I awoke one morning this week from a disturbing dream, starting my day on an "off" note. As the morning went on, I found myself sinking into increasing hopelessness. What it was about matters little. Hopelessness is a monster of an emotion that eats everything in its tracks. Still, I managed to get my reluctant body outside running, though I had as much desire to enter the cold as I had hope. Somewhere along the trails, I recognized my spinning mind finding all kinds of negative thoughts to reinforce my hopeless state because that is what it so cleverly knows how to do. This went on until suddenly there was another voice being piped in over a loudspeaker, as if making an announcement for everyone in the wintry woods to hear. I think even the deer stopped to listen. It said, "listen up! Everyone on board here...this is just what hopelessness feels like. Let it be! You don't need to add to it, fix it, find a reason for it, predict the future by it. Just feel hopeless." And then it was silent except for the crunching of the frozen leaves and earth underneath my sneakers. I did what I heard. I just felt hopeless. I ran and watched the negative thoughts run by me. And they did run by because they are faster than my physical body. Each time they would pass, I would say, "yup, that's hopelessness, too."
Eventually, I was home, eating and showering and getting things done and, though I wasn't sparkling, I realized I was no longer hopeless. It came and went without me controlling it. I am convinced that it was because I allowed it to be that it was also allowed to leave. Of course, running helped, too.
If we find ourselves alone in this windowless, door-less, space of despair, what do we do? We often do what we think will stop the suffering, but tends to make it worse. We resist it by blaming ourselves or others for being here. We tell ourselves we will always be here, that we are more or less doomed to this place. We look for evidence from the past to explain why we got ourselves here, driving the nail deeper. And if we do seek help, we are often misguided and told why we shouldn't feel hopeless, which has a shaming effect in and of itself. What if instead, we felt the hopelessness and let it be? In doing that, we are taking care of our despair. In essence we can positively mother our pain and hold it. The thoughts that want to drive the blame inward can be cut short simply by saying, "all I need to do is feel hopeless and not think about it." We drop the thoughts around it and bring it into a bodily sensation. We create a space for it and tenderly hold it. In that process, I have found that it passes much more quickly and I am amazed, once again, that everything changes, even when we don't think it possibly can. It has no choice.
How do we learn to do this? We do some type of practice that teaches us to stay present with what is happening right now and to be less reactive. We do it when life feels good, when it feels neutral, and when we are suffering. The more we practice this kind of presence with ourselves and with others, the greater ability we have to tend to ourselves in these darkest moments that have no apparent redeeming scene about to take place. These temporary experiences are still as painful as ever, but they don't outstay their welcome.
No, there is no film crew setting up in our hopeless and depressed places. But maybe, if someone else brought in some lights, he/she could see the film playing out behind our darkness. Later on, it is true, we can see our lives as the movies they are and appreciate the courageous warrior that always emerges. But, there is no need to look for the film while it is being made. Instead, we simply need to live the scene out. When hopelessness strikes, as it may at different times throughout our lives, if we are living fully, we can hold it instead of run from it. It won't feel sexy. It isn't glamorous. It won't feel like a high spiritual road we are taking. It will feel awful. And then, it will change. Be hopeless, if that is what you are. I mean that in the kindest, most compassionate way possible. I send a bow to the courageous warrior in you, especially when you have no sense that this person resides inside.