Unhooking From Hopeful Hooks

Recently I’ve been reflecting on the concept of hope because of the maelstrom of change and uncertainty that is spinning around the globe. I have noticed that many people are refusing to engage with how these challenges may manifest and choosing instead, to be filled with the hope that with a hop, skip and a jump humanity will move into a far more conscious way of being. Some speak of us standing on the threshold of a brand-new Golden Era, where ‘awakened’ people will live in complete harmony with the natural world. Unquestionably, this does sound appealing.

Then a thought dropped into my mind, which said, ‘Unhook for hopeful hooks.’

To begin with, I was baffled. Surely, hope is about the optimistic belief that there is a better outcome to what’s happening in the moment. As Desmond Tutu says, ‘Hope is being able to see that there is light despite all of the darkness.’

Personally, I couldn’t have survived thus far without hope. During several bleak times in my life hope has pushed, shoved and hauled me forwards. It’s given me a blind faith not to give up even when I felt so battered by life that I couldn’t see the point of it anymore. Therefore, over the years I have come to understand that hope is part of the human condition, which acts as the counterbalance to despair. This has helped me to develop a strong affinity with hope and what it means to have hope walking beside me when my skies turn grey.

So, why should I unhook from hopeful hooks? Surely this is a time in human history when we all need to grasp onto hope for dear life. I sat down in my meditation chair to ask for clarity. And, this is what came to me: there are two levels to hope; a higher vibration of hope and a lower vibration of hope. The higher vibration of hope gives us strength and resilience when we really need it. The lower vibration of hope is when we turn it into hopeful hooks to feed our illusions.

We humans have an extraordinary instinctive desire to survive, no matter what the world is throwing at us. So, our hopeful hooks are what we cast towards any passing flotsam and jetsam, which can help us to keep our noses above the water level. However, whatever our hopeful hooks have attached to can be precarious in nature. For example, ‘I know he loves me, he’s just doesn’t realise yet.’ ‘This time next year everything will be fine.’ ‘Once this deal is on the table, I will be a millionaire.’ ‘When I find my soul-mate, I will never feel lonely again.’

In other words, hopeful hooks take us out of the rigours of the present into an imaginary golden future.

There’s nothing wrong in imaging a great future (the New Age multi-billion-dollar industry is built on it), but as I have discovered myself, we can’t just jump into it. We need to work towards it with care, focus and integrity, making the inner changes that we need to do to in order to create a far more positive outcome. Otherwise our hope-filled dreams either fall apart or disappear as quickly as they appear.

Therefore, it’s important to understand that hope has its own dark side, which is illusion. Illusion is a cunning phenomenon because it can seem very real in our imagination. In fact, it can feel so real that it tricks us into believing that it is real, and everything becomes dependent on this illusion coughing up what we desire. However, by their very nature, illusions are incapable of doing this, so we throw out yet more hopeful hooks in desperation to make our lives better. This ends up as an exhausting game of chance until we realise the truth of what’s happening.

I now understand that when we unhook from the illusions of our hopeful hooks, the higher vibration of hope can step forward to help us to align with our higher self to create the best possible scenarios for who we are and how we chose to live our life. Things flow because this higher vibration of hope means we become unattached to the outcome. We understand that whatever manifests is often a stepping-stone to something else to help us fulfil what we are called to do in this lifetime. And, irrespective of what storms are brewing around us, we become aware that the world continues to work in mysterious ways. Sometimes not getting what we ‘want’ may turn into the greatest gift we can image.

Gaining this clarity between the higher and lower vibrations of hope has helped me to understand that I do not want to engage in throwing out hopeful hooks to deal with the changes and challenges we are all confronting at the present time. There is a process of transmutation going on here that I personally don’t understand. I have no idea if this means that a Golden Time lies ahead. It would be great if it did. But I want to focus on drawing on the higher vibration of hope to help me to build the resilience, courage and stamina that I need right now to confront what these changes may mean for our planet, and the uncomfortable impact this may have on the whole of humanity. Speaking for myself, I am greatly comforted by the steady companionship of the higher vibration of hope as I walk blindly into our unknown future, one step at a time.

