Monday, May 26, 2014

Journal of a Soul 55

Embracing the Magic of Hope

When I use the word "magic" here, I am in no way using it in its restricted, perhaps more correct, understanding of actions connected with manipulating normal things or forces by paranormal methods.  I am, of course, using it in its broadest sense to suggest everything that evokes wonder, beauty, mystery and love in the human soul.  In a world where destruction is more often than not the hallmark of human interaction, we need the magic of hope more than ever.  One would want to be a strong individual not to grow depressed when one even cursorily views the history of humankind where wars and crimes against humanity so obviously abound.  One would want to be equally courageous in viewing the international news which is virtually filled with accounts of the destruction of humans by other humans: from Afghanistan, Somalia, Nigeria, Pakistan, Egypt, Syria, Iraq, Central African Republic and South Sudan where there are 1000+ deaths per country per year (See Here and Here)  to the destruction of our very own worldly home, namely Mother Earth, our lovely Blue Planet.

Ring-tailed lemur, Dublin Zoo, May 2014
The longer I live the more passionate I am becoming about the need to inspire hope in others.  There are too few great leaders who are doing so today in the political world.  The two most outstanding leaders to my mind, in a more spiritual context, who are attempting to cast the magical spell of hope over a very destructive, greedy and hateful world are such wonderful leaders as Pope Francis I and the Dalai Lama.  Other leaders who impress me from the political world are Aung San Suu Kyi of Myanmar, Desmond Tutu of South Africa and Kofi Annan.  For the life of me, I cannot think of very many more.  President Clinton still impresses me with his commitment to world peace and peace in Northern Ireland, as does the wonderful President Jimmy Carter who is constantly working for peace all around the globe. These are all leaders who inspire hope. Another group of committed "retired" leaders that much encourages the present writer are The Elders and you can read all about their wonderful work for peace here

As a teacher, I find that often many of our youngsters are lacking in hope.  In the wake of the downfall of the infamous Celtic Tiger, a growing number of people are mired in negativity that can all to often descend into the lower reaches of desolation and despair. Many pupils who attend our inner city working class school cannot see very much in the way of promise for their future lives. In Ireland as I write, there have been so many cutbacks, so much austerity that the presence of the Labour Party - who are partners in a Coalition Government with a centre-right party called Fine Gael - has been virtually wiped out on town councils all around Ireland.  The Labour Party has been adjudged by the electorate to have so much compromised, or indeed sold out on, their socialist principles that the voters virtually ignored voting for any of their candidates.  A very disillusioned and dejected voting public opted instead for independents and candidates from other parties, most especially Sinn Féin.

"Pp...pp. pick up a penguin," at Dublin Zoo, May 2014
One boy who comes to me for counselling suffers from a sort of low-grade depression for which he is taking sessions from a qualified psychologist in a local hospital.  I work with him once a week.  He is representative of a growing number of young people who seem to be somewhat bereft of hope.  In our sessions, we constantly talk about choosing life and hope, not despair and death.  Recently a young female contact (I never like the use of the word "friends" for "contacts" on this social network as it is a definite misnomer that can cause some young people an amount of anguish if they are deleted or blocked or even bullied by another so called "friend.") on Facebook put up a rather depressing status including the symbol of the skull: "It's mad knowing the only thing we actually are promised in life, is death I do have meself (sic) freaked to bits thinking about it!" Indeed, I notice that FB has become a sort of diary for many of our young people where they reveal their hearts to an oftentimes disinterested public.  As I say, I have my doubts about how helpful FB can be in mental health matters, but that is a debate for another post.

