Editor’s Introduction: Places of Hope

Karen Jaenke & Jürgen Kremer

Photo by Fariba Bogzaran © 2020

We did not set out as experts on hope. Rather, we were called to this topic by the unravelling events and dismal atmosphere of 2020. A startling array of upheavals during 2020–a spreading global pandemic; policy brutality, intensified racial tensions and social unrest; the rise in autocratic leaders worldwide; the undermining of confidence in the American democratic process of elections; the dangerous erosion of commonly-shared truth and standards of truth; the spread of disinformation and cries of fake news; the emergence of militant extremist groups and polarized polis; and the ongoing, escalating threat of ecological collapse—together contribute to a pervasive atmosphere of uncertainty, depression, and even despair about the future. 

In response to the many cracks appearing in the edifice of modern civilization, we felt a call to consider the question: from whence springs the deeper sources of hope, that can counter these overwhelming collective challenges, which seem to invite gloom? We decided to gather perspectives on hope from an array of visionary thinkers.  “Places of Hope” seeks to offer grounded perspectives on hope, exploring lenses that extend beyond the onslaught of dismal news, discerning in the cracks hidden sources of promise and hope. We ask: what other interpretive frameworks might be applied to this cluster of disturbing events? How does one find hope when a surround-sound of media reporting offers no other future than a return to the status quo? 

The limited perspective of media reporting on these events, the repeated mantra wishing to leave 2020 behind and return to “normal”, is explored in Leny Strobel’s Editorial “Dear 2020”. She writes a letter addressed to the year 2020, questioning the unexamined assumptions and attitudes widely circulating during 2020. 

In other authors’ responses, certain themes and lessons became apparent. 

Michael Gray’s article, “Strumming the Strings of Hope”, opens with the question: “What are the images of hope that flit and dance through our psyches?” —hinting that hope draws upon the capacities of imagination, as the future is always open, uncertain, and indeterminate, never graspable. Gray finds that a collectively-shared hope rests in the restoration of “a kinder and gentler life” for all who live in some version of misery. Meanwhile, those who are empowered to “access hope in their own hearts… [are encouraged to create] conditions that inspire hope in others,” employing our personal losses as “a window into the pain that afflicts so many all around us.” 

Gray’s own hope is nurtured by the beauty of our planet, a circle of friendship, and ancient traditions that fathom “the nature of what it means to be born a human being.” The Buddhist tradition provides the image of a bird with two wings, one of wisdom and one of compassion, suggesting balance between mind and heart. 

Yet the very sources of hope which sustained Gray did not work for his son, occupying a different generation and set of life of circumstances. Unable to discern hope in the same things that sustained his father, he succumbed to the ultimate act of despair. This poignant tragedy underscores how “the basis for hope is radically situational and deeply personal.” Hope must rise afresh in each person’s unique life circumstances, while also encompassing each person’s cumulative set of life experiences – admittedly vast and varied. Ultimately, hope entails a unique psycho-spiritual process, to be discovered and nurtured afresh in each human heart. 

Gray’s article also points implicitly to the underlying role of worldview and spiritual practice as the deeper ground of hope, a recurring theme appearing across several authors. Some worldviews are more adequate than others as the soil from which hope can spring. Similarly, commitment to a spiritual practice can provide a personal methodology for dealing with the vicissitudes of life.

Two authors garner hope from the example of a single, highly evolved human being, leading a life anchored in spiritual discipline and devotion. When confronted by a vivid dream of an ashen landscape of total destruction—an image of our worst collective nightmare—Kimmy Johnson subsequently discovers hope through the example of a lone monk, walking with absolute equanimity through this barren landscape. This inspiring image of the power of the human spirit suggests that a spiritual practice focused on cultivating equanimity can empower one to accept the most devastating scenarios and keep walking steadily forward. 

Similarly, Glenn Parry distills hope from the example of an indigenous elder who, despite enduring the historical trauma of a deadly 300-mile known as “The Long Walk,” was the “kindest and sweetest soul I ever met, a man of great love, wisdom and patience.” Ever thankful for the gift of life, Navajo Grandfather Leon Secatero offered daily “prayers…to the ancestors, thanking them for everything that has happened to bring him (us) to this moment in time.” This powerful prayer teaches “how to accept all of life experience, without exception,” as a blessing. 

