No, I'm not pregnant, but I am actively engaging hope.
Students of comedic history know the Henny Youngman line, “Take my wife… PLEASE.”
My routine is a bit different. It goes: “OY VEY, I LOST MY WIFE [audience gets sad].
I lean into the mike, “No, it’s the best thing that ever happened to me!” [audience shocked].
I place my hand over my heart: “You see, it finally BROKE OPEN… but now I can’t share it with her!” [audience laughs nervously. rim-shot].
So, where’s Bruce? He’s straddling the “barzakh” – the space between being buoyant and bereft, uplift and downdraft, grieving and grinning.
It’s like the pain scale. The nurse asks, “Where’s your pain today?” If you report a 10 (horrific pain), you can’t function. If you report zero, you’re too drugged to process what’s happening.
Grief is similar. You have to find the sweet spot between distraction and despair – and it’s a sliding scale. What’s appropriate for one month is different the next.
It’s like Shiva and Shakti, the constant interplay between two opposing cosmic forces – Shiva being meditative stillness, and Shakti as the force that propels us to strive, achieve, and create our world.
For this reason, I have reported that grief is a motion, not an emotion.
I’ve chosen to ride the Shakti wave — a small tsunami that includes: My grief advisory group dinner parties, Sunday Zoom group, walks with friends, long phone calls, painting the interior of the house, writing a book, writing these essays (now on Substack), working my day job, daily yoga, three dog walks per day, two Airbnb’s, and today, planting the Karen tree in Tennessee. Your results may vary, but I’ve taken up with Shakti.
All of this keeps me “in the game,” which, of course, is an illusion.
“Doc, can I keep my illusion!”
“Sorry, but it’s coming out.”
Strange articles keep showing up in my feed…
including one today: “I’m Not just Single, I’m Solitary – Here’s Why I’ve Never Been Happier.”
The author praises singlehood as less work, utter freedom, eat what you want, get to work on self-healing, and less “emotional labour.” (a UK girl).
I agree with a few slivers of her thesis, for example, the unfettered, thrilling freedom to stay up to write at night. But I also disagree because the emotional labour IS THE THING.
What is this emotional labour? Recently, I’ve been asking friends, “What is your growing edge?”
Most reply, “Say what?”
I should have asked, “Where are you directing your emotional labor?”
When you’re a child, your growing edge might be to get a puppy. As a teen, you mow lawns to buy a car, or you might focus desperately on a prom date. If you live in Siberia, your growing edge is a washing machine.
For an expectant mother, her growing edge shifts as she prepares to bring a new life into the world. She moves into Actively-Engaged Hope. This hope is larger than her because another being is joining the story, which makes it a kind of Soul Hope. She begins painting a room, looking at cribs, collecting hand-me-downs, talking to moms, taking vitamins, and so on. She is creating a space for the future to arrive, and that’s why people revere her as she glides into a yoga class with her belly beaming. She literally carries the future.
Back to the question: “Where’s Bruce?” I’m Actively-Engaging Hope.
No, I’m not pregnant, and my state might be an illusion, but I have no choice. I feel a second act in my belly, so I’m paddling to meet that wave. Reshad Feild called this “Living in the question.” It’s an actively receptive state where you don’t presume life.
When the borders shut down in Australia due to COVID, my friend Anahata became stranded there for over two years. She navigated an impossible situation where she wasn’t allowed to leave and wasn’t allowed to stay! So she remained in the active-receptive. While there, she shared in my Uplift book:
“I’ve been forced to live on an edge all the time here — where I have to remain vigilant. I have been living at the mercy of other people who are in control of my destiny to some extent. So, my vigilance is in every department – in my relationships, finances, and making sure that my classes are tip-top… I don’t have anything secure. I don’t have a house. I don’t have possessions. I am forced to pay attention all the time… I forget to trust like everybody else and then remember that things are unfolding. At times, the whole thing freaked me out. How am I going to make this all work? And then it became absolutely evident that there is nothing I could do to make it work other than give my best. Things are going to be what they’re going to be.”
Anahata is now back in the States, and I’m happy to report: A second act is opening for her. You go, girl!
In my vigilance of Actively-Engaged Hope, my antenna buzzes constantly. I find meaning in every call, every glance, and every invite. I was curious about 5Rhythms dance but a close confidant warned, “I don’t think you should go to it alone.” The next day, a neighbor invited me to lunch and casually mentioned, “There’s this ecstatic dance thing I’m interested in…” And boom, two days later, I was wiggling on the 5Rhythms dance floor.
This week, from someone else, I was invited to SOL DANCE – An Ecstatic Dance Movement.
“Hello God. What the f* is going on here? Who placed this standing order in the Bruce App?”
God: “Your soul did. That’s how this works.”
And then I remembered my New Year’s resolution of “Circulation,” saying yes to every opportunity to mix with humans.
