“You will cease to fear, if you cease to hope.  Both belong to a soul that is hanging in suspense, to a soul that is made anxious by concern with the future.”

– Seneca


To hope for something implies that we know that hope may not be realized, and that we have made some judgment about what reality can offer, and we are testing it out.  Hope is more like a “syndrome”, says Adrienne Martin, more than just an attitude or emotion: it includes thoughts, imaginings, preparations for action, even actions.

We can discover that we also have unrealistic and thus unrelenting hopes, which is actually a kind of hoping against hope.  When this is the case, we find ourselves maintaining the hope against all evidence to the contrary.

On the whole, we like to have hopes, as they are the things that tend to keep us going forward.  We can even fight hard and expend great energy to maintain our hope. There are times when hope seems to mean everything to us, when giving up hope is to plunge into nothingness or despair.

Sometimes, we try to abandon our hopes, to avoid the despair that always lurks behind disappointment.  This becomes a kind of abstention from those areas of life where our difficulties most often maintain themselves.

 We might decide that since we cannot absolutely certain of everything, then we will not certain of anything.

Or we might decide that since we cannot always be sure of what is right or good or beautiful, then nothing in particular can be right or good or beautiful, and then we don’t have to work harder at sorting through the complexity of these things. When this happens, our inner life becomes empty, and we tend to become cynical and hardened towards our outer life, and end up being manipulative towards people and events for our own modest purposes.

Hope involves not just a desire for something good, according to Martha Nussbaum, but an evaluation of it as importantly good, worth pursuing. But she adds, hope, like fear, always involves significant powerlessness.  



How do we orient towards an authentic hope, the kind that can propel us towards constructive acts?  How can we find sustenance in the small daily things of life, and not in the larger and more abstract ideas and concepts?  Hope cannot be static or inert.  It requires action, and commitment.  The connection between hope and action.  It is not defined by desire or probability.

Hope, says Martha Nussbaum, is a puzzling emotion, one that, despite its importance, is not often extensively discussed.  She goes on to state that hope in dire situations and circumstances seems connected somehow with the eventual good outcome, if one occurs.

We must distinguish between idle or fantasized hope, and practical or authentic hope that is firmly linked to and energizes a commitment to action.  Nussbaum points out that it is hard to sustain a commitment to a difficult struggle without such  energizing thoughts and feelings.

She tells us that the difference between fear and hope, in the end, is slender, although they are both reactive to uncertainty. It’s like flipping a switch between a glass that looks half full and one that looks half empty.  But hope is what can help us to take action, keep our goals valuable, and convincing us that they are within reach.

We can use an authentic hope for our uncertain futures in two primary ways:

1. When people feel that they are being seen as capable of good, they usually try to live up to that expectation. How can we hold others with enough regard, especially when they might not be deserving of it, to allow the unexpected goodness to come from them – even toward us.

2. We will need to be able to separate the doer from their deeds, and not hold people in judgment because of their undesirable actions.

Again, these are no simple nor easy tasks.  But hope can allow us to hold people in regard, sometimes in ways they least expect, or even deserve.  But when a person has been profoundly marginalized, and does not expect anyone else to ever look out for them, they would inevitably become devoted to self serving interests at at cost to others.  How can an attitude of hope energize a commitment to holding others in more regard than we  would typically do or offer?



1.  Actively practice holding someone in a hopeful attitude of regard who demonstrates views or exhibits behaviors that you would typically disregard or hold in disgust.

Look more deeply within to a fundamental attitude of goodness – within yourself and within the other.  Can you humble yourself enough to begin to be less certain that your limiting or negative beliefs about this person may not be so true, at least in the particularly fixed way of judgment?  That the other person may be more complex than you perceive them to be on the surface, that they might not be the person you hold in your mind, and not in the way you’ve carried them.

2.  A Practical Action of Hope can be a practice of deep listening, of holding a quiet and receptive mind, one that has a mutual respect for the reasons and motives others have for their beliefs, feelings, and behaviors.  

This is not easy to do when listening to the minds and views of people so different from ourselves.  It requires humility  and skill.  But ask people different from yourself to tell you important stories about their lives, and what they have lived through that has shaped them.  Let the stories they tell open you to potentially common ground, and stay with that, see where it takes you.

3. Hope and committed action are difficult to practice in solitude.  Participation in ensembles and groups that foster goodwill supports hope building and opportunities to sustain it.

Hope is always inclusive and loving, rather than divisive and retributive.  Join in with a group that demonstrates committed actions towards causes worth pursuing.  Let the little things in life lift you up.

by Michael Mervosh | A 17 Minute Guided Meditation to Re-Examine & Re-Consider Your Limiting Beliefs

Navigating the Unknown – Calling One’s Self Into Question

An Essay by Michael Mervosh
Based on the Work of Bill Cornell
“Self-Examination in Psychotherapy & Psychoanalysis”



A Poem by David Whyte

Sometimes it takes
a great sky
to find that

first, bright
and indescribable
wedge of freedom
in your own heart.

Sometimes with
the bones of the black
sticks left when the fire
has gone out

someone has written
something new
in the ashes of your life.


A passage from Philip Slater, from his book Earthwalk. 

A patient in psychotherapy does not literally return to childhood to unlearn the self-destructive pattern he evolved in growing up, although he might engage in much regressive experimentation in order to undo that negative learning.  What is essential is that he be able to relinquish his attachment to his pathway – be able to say to himself,    “I have wasted X years in a painful and useless pursuit; this is sad, but I know have an opportunity to try another approach.”

This is hard for people to do.  There is a strong temptation to rationalize our wrong turnings as a necessary part of development (“it taught me discipline”), or to deny that we participated fully in them (“that was before I became enlightened”). 

Giving up these two evasions always leads to despair, but as Alexander Lowen points out, despair is the only cure for illusion.  Without despair we cannot transfer our allegiance toreality – it is a kind of mourning period for our fantasies. Some people do not survive this despair, but no major change within a person can occur without it.


Practice Becoming More Capable of the Unexpected

1.  Purposefully choose to place yourself into a situation or circumstance, an exchange or encounter, or in a conversation where you intentionally suspend your expectations for a negative outcome.

2.  Stay focused on what is within your control – your own thinking, and your own speaking, and your own actions.  Try on a do-able way of thinking, speaking or doing  that is beyond what is typical for you.

3.  Notice what both comes from you, and what unfolds towards you, that is beyond what you would have been certain about, or expected.

4.  Acknowledge your growing capacity to be engaged with the unexpected, and feel into the empowering feeling that can come from this practice.

If you follow your bliss

you put yourself on a kind of track that has been there all the while waiting for you,
and the life you ought to be living is the one you are living.
When you can see that, you begin to meet people who are in the field of your bliss,
and they open the doors to you.

Joseph Campbell

The hero can go forth of his or her own volition,
or he or she may be carried or sent forth by some benign or malignant agent.
The adventure may begin as a mere blunder,
or one may be casually strolling through life,
when some passing phenomenon catches the wandering eye
and lures one away from the frequented paths.

Joseph Campbell