In his own wisdom, Parry finds that “hope and fear are reciprocal.” If “we are either hoping for a better situation or fearing that things will get worse, [i]n both cases, the present is somehow unacceptable. The way to break this impasse is to accept what is happening right now as it is—as a blessing. Accept our hopes and fears as they are…All our experience is grist for the mill, something to learn from and grow.” 

Parry also urges us towards “A love that is based in acceptance, not circumstance, is unconditional. With this form of love for life, all things are capable of being transformed, including our fears and hopes. Unconditional love for life itself is the greatest transformative force.” Parry finds that love—the unseen force that binds things together– “is an original energy in nature.” “Love is what we need when the universe feels hopelessly complicated, chaotic and random.”

Karen Jaenke’s article “Loving Life” strikes a similar chord, while drawing upon living systems theory to showcase an integrative worldview and scientifically-based template for aligning one’s personal life with the life force energy of the universe, allowing our entire lives to become an expression of love for life. But first, she confronts the human shadow–the human propensity for unleashing ecological destruction, extending throughout our species history, across 70,000 years. Regarding the manmade ecological crisis as humanity’s most mind-boggling challenge and deterrent to hope, she looks to living systems theory and the intelligent design of nature as providing an alternative to humanity’s appalling ecological track record. 

She applies living systems theory (and its ancient predecessor indigenous science), personally, adopting it as a transformative personal practice, leading to wellbeing, balance and hope. Engaging intentionally with the internal feedback loops of affect regulation, dreams, and the energy circuits of the subtle body, we learn to hear and heed the communicative messages of our own mind-body system as a facet of nature, thus bringing self-as-living-system into balance and attunement with other living systems. These practices bestow a grounded hope, based in the deep structures of the universe, as well as the blessing of living in flow with life.

Layman Pascal similarly regards the ecological crisis as the most all-encompassing challenge to a hopeful future for humanity. In the personal essay “Ecomorphic Eudaimonia,” he shares three principles that serve as a container for his own sense of hope. His first principle entails “leaning into a voluntary hopefulness. This does not mean to ignore doubt, worry and real limitations but rather to acknowledge, enfold and gesture beyond them as a free choice.” Secondly, he looks to “the principle of ecomorphism,” orthe possibility of a more benevolent creative participation between culture and nature.” He envisions an all-encompassing collaboration between natural systems and human systems, with the latter embodying “the former in multiple domains and formats. That means that a world worth hoping for is neither a biosphere devoid of human thriving nor a human civilization blind to the facts and needs of the environment and other types of beings… the deep recognition of the interdependence and mutual identity of culture and nature must inform our minds, hearts, actions, tools and social procedures if we are to steer ourselves toward worthwhile futures.” 

Lastly, under the rubric of a new shamanism, he sketches “the type of human being that may be required in order to cultivate and populate… a ‘better world’ that does not fall prey to the dystopian results of most utopian attempts.” Pascal deems that shamanic spirituality is particularly favorable at this moment in history, for several reasons. First, it is deeply ecological in its appreciation of “the patterns and responsibilities that emerge from an experiential understanding of the interdependence of human beings and the rest of the biosphere.” Secondly, it is embodied and health-oriented, causing “minds and societies to serve the holistic intelligence of the living ecosystems of our bodies.” Third, it facilitates “more profound encounters with non-human intelligences.” And finally, it possesses “a genius for flow-states… in which we feel more naturalness and growth in ourselves” as well as encouragement to participate “in new social customs that move us toward a world worth hoping for.” 

A recurrent and noteworthy theme in these articles concerns the role of one’s fundamental worldview in engendering a hopeful attitude—or not. Across the arc of life, especially the adulthood years, each of us is faced with the task of fashioning a worldview to make sense of and integrate the succession of personal and collective experiences accumulating through the decades. The adequacy of worldviews might even be judged by whether they spawn a capacity to generate and sustain hope in the face of the onslaught of life. 

To generate and sustain hope, it seems that a worldview must be expansive and facile enough to encompass all our personal experiences, plus those that we vicariously witness in others, while offering a framework for addressing the collective challenges of the current zeitgeist. In other words, worldviews that generate hope must grow from the soil of the past, addresses the challenges posed by the present, and aerate the open-ended unknowns of the future. Optimally, a well-fashioned worldview is sufficiently complex and nuanced to meet the totality of human experiences, while tipping the scales towards hope rather than cynicism and despair. 

In the search for an encompassing worldview, several authors—most notably Jurgen Kremer, Karen Jaenke, Lily Mendoza, Paul Callaghan, Fariba Bozgaran, and Layman Pascal—grapple intellectually to articulate the larger metastory of “the greater whole” and its hidden dynamics from which a grounded hope can be fashioned. All authors in this volume also turn to the power of a spiritual tradition or spiritual framework for generating an all-encompassing, hopeful outlook. Additionally, when life events challenge one’s hope, an accompanying spiritual practice can offer ballast and buoyancy for the waning spirit. 

In “Hope Summons: Meditations on An-Other-World Seeing”, Lily Mendoza narrates her journey of overturning the conventional worldview of continual progress to conquer the world—in favor of one that nurtures and aligns with the sensitivities of her own soul. She comes to reject the “prize-winning story” of civilizational triumph, that champions “modern convenience, surplus production, and mesmerizing technological wonders” yet is ever stalked by the shadow of a “constant state of emergency (the sense of there never being enough—of time, resources, energy, material wealth, etc.) that has come to define the modern condition.” 

Her transformative awakening came during a graduate course on “The Image of the Filipino in Art,” a watershed moment in which “I was smitten. I fell in love, awestruck not only by the beauty of Indigenous design, but by the ritual subtlety and cosmological complexity of the worlds that gave rise to such brilliant artistic creations….Walking out of every class session, heaves of emotion and copious tears would overwhelm me, flooding me with homecoming relief after what had seemed like an interminable exile from my own Indigenous soul—the consequence of years of unrelenting psychic disconfirmation through colonial tutelage growing up.”

Through three vignettes that narrate her visits among those who still live and carry memory of life outside “the roiling emergency,” we glimpse her gradual deepening into the alternative story, with an underlying message: “Things don’t have to be this way.” The Earth peoples, the rememberers, “remain remarkably grounded in the summons of that alternative world that they and their ancestors before them have sought to keep alive through generations.” “Whatever tinge of hope I have, whatever possibility of a different future I can imagine…I owe to their witness.”

Mendoza questions whether a grounded hope can ever exist in exile from the Indigenous soul, a theme taken up by Paul Callaghan in his article, “Revitalising Hope through the Power of Story.” Callahan pays homage to the bedrock of a life-affirming worldview as found in the lore of Aboriginal culture, which he defines as “a body of knowledge, stories or traditions that is passed down from members of a culture usually by word of mouth.” Yet “the Aboriginal meaning of the word Lore is more accurately and respectfully captured in the Aboriginal word Ngurrampaa, which can be translated in English to mean my responsibility to care for my place and all things in my place above all things. “The knowledge of how to uphold the Ngurrampaa, the Lore was provided through story in its various forms including dance, song, art and narrative.” 

Aborginal Lore leads to “expansive thought that upholds the sacred responsibility to care for our place and all things in our place,” in contrast to the “narrow, one dimensional thinking focused on limited timelines and economic growth.” The reductive thinking of the dominant culture has resulted in “a world where the social determinants of a healthy earth are…severely undermined, leading to the symptomatology” that we see today—global warming, widespread species extinction, destructive weather events, pandemics, inequities in wealth with widespread suffering across the human family. Yet “in the Aboriginal way of thinking, all things have spirit … all things are born … all things die … and all things are connected.” 

So for Callaghan, “The Lore is the incubator of love and hope. The Lore is the gateway to the path of wellbeing. If we forget the Lore or fail to acknowledge and uphold the universal truths it contains, our soil becomes barren. In barren soil we stagnate individually … we stagnate as a community … we stagnate globally. By ignoring the wisdom handed to us by those who have come before us, we create a desert where life withers and eventually dies.” 

Similarly, Helena Soholm turns to the themes of personal and collective ancestral healing and the guiding wisdom of ancient story as sources of hope. “The messages of the ancestors urge us to build a world that honors the interconnectedness of life and to create sustainable structures and policies.” 

