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Hope is a Choice

Affirmation:  The best is yet to come.

“Can you get to a place where you believe your best is in front of you?”  This is the question John Ramsey was asked by a friend years after the death of his daughter, JonBenet Ramsey.  He has a book out about his years of grief and recovery, John Ramsey’s Journey from Grief to Hope.  His young six year old daughter was a child beauty pageant queen and she was found dead in the basement of his home in Bolder Colorado in 1996.  The murder has never been solved and there has been an enormous amount written about the case.  He and his deceased wife and family were the target of the investigation for quite a while and were eventually cleared of the charges but doubts still linger. 

I don’t normally follow the sordid details of such stories but just by being alive and keeping up with current events, it was impossible not to know something about this sad story.  I’m not here to pass judgment.  Certainly, I know only the hearsay evidence to which I’ve been exposed and in my heart I want to believe in his innocence.  What I was struck with during his interview with Robin Roberts on Good Morning America was how very sad and tragic this entire story is.  It made my heart ache. 

But, back to the question, I’m sure it’s a question many of us could ask ourselves at many times in our lives.  We have or are going through a really difficult time, a challenging experience and we can’t see any light at the end of the tunnel.  We think this is it; life will always be this grim and difficult.  What does it take to find the ability to turn that around?  Hope, it takes practicing the characteristic of hope. 

Oh, there have been times in my life when hope was missing and who’s to say that that won’t happen again.  But, it’s so wonderful to be with people who give and share their hope when everything looks so dark.  Have you had that experience?  My father and father-in-law died of brain tumors, the same rare type, twenty years apart, a glioblastoma.  I had hope with my dad.  I knew so little.  When my father-in-law was diagnosed, I gave up immediately.  I knew the results.  I’d already experienced them.  But, Joe, my father-in-law was treated at Duke by Drs. Henry and Alan Friedman. (They are not related.)  And, the motto of the Preston Robert Tisch Brain Tumor Center is “At Duke there is hope.”  It was inspirational to be with the people who worked there.  They really believed they could cure him.  They believe they can find a way to eliminate this disease and while I must tell you, Dad died, so many more have lived.  They have lived and they have thrived.  There are many stories of people who are living long and wonderful lives because there are people at Duke who believe that they can make a difference and who have made a difference.

Hope is a feeling of positive expectation.  How can one go from despair to hope?  Can one go from despair to hope?  Yes, I believe they can.  Sometimes we may need others to help us.  I remember a woman who was going through breast cancer treatment telling me that if her friends hadn’t pulled her up out of the dark pit she was in, she didn’t think she’d ever have gotten out.  But, also hope is something we can develop, like a muscle.  We can practice it when we’re not in such dire straits.  We can practice believing “The Best is yet to come.”

There’s a book out about The Emotional Life of Your Brain.  It revolves around what is being called “The New Science of Feelings.”  One of the examples of the neuroplasticity of the brain talks about virtuoso musicians and how the part of the brain that involves the movement of the fingers, is larger for them.  It also refers to a study where adults were asked to pretend practice the piano for several weeks and they found they too had enlarged that part of the brain. 

So, as adults we can still change the condition of our brain if we choose.  I know with the epidemic condition of Alzheimer’s many of us are concerned with the health of our brains or those of our loved ones.  It was once believed that adult brains were fixed, permanent and change could not take place.  It’s nice to know they were wrong.  And, once again, it shows the power of choosing and creating our thoughts.  We get to expand those parts of our brains that support our desires to live more positive lives. Remember that which you think about, you bring about.  We can choose to tell ourselves “The best is yet to come” and rest in the knowledge that our brains are receiving that message, our bodies are responding and our innermost desires are being completely supported.

Loving Speech

Affirmation:  I am committed to cultivating loving speech and deep listening.
What do you like to talk about?  What topics make you sit up and get interested in the conversation?  I remember the first time I heard the phrase, “If you don’t have anything nice to say, come sit here by me.”  It was in the movie Steel Magnolias and it was spoken by Olympia Dukakis.  It’s a famous quote from Alice Roosevelt Longworth (1884-1980) who actually said, “”If you haven’t got anything nice to say about anybody, come sit next to me.”  All I can say about that is I hope I’m remembered for saying something more along the lines of John Lennon, “Let’s Give Peace a Chance” or for something like the above affirmation, “I am committed to cultivating loving speech and deep listening” by Tich Nhat Hanh as written in Coming Home
When I heard those words in Steel Magnolia I was shocked.  I was so surprised that someone so openly relished talking badly about another.  I don’t know why I felt that way.  I think most of the people in my life make an effort to be kind to and about one another.  Sure, there’s the occasional slip but I don’t I have a lot of people in my life who talk maliciously about others. I must confess that I can be guilty, guilty, guilty about getting caught up in the conversation when it becomes “gossipy.”  I can be very curious about what they have to say and there have been times in my life when I have had a tough time with someone and felt a desperate need to share the experience with another, all from my slanted point of view. 

Is it alright to talk about others?  Do you think it’s OK to tell tales about people?  When you begin talking about another is there a way to do it with love and kindness even when they have injured you?  When I am wounded or slighted, I usually seek support from loved ones by telling my story.  It’s not usually just the facts.  It’s usually about my emotional reactions. Most of us need to seek comfort from others when we have a difficult experience.  We need to tell our story but we get to choose how we tell it.  Do we tear down and berate the other or do we do it with kindness and gentleness, even towards our enemies? 

I am very judgmental about judgmental people.  When someone in my life has a tendency to label people as “good or bad”, “nice or mean”, or as “someone they like a lot” which means there are others they don’t like at all; I find myself recoiling from them.  It seems to me if they are going around judging everyone else, they must have a very definitive opinion about me and I become very leery. 
Many years ago I hired a young person to help me do some painting around the house.  In the process I needed to empty out my closet and I was somewhat embarrassed by the number of shoes I owned.  I mentioned it to him adding an apology and he stopped me before I even got all the words out.  “I’m not here to judge anyone.”  I’m not here to judge ANYONE!  Yes, I would like to claim that as a character trait.  I do affirm “I love unconditionally, non-judgmentally and non graspingly.”  It’s an intention I’ve set for those who are close to me in my life but when it comes to the rest of the world, can I be non-judgmental?  Probably not, but, I can try.  The truth is I seldom have the whole picture.  I only have that little piece that I can see.

I belong to a gym that has a huge senior population.  When I was there this week, there was a new plaque on an easel and I stopped to check it out.  It was a photo of a plane from WWII with a huge hole in the right wing.  Framed with it was a thank you from one of the members, Hal Shook, for the service of the people who work at our gym and an award, The Legion of Honor, that he received in 2011 more than sixty years after the end of the war.  He had sent it to the facility as a token of his gratitude.  After I viewed the framed presentation I found myself wondering about all those people I usually see there.  I began to wonder about what I’ve been missing by not getting to know some of these individuals.  I am sure this gentleman is not the only hero that’s walking around that gym.  I wonder if I were to see him, what sort of judgment would I form?  I would not have even guessed at his honorary past.  Why then should I judge at all?  My job is simply to observe.

In Kripalu Yoga they incorporate BRFWA into their practice.  It means we “breathe, relax, feel, watch, and allow.”  Nowhere does it tell me I need to judge my practice or myself.  The other lesson is not to make Yoga into a completive sport.  “Stay on your mat; don’t go invading someone else’s practice, watching them and comparing yourself to them”.  These are the same lessons we can take with us into the world. 
I actually think the affirmation should be, “I am committed to cultivating loving thoughts and deep listening.”  Maybe if I worked on that regularly, the loving speech would simply become second nature.