I knew something was wrong, and I was right


Sue in conversation with Fiona (Fi) Elwell about living consciously for a better world. 

Two years ago Fi was diagnosed with secondary cancer. She is in her early fifties and a single mum of her son who is now eight. Fi talks about her extraordinary journey into remission and how having cancer has influenced her desire to live consciously for a better world. Recently Fi started a Psychology MSc. 

Sue: How did you find out that you had cancer, Fi?

Fi: On one level it was a massive shock. But somehow, I knew things weren’t right. I was becoming increasing unwell and for a while I kept on being admitted into Ambulatory Emergency Care at my local hospital [usually referred to as AEC, which provides same day emergency care to patients]. One day I realised something was seriously wrong when everyone else in the waiting room was being seen in a cubical with a curtain pulled round. The doctor, on the other hand, took me into his actual office. He told me I had a cancerous growth between my liver and gall bladder, and also secondary cancer. I remember staring at him in blind terror and saying, ‘But, I am a single parent with a six-year-old son.’  ‘Yes,’ he said, ‘I know.’ Then he got up from his chair and walked out. And, that was it. A nurse came in and said to me cheerily, ’Come on, it’s not that bad.’ A colleague then whispered something into her ear. After that she gave me a cup of tea because she realised it was very serious. Shortly afterwards I met another nurse who was shocked about what had happened.

Sue: Fi, I am speechless about this. What a dreadful way to be treated.  

Fi: Yes, it was. But I don’t think the doctor knew what to say. Or he was really uncomfortable with how to break news like this.

Sue: That’s putting it mildly. It’s very concerning how many people persistently complain about the way difficult or bad news is delivered by NHS doctors. I think it’s down to lack of training.

Fi: Perhaps it is, but something needs to be done about it. I had difficulties with my GP as well. She failed to take me seriously for 18 months prior to my eventual diagnosis despite numerous blood tests and self-referrals from me. I also self-referred to have a mammogram. But the doctor told me that I had an inverted nipple and said I could sort it out myself in the shower.  After my diagnosis, I changed to another GP. I  lost all faith in the one I had been seeing.

Sue: Placing this extremely distressing treatment by the GP and hospital doctor aside, I am very interested in what you say about somehow knowing something was wrong with you.

Fi: Yes, on a deep level, I did know. However, I think that we have such a strong survival instinct, we may not allow this knowing in. I believe that happened to me. As I said, I was having a lot of blood tests before I became really ill. I could see that the results of some of them were strange. However, because my GP didn’t pick up on them, I pushed the dread I was feeling back under the carpet.

Sue: How long did you have this feeling that things weren’t right.

Fi: It’s funny, some time before all of this, I was sitting in a pub having a glass of wine and the thought came to me that if there was something really wrong with me, I will never drink again. This is exactly what’s happened. So, this sense of knowing something was wrong had been in my head way before I was diagnosed.

Sue: Do you think this thought came from you or from a higher consciousness?

Fi: I think it came from a higher consciousness. It is a higher consciousness? Or is it the sub-consciousness? I don’t know, but it felt like something else gave me these messages. But maybe it’s kind of interchangeable. Yes, when I think of it, it felt as if came from both the external and internal.

Sue: How has your diagnosis affected the way you now experience life? 

Fi:  A diagnoses such as mine makes you realise that you are one tiny leaf on a really, really big tree. By this I mean that you very quickly realise what’s important and what’s not. All the stupid stuff that normally stresses you out, like getting to work on time, don’t mean anything. All that matters are love, compassion, your friends, and hope.

Sue: What happened to the dread amongst all of this?

