Hope and Resilience

Hope and Resilience

by Judith Sarah Schmidt, PhD.

“Hope is a thing with feathers
that perches in the soul
and sings the tune
without the words
and never stops at all”

–Emily Dickinson

The taproot of the capacity for hope can be located in earliest infancy. This root is a wordless, body and sensory centered experience. I think of this as primary hope, which vitalizes all future experience. Primary hope forms on the ground of the mother’s breathing presence. When the newborn is placed on the mother, it moves to the left breast, to the heartbeat, thereby rooting the infant’s body and soul into the spiritual source of life. The beginnings of hope dwell in this cellular knowing that life is an ongoing rhythm, one that returns even when disrupted.

When things are good enough, a being can rest in its beingness and, without having to do anything, can discover the ground and flow of, the loss and return to, its own rhythm. This discovery of an intimate relation to one’s deep and unique rhythm is the first sense of pattern and meaning in life as it gives shape to a sense of primary reality.

Whereas hope begins early in life in the connection to the rhythms of the mother, it evolves into the ability to come home to the rhythm of one’s own deep self and to move out toward connection from a centered and centering inner holding space. Rhythmic and resonant connections to others and to one’s inner self are enlivening.

The capacity to create desired connections with others from the center of one’s inner being, and the capacity to come home to the self, become acts of hope. True hope is an inner centering to the core pulse of aliveness and, as well, a sense that one can flow from this center to create one’s reality.

See the infants and young children in the Romanian orphanages who
sit for endless hours, breath frozen, rocking , holding on to the rhythm
of life until, despairing, they fall into a deadness of devitalization…

Now see the young child who, connected, comes to know that it is fruitful to
have longing. One knows what the belly of this child looks like: a fullness of
breathing flowing easily, rhythmically, out from the source of the child’s being,
a language of being before words.. These are the beginnings of primal, authentic

In our time when entire nations are suffering, it is important to broaden one’s perspective on the roots of the capacity for hope. It is important to bear witness to just how many mothers of infants and young children are despairing in our world. How can these mothers possibly provide the ground of hope for their children when they themselves have been torn from family, home, country? What web of safety can they offer to their young when they have been ripped away from that web? From the sufferings in the collective, one learns just how fragile and just how resilient the roots of hope can be. The life force will receive light from whatever source it may find: a relative, a nurse, another child, a teacher, the spirit of an ancestor. But enlivening response must come from some quarter. Attention must be paid. Greater understanding of just how critical resonant attachment is to the development of resilience can inform peacemakers, so that they can insist upon creating safe and hope-enhancing havens for the young.

In one’s work with people, it is of utmost importance to sense the slightest sign of desire stirring in a depressed and hopeless person. This may be nothing more than a fleeting expression crossing the face or a gesture of the hand. Such wordless seeds of hope need to be raised up by the listener, for they hold the potential for new beginnings
For hope to start up again, we may need to listen deeply and at great length to a person’s story. This is a story in quest of a witnessing presence: of a face that can see my story and have me see being seen. In this story telling, desire may arise out of being witnessed. Rhythm may start again, perhaps in the rhythm of tears, in the rhythm of the voice, in the rhythm of the other’s listening self, in the rhythm of the between created in the space of an I-thou.

If resonant attending is not paid, in place of primal hope, there arises a sense of primal shame. At the core, one does not feel a part of the tribe, walks with head and shoulders bent, falters in footstep, does not look another straight in the eye, dreams of being covered in shit, feels the burning of humiliation of being seen. Primal shame is like the burning of a never-ending hell. Primal hope and primal shame are polarities of creating belonging and enduring the hopelessness of exile.

There is another kind of hope that is different from primal or authentic hope. I would call this false hope. It is a hope that insists on having restored what has been taken away or being given what was never given. This is a hope that can never be filled, because the past can never be undone. This is a hope that protests and refuses to mourn.

The helper can become frustrated at the insistence of the client to get what was never given. If the helper can metabolize this sense of frustration, she can hold the space open so that what is hidden behind this fruitless persistence can be uncovered. Often we find a dread of deadness, of primal shame, and a despair of ever starting hope up again. One’s work here is to help the person come to mourning, to the capacity to bear what must be borne in order to begin to hope in a real way for what is possible.

If one is to help another to enter the journey through the desert of hopelessness, one must come to know one’s inner relationship to hope and hopelessness. If one can bear one’s own journey into the darkness, one can come to another with some trust that the journey will not be foreclosed out of fear, either the helper’s or the journeyer’s. One will have learned deeply in one’s own spiritual center that, in hopelessness, a rhythm can be found, and that out of this rhythm the pearl of hope can be received, precious because it is born out of a wound and bravely wrestled for.

(See Whale Rider: a film weaving threads of individual, collective and ancestral hope.)

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *