Don’t Let Hope Keep You Stuck
“I hope that this whole COVID-19 thing goes away so we can resume our regular lives.” “I hope this quarantine will be over soon!” “I hope that things will go back to how they used to be.”
You may be thinking, wishing, or even hoping these things—and are just waiting for things to get better. That was definitely me the first few weeks of quarantine.
Recently I’ve been pondering the possibility that COVID-19 may actually never go away and we may have to learn to adapt and live with it. It may be like influenza—seasonal, with a recommended shot, and it might just be a new virus that becomes a part of our lives.
We don’t know when the quarantine will be over, and even when we’re given a specific date, that date keeps getting pushed further and further back.
I am seven weeks into quarantine just waiting for the shelter-in-place to be lifted. The bleak reality is that, although we will slowly adapt to the ‘new normal,’ things will never go back to how they used to be. Ever. And that makes me feel disheartened, discouraged, and a bit sad.
But when I am able to be mindful and sit with these feelings and thoughts from a non-judgmental place, I am able to see that I am clinging to the past and how things used to be. At the same time, I am being unrealistically hopeful about the future and it was keeping me stuck.
The cause of my suffering: wishing for things to be different than they presently are. I am reminded to be mindful—to be in the present moment, accept what is, without judgment.
Acceptance doesn’t mean liking, wanting, resigning, or giving up. It just means acknowledging what is. By resisting and rejecting the current situation, we create unnecessary suffering.
Having hope is a not “bad” thing. Maybe it’s what gets you out of bed each day or helps you stay motivated. Maybe it’s something to look forward to, and if it helps you in some way, wonderful.
Hope is a beautiful thing as long as it’s helping you take action and not just keeping you stuck in a waiting state.
A waiting state based on external circumstance, an unforeseeable future date, or potential “something” that may or may not ever happen, is not very helpful.
Constantly living in this state of hope—just sitting and waiting for a better future—can prevent us from experiencing the present moment. It might stop us from accepting what is and seeing what is in front of us right now. It can stop us from being present because we are so focused on the future.
It is possible to live in hope but also to live in the present, in a state of acceptance. Incorporating mindfulness with hope allows you to create visions and desires that inspire action. It allows you to see things clearly for what they are, to accept, and propel you forward to become a better version of yourself.
From this subtle shift, you are empowered. You have clarity, you can make choices, you can act, you can choose—you accept the situation as it is right now, giving it permission to exist instead of wishing for it to be different. This reduces our resistance, minimizes our suffering, and allows us to operate from a mindful place of clarity.
Perhaps we can then cultivate something called “wise hope.”
As Zen teacher Joan Halifax says, “Wise hope is not seeing things unrealistically but rather seeing things as they are, including the truth of suffering—both its existence and our capacity to transform it.”
We can either resist the current situation, thus suffer. Or we can accept it, take actions to transform it, and focus on what we can do right now.
Personally, I know that if I stay in the “wishing things were different” mindset and after weeks of isolation (and who knows how much longer), I can easily go downhill into oversleeping, procrastinating, being lazy, binging Netflix, eating absorbent amounts of ice cream, and not keeping up with self-care all while just “hoping” things will improve.
These things can quickly snowball into decreased mood, increased negativity and anxiety, unproductivity, and even depression. I know how easy it is to slip into that, and I don’t want to go there. Rather, I consciously choose not to go there. It all starts with how I reframe my thoughts through acceptance and then take action.
Hope: “I hope that this whole COVID-19 thing goes away so we can resume our regular lives.”
Acceptance & Action: “I don’t know if this COVID-19 thing will ever really go away, but to make my life feel more normal during isolation, the action I’m going to take is to keep my daily routine. That means going to sleep at a reasonable time, setting an alarm even on weekends, getting fresh air and sunlight on my patio, meditating, eating well, stretching/practicing yoga/doing pushups, showering, and prioritizing self-care. I know that even on days I don’t feel like doing these things, I have the power to choose. I can choose to not do these things and feel crappy/unproductive/lazy, or I can choose to continue my daily routine because I know it increases my overall happiness and well-being.”
Hope: “I hope this quarantine will be over soon!”
Acceptance & Action: “Although I hope this quarantine will be over soon, all this extra time is such an opportunity! I finally started reading that book that has been on my shelf for the last year, began that online course I’ve always wanted to take, made bread from scratch, deep cleaned my house, and am studying online marketing! I re-assessed my 2020 goals that I had set out earlier in the year and made a ‘to-do list’ and a ‘want-to-do’ list that I can work toward given the current situation. I have been able to complete some of the things on my ‘want-to-do’ list and it has brought me a lot of joy.”
Hope: “I hope that things will go back to how it used to be.”
Acceptance & Action: “Things will not go back to how it used to be. We are always changing and growing because if we are not growing, then we are dying. We see this all the time in nature. A plant never stays static; it is either growing or dying. There is no in-between. So every day I am choosing to live, which means I am choosing to grow. I am taking this time to reflect on what has worked for me in the past, and how to make it better, releasing what hasn’t worked for me and/or changing direction. What a beautiful opportunity to press the RESET button!”
There are many sides to hope, as there are to love, beliefs, and just about anything. Too much of anything can cause us to be unrealistic, closeminded, rigid, blind.
Psychologist Carl Jung refers to this as the “shadow” aspect. Perhaps this can be considered a “shadow” side of hope, and nonetheless important to consider. Although this quarantine may be frustrating, boring, lonely, stressful, fill in the blank, it can be an opportunity to reset, transform, grow, change direction, and reinvent yourself. What will you choose?