In the Korean myth of Princess Bari, poor fate and grim life circumstances (of total familial rejection) are transformed into a heroine’s journey to the underworld, where she finds her life purpose and a healing medicine for the original rejecting family situation. “After years of toil and suffering, she completes her mission of saving her parents, returning as a powerful healer. For this accomplishment and dedication, she receives a sacred title, becomes the first Mudang or shaman, and is worshipped as the patron goddess of shamans. Princess Bari also tackles the social justice issues of gender and power within a highly patriarchal society. 

Soholm finds that the tale of Bari has special meaning in our current situation, “where the princess steps into her power to serve in the most meaningful and compassionate way. By healing from one’s personal trauma of abandonment and helping those who have caused her pain, Bari demonstrates the ultimate love of a true healer. Her life story illustrates the beauty of a healing arc which begins with the focus on the individual but ends in addressing the needs of the group”, thereby giving us “a blueprint for how we can answer the call of our ancestors in a time of uncertainty and crisis.” Within cultures where healing and connection to self are not prioritized, consciously working towards self-healing becomes an act of political and social resistance. 

Moreover, Soholm finds that the arrival of Covid-19 brings the hidden opportunity to take an inward journey, with the potential for overcoming the distraction, disconnection and dissociation that characterize much of modern life. “The damage caused by the pandemic will leave a lasting scar, but the death of outdated patterns will force us to face a novel and unknown world. Physical lockdown and restrictions on our movement offered a unique opportunity for all of us to travel inwards and sit with ourselves. The external limitations also offered an opportunity to work on healing and renew our vision for a better future… where kindness and compassion are priorities.” 

Two authors, Isoke Femi and Fariba Bogzaran, turn to the power of action, through ritual and art respectively, as a means to transform dire circumstances—the weight of cultural oppression and mass death from Covid. Isoke Femi looks to the African-derived practices and ritual technologies that serve as a source of cultural resilience, or “gettin’ ovah” in the African slave diaspora. “Overcoming in this context refers to the repeated act of resisting soul loss, or loss of vitality and authenticity.” For “African Americans in the U.S., soul loss would be the inevitable result of collective scapegoating over the course of several centuries had it not been for the overcoming practices of African-derived spirituality, finely tuned over the centuries.” Through these “practices—of music, spoken word, embodied grace and authenticity—heart as well as soul qualities are preserved and refined,” serving as an antidote to “nearly unrelenting projections of inferiority” and the impact of post traumatic slave syndrome.

Under the influence of these applied getting over practices, the creative genius of the enslaved and their descendants becomes the collective repository of powers for surviving and thriving that defy depression and despair. Femi shares a contemporary instance in which “a racially, culturally and socioeconomically mixed group of folks find themselves in a situation where the need for practices of overcoming arises.” This story “demonstrates the intercultural potentialities of these modes of experiencing.”

Fariba Bogzaran’s visionary artistic expression provides the enveloping imagery for this issue as well as her exploration of hope in Covid times. In her article “Contemplating Hope”, Bogzaran first questions, in Buddhist fashion, the very construct of hope as an escape from facing the present moment. The cover image, “Squaring the Circle”, made from the very masks that became a ubiquitous symbol of a deadly virus permeating everyday shared reality, offers an alchemical image for the transformation of crisis into an ordering, unified wholeness. Her article “describes and depicts in imagery her unfolding artistic and shamanic process of incorporating masks and gloves into artworks revealing aspects of the global pandemic. One piece even goes to the precipice of “The Last Breath.” A final series of artworks offer images of the portal of light into which souls succumbing to COVID pass. 

Leny Mendoza Strobel grapples with the issue of hope from the perspective of archiving, the creation of both cultural and personal archives. Bayo Akomolafe’s question “What about yourself cannot be tracked?” is the challenging starting point of her inquiry. Strobel looks critically at the importance of personal history, “the importance of keeping records of the milestones that crown our lives”. By contrast, she asserts the importance of what is “illegible about myself, what hasn’t been tracked and archived.” What we find then is an abundance of “imprints in our hearts, psyche, and our soul”, the quality that is powerfully captured in her ancestral Filipino concept of “kapwa—the Self-is-in-the-Other”. It is this quality of presence that matters more than any archive. The colonial history of the Philippines, despite its assault on Filipino Indigenous cultures, has not managed to destroy her illegible, untracked, and unarchived subterranean self. Strobel challenges the reader: “What about yourself cannot be tracked, is illegible, and cannot be archived?”

