth can occur) requires the opportunity to stop, step back, pause and reflect – then the magic can happen:
“The best moments in our lives are not the passive, receptive, relaxing times . . . The best moments usually occur if a person’s body or mind is stretched to its limits in a voluntary effort to accomplish something difficult and worthwhile” (Csikszentmihalyi, 1990).
The science of Hope points out that hope is not simply wishful thinking (Shrikant, 2021). In psychology, hope is a cognitive practice that involves the intentional act of setting goals and working toward them with purpose.
Hope is the triumph of the spirit over material fact, so is therefore frequently most evident amongst victimised peoples. Nelson Mandela remained hopeful, Viktor Frankl remained hopeful, Martin Luther King Jr, Harriet Tubman (Araminta Ross), Winston Churchill, FDR all remained hopeful and inspired others to be hopeful, despite all evidence around them to the contrary.
Humans are hardwired for empathy. When we see the suffering of others, we experience their pain. Equally, we are inspired by the hope held by others, often against all odds, and we share in this triumph of the human spirit.
Sometimes hope is all we have, and so can be closely related to faith, because the available evidence for the possibility of things getting better may not be good. The situation with the climate crisis has this quality; we can be hopeful even though the evidence for change is underwhelming.
“In other words, body awareness and bodymind integration are essential to experiencing a sense of unity, the central component of all transcendent, awe or flow like human experience.”
Newberg and D’Aquili, in Why God Want Go Away (2001), introduce the concept of Neurotheology, or the neuroscience of spiritual experiences. Their research using brain scans of experienced meditators who encountered intense feelings of unity through their practice, regardless of the system within which they were practicing, showed increased activity in the superior parietal lobe of the brain, a region of the brain associated with spatial body awareness. The parietal lobe integrates sensory information among various modalities, including spatial sense and navigation (proprioception), the main sensory receptive area for the sense of touch in the somatosensory cortex. In other words, body awareness and bodymind integration are essential to experiencing a sense of unity, the central component of all transcendent, awe or flow like human experience.
So what do we do now?
There are only two emotions, love and fear. All other thoughts, feelings and emotions are expressions of these. By increasing love and reducing fear we can lead our own self-determined, self-actualized lives not governed by basic, biological, evolutionary feelings. Inspired by Fear Less by Pippa Grange (2020), it’s Ok to feel over facts.
I love you. Rest well.
Photo by Hille Chan on Unsplash
Maya Shrikant, June 14, 2021