The word ‘hope’ popped up so many times in a literally uplifting conversation I heard on Radio 4 between Jim Al-Khalili and Frances Ashcroft, this year’s winner of the L’Oreal-UNESCO Woman in Science award.
After decades spent studying the link between blood sugar and insulin, she talked about the absolute thrill of discovery as well as the long lean years “in a cloud of not knowing”, before unearthing what has helped transform the lives of hundreds of children who are born with diabetes. Her enthusiasm resonated, like she’d been infected with a joy I longed to be injected with, as she spoke of her 30-year journey. She described how, starting out, it’s like probing into a wall of cloud, and all you can do is hope.
It’s a word we use liberally and on the surface of our sound-bite well-wishes… but what does it mean; that deeper quality of hopefulness often associated with something naïve, foolish even?
An artist’s lab I joined at Dartington in Devon a couple of weeks ago brought together a small gathering of people to explore the height, depth and edges of ‘hope’. We delved into where our experiences have touched us, as individuals and as a group.
We discovered that hope is something we might almost be ashamed to possess in such a shell-shocked world. Isn’t to have hope to project wishes onto the future that eject us out of really ‘being with’ what is present? We can apply this on a global and personal level: hoping for a better world, hoping for a better job, relationship, home…
However, beyond the hope that is attached to particular outcomes, we discovered that hope is actually necessary to our wellbeing, and is therefore a functional tool for entering into our life-force with an open heart. Here, at the bedrock of our humanity, we find the incredible narratives of hope embodied by the stories of the most afflicted, ‘hopeless’ people, such as slave songs, mystical poetry, activist and healing stories from the edges of society.
For me, these thoughts have taken me into some of the deepest caverns of my own disconnection with life’s vital energy. In the midst of my own chaos I found that hope resides like a flame… a flame that has to be tendered and fed, for its fire and warmth to be kept alive.
I made an installation art piece: three lengths of different coloured thread hanging from the branch of a tree and braided together… a reminder that a ‘thread of hope’ is enough, and that it’s fabric is something we ourselves weave. Also, on a mystical level, we exist in 3 dimensions, represented cosmically by ‘trinity’, or the three energies of freedom, love and truth.
Under the branch of this tree I read this to the rest of the group, my own story of hope:
The phone was pressed to my ear And somewhere from projected fear I interrupt my listening with ‘Is there a thread of hope, my dear Dear brother?’…come to his edge and tipping Already tipped beyond…
Is God in such childish hope? Can innocent kindness be traced in the suffering of separation?