Attracted to the Light

It is indeed a truism to say that we are attracted to the light and repulsed by the dark. For the most part, we are all intuitively attracted by the light in good people.  Generally, it has been my experience that really good people are innately attractive, e.g., Martin Luther King, Mother Teresa, Pope John XXIII, Pope John-Paul II and in more recent times Pope Francis I.  I have named many others above in my opening paragraph.  I leave it to you, all you good loyal readers out there, to name your own attractive world political and spiritual leaders.  Essentially, such leaders share much with the historical Jesus and the equally historical Siddhartha Gautama (the Buddha), St Francis and all the present day great spiritual leaders (as distinct from Religious Leaders.  I will be contentious here by stating that I believe that Pope Benedict XVI was a Religious Leader while Pope Francis is a Spiritual Leader). I believe that the great contemporary religious writer and theologian Karen Armstrong is also an attractive spiritual leader.  Her books are widely read and she has been universally honoured for them.*

We must radiate the light of hope in our lives, especially if we are in any position of leadership.  Leadership requires those who exercise it to be real, authentic human beings, aware both of their strengths and weaknesses, to be open to encouraging those whom it is both their task and privilege of leading, being so self-assured in themselves that no one on the staff is ever a threat to their sense of authority.  They must be motivators who notice and affirm the innate talents in each and everyone of their colleagues and employees.  This may be a tall order, but after all that is why we put such people into leadership roles and pay them oftentimes extravagant salaries.

If we know that in the end, in a very real and actual way, every individual life is a physical
Chimp with orange, Dublin Zoo, May 2014
failure in the sense that we all end up in the grave, why then should we keep going on?  If, in the end, all the knowledge we have learnt in our individual brains decays into nothing with our bodies, why do we desire to learn?  A very intelligent student asked me that the other day when we attended the presentation of Green Flags for schools that had made serious efforts to cut down on waste of energy and water. We were discussing the dreadful ecological state we have got our lovely Blue Planet into in these more modern times when he asked the question.  If in the end we are all going to perish, given the horrific mess we have made of our planet, why not give up? I replied that one reason we bothered is that we did not ever wish to become victims, that we had a desire, in-built in us, for order and meaning, and that to give up hope was to admit defeat. As we continued our discussion we spoke of humankind being co-creators with the Creator of the Universe, of our being called to build up as many lovely things as we could for the sake of others, for the sake of all humankind and for the sake of all creaturely and inanimate life.

The lovely cuddly red panda at Dublin Zoo, May 2014

When we write a poem, sing a song, compose a new piece of music, protect animals, build a new building, nurse another sick human being or animal, discover a new piece of knowledge to add to the jigsaw of wonder which this life essentially is, we are lighting candles of hope. When we put out our hand to help another, when we join a cause for the betterment of someone or something or even smile in acceptance of another, we are engaged in spreading the light of hope.  When we shake hands, when we hug another, when we truly listen in acceptance, when we are truly compassionate towards all sentient things, as the Dalai Lama is wont to put it, then and only then are we a true and authentic people of hope.  All our most profound religious and spiritual traditions speak of the light of hope conquering the darkness of despair.  It is no wonder that we often turn to their wisdom traditions in times of disillusionment and despair for words of comfort like: "better to light one candle than to scorn the dark," or "every journey, no matter how long, begins with one little step."  Even if you only smiled at someone today, you are engaged in the apostleship of hope.  I have long loved the short saying of the late Medieval Catholic mystic Meister Eckhart that runs: “If the only prayer you said was thank you, that would be enough.”  If each and everyone of us said this prayer as often as we can on a daily basis we would be truly embracing the magic of hope. 


* In May 2008 Armstrong was awarded the Freedom of Worship Award by the Roosevelt Institute, one of four medals presented each year to men and women whose achievements have demonstrated a commitment to the Four Freedoms proclaimed by President Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1941 as essential to democracy: freedom of speech and of worship, freedom from want and from fear. The institute stated that Armstrong had become "a significant voice, seeking mutual understanding in times of turbulence, confrontation and violence among religious groups." It cited "her personal dedication to the ideal that peace can be found in religious understanding, for her teachings on compassion, and her appreciation for the positive sources of spirituality." 

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