If you’re paying attention, you know what your Soul is up to; it’s leading you through perplexity to illumination. There’s a passage from John O’Donahue, “Beauty: The Invisible Embrace,” (a guiding piece for Karen and me) that explains this:
“All through your life your soul takes care of you. Despite its best brightness, your mind can never illuminate what your life is doing. You are always in a state of knowing, but that knowing, while often lucid and deep, is more often faltering and shadowed. At times you feel immensely present in your life, rooted in what is happening to you, utterly there. At other times you are only vaguely in your life; things are blurred, confusion or distraction owns your days… Yet through all these times, your soul is alive and awakened, gathering, sheltering and guiding your ways and days in the world. In effect, your soul is your secret shelter.”
John O’Donahue and Anahata speak of a deep trust in this Soul Hope. New-age people talk about “co-creating, manifesting, and power of attraction.” But soul hope is different. It’s active and receptive – a form of soul-listening. With this deep hope, the baby is running the show, but the mother must actively create the space.
When we’re in our thirties, we face a limitless horizon of hope – a growing family, house, job, vacations, and possessions. The danger is when this limitless horizon feeds a life of expectation that becomes out of sync with reality. Like dark thunderclouds on the horizon, you hear the first thunderclap at age 42 – boom, a midlife crisis, or midlife “change.” These out-of-sync demons represent the future coming to be faced. Reshad once told my friend Joelle, “Until you face what you have to face, you can never be free.”
We do the best we can, plodding the treadmill until we retire. But living on a golf course is not a growing edge.
When I ask people who are my age, what is your growing edge? I sense their psyche setting up like Jello. They feel it’s too late, they’re too old, or they like their comfort. I sorta agree. Why would anyone leave their comfort zone to start a crazy new chapter at this age? Boomers aren’t in their twenties – but to quote Dylan, our soul is supposed to be “FOREVER YOUNG!”
A growing edge is catalytic – where we are most alive. The growing edge for the world right now is in Ukraine – in the conflict between East and West, fascism and freedom, authoritarianism and democracy. God bless Biden’s heroic trip to Kyiv on the eve of Putin’s big speech. I am mesmerized by Zelensky and how he channels hope for his people and the world. On Ukraine’s Independence Day, he said:
“The Ukrainian people and their courage inspired the whole world. They gave humanity a new hope that justice has not completely left our cynical world. And it is still not force that wins in it, but truth. Not money, but values. Not oil, but people.”
How did a theater person like Zelensky become the world’s lightning rod for Hope?
Václav Havel, Czechoslovakia’s first democratically elected president after the fall of communism, was also a theater person. After several stints in prison for his activism, he played a major role in the Velvet Revolution that toppled the Communist system. He became president in 1989 and was re-elected in a landslide.
Havel saw “actively-engaged hope” as being different from wishful thinking and enthusiasm. He wrote:
“Complete skepticism is an understandable consequence of discovering that one’s enthusiasms are based on illusion. This skepticism leads to a dehumanization of history — a history drifting somewhere above us, taking its own course, having nothing to do with us, trying to cheat us, destroy us, playing out its cruel jokes.”
He explained that active engagement takes place in us and in real time:
“If bringing back some human dimension to the world depends on anything, it depends on how we acquit ourselves in the here and now.”
And here is Havel’s kicker, where I am trying to live:
“The kind of hope I often think about is, I believe, a state of mind, not a state of the world. Either we have hope within us, or we don’t. Hope is not a prognostication — it’s an orientation of the spirit. Each of us must find real, fundamental hope within himself. You can’t delegate that to anyone else.”
Consider how these two theater people, Zelensky and Havel, carried the banner of hope for their people. It seems odd, but as theater people, they live and breathe the dramatic arc and understand how the barriers to realization live within the protagonist.
Like with my beloved octave and dramatic structure, they understand the long game. This is unlike politicians who only play transactional politics. The Russian dissident Alexei Navalny also understands “long hope.” After a horrific poisoning, he voluntarily returned to Russia to be incarcerated for years in a brutal gulag, where he continues to play an outsized role as Russia’s protagonist for freedom.
With the encouragement of Havel, I am continuing to try new things.
Havel is quite explicit about this when he writes:
“It is this hope, above all, that gives us strength to live and to continually try new things, even in conditions that seem as hopeless as ours, here and now. In the face of this absurdity, life is too precious a thing to permit its devaluation by living pointlessly, emptily, without meaning, without love, and, finally, without hope.”
Thank you again for reading. If you want to commiserate about hope, please reach out.
Note to readers: I might take a little writing break (fat chance!) as I prepare my talk on Continuous Renewal. It’ll be up in North Georgia, so more of a Tedneck Talk (code-named “Octave for Dummies”). I will present a dress rehearsal in Decatur and on Zoom before the University of North GA event (3/23). Local date TBD.
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