Hope and Fear Are the Real Enemies
How much time do you spend bouncing back and forth between hope and fear?
- Hope you’ll get the job. Fear you won’t.
- Hope you’ll get the house. Fear you won’t.
- Hope he/she/they will like you. Fear they won’t.
- Hope things will change. Fear they won’t.
- Hope you’ll find the perfect _________ (fill-in the blank). Fear you won’t.
And all the tiny hopes and fears that permeate each day.
Hope and fear stir up so much angst, anxiety, and unease, don’t they?
Our fears rarely come to pass. Yet we waste so much time on them, feeling miserable all the while.
If they do occur, we just have to deal with them, don’t we? The hours wasted in rumination - repetitively going over a problem without resolution - will never build your inner strength and confidence.
During the lava eruptions, which recently paused after three intense months, I checked Hawaii Tracker everyday for the latest news. It's a fantastic resource. But eventually I realized doing so stirred up so much hope and fear.
Whatever the team reported one day, for example, that a treasured recreational spot would be gone by morning, could completely turn around the next day. Because lava is unpredictable. And for the most part, life is too.
So what’s the point of all the hope and fear?
Don’t We Need Hope?
You might wonder: Don’t we need hope to keep us going in troubled times?
For example, the Dalai Lama says:
“Choose to be optimistic, it feels better.”
Often, it makes sense to be optimistic.
If you have cancer, you want to believe you can heal during treatment rather than submerge yourself in depression and despair. Because the mind does effect the body. But there may come a point when you have to accept your illness as incurable. In that context, false hope only leads to despair.
Hope revolves around the expectation or desire for a certain thing to happen. If you cling too strongly to a particular outcome, you’ll only suffer if it doesn’t manifest.
So you need to ask: In this situation, is hope helping me or harming me?
If optimism gives you fuel to make good things happen, keep it around. But if hope has you embroiled in the impossible, ditch it as fast as you can.
From a spiritual perspective, hope is always about the future.
Hope takes you away from the present moment, so you miss your life as it’s happening right now. Hope blocks spiritual accomplishment, which depends on being in this moment, accepting what is, and letting go of clinging to expectations and desires.
Simple Steps to Calm Hope and Fear
I’ve been on a roller coaster of hope and fear in recent months, due to the lava eruption and other traumatic events. I want to bring it to a stop.
The Dalai Lama says:
“If a problem is fixable, if a situation is such that you can do something about it, then there is no need to worry. If it's not fixable, then there is no help in worrying. There is no benefit in worrying whatsoever.”
I find his words a potent reminder to let go of worry.
But for many of us, it’s not that simple. Anxiety, fear, and worry can be powerful adversaries.
Your genetics may make you more prone to anxiety. Traumatic circumstances may have piled one on another, depleting your resilience and making you feel you can barely go on. Worry may grip you in the dark of the night, when you’re most vulnerable.
If you feel overpowered by hope and fear, please be kind and gentle with yourself. Never judge yourself. You're doing the best you can.
From there, decide to work with hope and fear, even if it means taking tiny steps. Here are some steps that help me diminish hope and fear, and all the emotions that surround them.
1. Realize that hope and fear are the real enemies.
Don’t accept hope and fear as an inevitable part of life. You may not be able to remove them entirely, but you can surely learn how to calm them down.
2. Notice whenever hope or fear arises in your mind and heart.
The act of noticing itself begins to reshape your brain. Try not to feed hope and fear with reinforcing thoughts. Just observe the emotional messages, unhelpful thoughts, and the sensations that hope and fear create in your body.
Through observation, emotions often calm down on their own.
3. Counteract Your Fears
Identify one of your fears, write out the associated emotional message, and counteract it with three positive messages from your cognitive brain.
Here’s an example:
Emotional Message: I can’t survive on my own.
Cognitive Brain Messages: I’m actually doing great on all levels, taking care of practical matters and connecting with others. We do need others, and others want to help and support me. I’m not entirely alone.
Keep a journal or notebook where you counteract your fears on a regular basis. Use this exercise often if you want to retrain your brain, and weaken these enemies.
4. Increase your self-care.
Hope and fear exhaust you. Counterbalance their effect with added self-care: naps, warm baths, walks in nature, acupuncture or massage, or whatever nourishes you.
You might also like to read: 5 Simple and Effective Antidotes to Worry.
Hope and fear won’t disappear right away. But they’ll diminish if you gently challenge them at every turn. If they feel too big for you to conquer on your own, reach out for professional help.
What do you think: Are hope and fear the real enemies? How do you work with them? I would love to hear from you in the comments.
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