Recently, a friend was telling me about her experience growing an online community. Like me, she has big ideas of offering encouragement, support and growth opportunities to others. And frankly, not just to offer these things, but to see others change behaviour, shift perspective, or be different in some way. She described days when it seemed that after pouring her heart into designing fabulous content, there was very little uptake. And this is discouraging. It's like: they gave you their address, and you showed up and have been knocking on their door, but they never answer! How long are you going to keep knocking?
As we talked, my thoughts turned to what keeps us going when it seems the results fall short of our expectations. Even a strongly held passion for our message may not be enough fuel. Indeed, many of us can relate to the compelling human drive to share what we’ve learned and see things change so others don’t have to suffer like we did. We’ve all seen how this drive can result in many worthy causes and organizations with far-reaching impacts.
A big part of the incentive in expending that energy is to see change: to know that a person, a community, an organization, or a society thinks or behaves differently. And it’s this expectation that is the set up for disappointment. Even if we don’t expect that something will happen, but we want it to, we are still working with a motivation for something that is outside of our control. And therefore, it’s a potential tripwire.
For days after this conversation, I was thinking about my own motivation for starting a Contemplative Practice. I’ve been spending energy making flyers, posting calendar invitations, starting an email list and composing regular reminders and encouragements for the Contemplative Practice. As I write those messages, I take very special care to ensure that the invitation is not served with a side of guilt. My intention is that readers are reminded about the power of silence and also feel held by me and a wider community. I try to be clear with myself, that even if they DO choose to take any kind of action because of my words, I may never know, and that’s OK. All I need for myself is to write the content.
And so, when I consider how true this intention really is for me, I take a step back. I know that I am only just beginning this work, and it may be quite easy to say that I don’t need to know if I’m making an impact to keep the motivation going. But the million dollar question is this: How long will I keep knocking at the door if no one ever answers? If people don’t come to the Contemplative Practice? If no one signs up or “likes” my Facebook page? If I hear no affirmations of the value of what I’m doing? Or if the results are limited and fall short of my vision. What will motivate me to just keep on knocking - unconditionally? Will I ever give up hope, I wondered?
Earlier, I suggested that the expectation of a response or change is a set up for disappointment. The feeling of expecting something is an element of hope, but it is not the fullness of what it means to have hope. According to Vaclav Havel, hope is more robust than expectations:
“It is an orientation of the spirit, an orientation of the heart. It transcends the world that is immediately experienced and is anchored somewhere beyond its horizons. Hope in this deep and powerful sense is not the same as joy that things are going well or a willingness to invest in enterprises that are obviously headed for early success, but rather an ability to work for something because it is good, not just because it stands a chance to succeed. Hope is definitely not the same thing as optimism. It is not the conviction that something will turn out well, but the certainty that something makes sense regardless of how it turns out. It is hope, above all, which gives the strength to live and continually try new things."
This is what I want to keep me knocking at the door. Unconditionally. Even if no one ever, ever, ever answers my invitations. Hope is the ability to work for something because it is good. Period. It is the certainty that what I’m doing is good and makes sense regardless of how it turns out.
How am I certain that what I’m doing is good? It’s one part personal experience and one part belief in the magic of the mystery. I know it’s good because I’ve experienced it myself – like the hard-won life lessons we want to share with others so they don’t have to experience the same suffering. I heard knocking on my door, and I answered. And it took a lot of contemplative practicing to hear the knocking and to find the willingness to answer.
And this is the other part of why I’m certain what I’m doing is good. Because I have heard the knocking on my door. Knocking that I ignored for at least 20 years… but the knocking continued, unconditionally. And I continue to hear knocking at my door. And doorbells. Invitations. Opportunities for growth. Teachers in the moment I’m ready. It seems the more I’m willing to open the door, the more knocking I hear… or maybe I am getting better at listening.
I believe in the magic of this mysterious door knocker, persistently and unconditionally knocking - not just on my door, but yours, too. Everyone’s door. And it is this that calibrates my internal orientation to a state of hope that is located somewhere beyond my horizon line. So that, when I lift my eyes after growing weary from knocking, I will look for this magical star of hope to orient my direction and fuel my fire.
Nicely put, but enough poetic crap. What does that really mean in a practical sense? How does one look for a magical star and orient one's direction?
Alas, I write these words not for you, dear reader, but for me. Don’t get me wrong - I’m honoured that you are spending time with these ideas I’ve written. But, this writing that I do is for me. It’s my own medicine. It’s what I need to hear, what I need to know and what I need to remind myself about time and again. The blogs I write, the emails I send as reminders, the invitations to contemplative practice, the opportunities I create – these are examples of how I orient my direction and try to nail down and describe the magic I sense working in life. This is how I make hope a verb.
If you’d like to talk with me about other ways I hope, or share your hoping mechanisms, please be in touch – I’d love to hear from you!
I’ll leave you with a poem. 😊
The Open Door (Danna Faulds)
A door opens.
Maybe I've been standing here shuffling my weight from foot to foot for decades,
or maybe I only knocked once.
In truth, it doesn't matter.
A door opens and I walk through without a backward glance.
This is it, then, one moment of truth in a lifetime of truth;
a choice made, a path taken, the gravitational pull of Spirit too compelling to ignore any longer.
I am received by something far too vast to see.
It has roots in antiquity but speaks clearly in the present tense.
"Be," the vastness says.
"Be without adverbs, descriptors, or qualities.
Be so alive that awareness bares itself uncloaked and unadorned.
Then go forth to give what you alone can give,
awake to love and suffering, unburdened by the weight of expectations.
Go forth to see and be seen, blossoming, always blossoming into your magnificence.