Modernity and its notion of “civilization” looks at oral traditions and cultures lacking sacred texts as retrograde and primitive. Yet, as the Talaandig tribal chief Datu Vic Saway points out: “We do have sacred texts—we have the Mountain, Forest, Rivers, Sun, Stars, Moon, Animals—we have the biggest sacred text of Nature!” This reminds us to activate our natural intelligence “to read the Wind …to read the Sky”. Strobel describes her process of turning inward, “the gift of the virus, the California fires, the craziness of politics, and the climate crisis.” She now lingers with acute settler awareness “among the non-human beings”. Part of this dwelling in place is the inner work of decolonization and the quiet work of creating ceremonies of apology and forgiveness for the genocidal history in Northern California, thus addressing “the erasure of native genocide as the “first sin” at the foundation of the U.S.”

Where then is hope? Strobel asserts that it can only be found outside and beyond the categories that modernity trades in. It will arise from something else that “is the not-yet-visible but palpable, an ineffable movement towards righting the wrongs of the past, seeking reparations and repair. … Hope will always be that something else.

Jurgen Werner Kremer, in his piece “Coming-to-Presence at My Place of Hope,” feels compelled to look beyond the standard frameworks of psychology and neoliberal socio-cultural interpretations, because they “have lost their explanatory and guiding power.” He explores the possibilities of hope by an indigenous name for those (post)moderns who have lost connections with their indigenous roots. He urges that “’the West’ needs to find answers to the central questions of our times in the radical otherness that indigeneity represents.” Kremer contrasts Western interpretations of hope as an abstract notion projected into the future of linear time with hope as part of indigenous presence, a quality of hope that is “embedded and interwoven into a life centered in the ritual embodiment of spiritual beliefs and nurturing conversations with the natural world around.” 

Kremer has pursued a path of recovery of an indigenous mind process in personal and scholarly inquiries. The prevailing understandings of Western psychology and cultural assumptions about time for him presented a road block to conceptualizing such recovery successfully beyond subjective imaginings. His central ancestral cultural image of the tree by the well, together with three female and three male presences, leads into an inquiry of its viability for today and our future. Rock carvings and other culturally relevant images from his Northern European background constitute the palimpsest of the article (which includes a photo of one of his ancestors); they are the grounding rock bed of Kremer’s explorations. What emerges in the article has communal origins based in place and his individual pursuit ultimately needs to return to contexts of communal nurturing conversations with all relations (including animals, plants, rocks, and more). At the root of indigenous presence is visionary sovereignty, an intimate and creative engagement with place, nature, narrative imagination, and ceremonial practices. The recovery of such presence, Kremer argues, requires the composting of hopelessness and shadow material.

Using the work of Walter Benjamin, Karen Barad, and Judith Butler, Kremer develops an understanding of time where quantum field theories and indigenous science understandings illuminate each other and become twins in emancipatory moves. Both perspectives can help us understand our embeddedness in the world and how flashes of memory can bring “the past into the present so that it may become what it might have been.” “Remembrance creates wholeness and the possibility of a different world.” This discussion has profound implications for psychological theories and beyond.

Kremer ends his contribution with a Hawaiian story relating remembrance to initiation. We need to confront painful memories and bring light into cultural shadow material which, ultimately, means “to confront death for the sake of our present evolutionary challenge”. He questions whether we (post)moderns are willing “to commit to the creation of livable communities in which we manifest our obligations and responsibilities to our fellow humans and other-and-more than humans”? The conscious confrontation with death forces the choice between life and self-destruction. He asserts that “the twins Indigenous science and quantum field theory can help us correct pathological thinking as the smooth linearity of time progressing is exploded by flashes of remembrance constellating a depth of presence and obligation to life largely forgotten by non-indigenous people”. Hope emerges from staring in the face of death and the possibility of choice in the face of darkness.