Fi: That hit me when I was at home on my own. My son was six when I was diagnosed. The dread was feeling sick about what was going to happen to him.  It wasn’t about me. It was about him. It’s always been about him even when I ended up in hospital as an emergency a couple of times. Whatever happens to me is about what will happen to him. I can’t get beyond the fact it’s not alright for him not to have a mum.

Sue: When you were really ill in hospital did you feel you were going to die?  

Fi: During one emergency admission while I was on holiday with my son in Dorset, I was in so much pain, it certainly felt possible. I ended up in an insolation ward for five days because my body went into a massive purge. When you’re in this much pain you don’t think of anything. You can’t. You and your body go through a process. The turning point came when the ward cleaner told me how a patient who had been diagnosed with lung cancer had lain down on the bed and given up. ‘Well,’ I thought, ‘I’m not going to do that. That’s not why I am here. I am here because I am in a lot of pain, which needs managing.’

My parents also arrived to take my son back home, leaving me alone. It made me even more determined to get out of there. I told myself, ‘I’m going to get better.’ And, I did. It was as if I became filled with determination and that’s what my brain focused on. I wasn’t prepared to let go. It was as simple as that.’

Sue: How did this experience of pain affect you? For example, did it make you want to leave your body or come more into your body?

Fi: It made me come into my body. I didn’t want to escape because of my son –   although I realise that things may have been different without him. He’s nearly nine now and has become much more independent. Of course, he still needs me, but I can see how this will lessen as he grows older. Even so, I am continually finding ways to connect to my strength and thinking of ways to maintain it for the future.

Sue: How else is life changing for you?

Fi: I am trying to understand what I feel right now. For a long time, life was like wearing big boots and just stomping through it. I try not to think about that these days.

But, over the past two years I have become increasingly fascinated in how the brain is such an incredible tool. If you focus on positive affirmations it can make you really strong and well and this has an amazing affect on your body. But there’s also the subconscious – how it’s plugged into the matrix. I don’t know if it determines your fate or future, but these questions inspired me to do my MSc in Psychology.

Sue: Yes, there’s a lot of fascinating research being done on the power of the mind, especially how it affects our wellbeing. You seem to be the living embodiment of what happens when you engage with it.  

Fi: The body is an incredible machine, and all we can do is hope that it keeps going. But when it breaks down, I can see how people don’t want to be here anymore. I had a great-grandmother who lived well into her hundreds. Yet, for the final fifteen years of her life she really didn’t want to be here. It seems crazy that she didn’t have the support to die. Then again, I think of how unfair it is for children to have cancer. Life is such a strange phenomenon.

Sue:  Has your experience of having a cancer diagnosis given you a more spiritual understanding of life?

Fi: I find I am much happier and more relaxed these days. I do get frustrated sometimes because I am not always well. But I have grown to appreciate every moment of wellness and every moment of friendship and love –  and what it feels like to live more in the now.

For a long time, I had quite a strong connection with spirituality, which got lost when I was diagnosed. I wanted to be master of my own destiny. I couldn’t bear to think about all those things that could happen to me and to my son that were no longer under my control.

Now things have settled down, I feel I am coming back to a more spiritual way of life. I have started to read books and watch programmes again about how we are all part of universal energy. It’s made me realise that whether I have this body or a body of a cat, or even someone else’s body, it doesn’t actually matter. Life is life. So, when I think about dying, personally it doesn’t frighten me. But it frightens me when I think of my son.  

Sue: When you think about living consciously for a better world what happens for you?

Fi:  The illness has stripped me back to bare nakedness and shown me what really matters. It also conjured up questions for me. For example, will there ever be enough time to teach my child how to be in this world, or to grow his own vegetables? How do I pass on my feelings of connectedness? How can we love each other in community? How do I pass all that I know onto my son and to everyone around me? I think that’s all you can do about living consciously. It’s about being loving and connected to people that matter to you.

If you want to live consciously, you have to start with yourself. You can’t do anything about politicians or all those other people out there. All you can do is spread love. I know that sounds a bit cheesy, but I wish everyone was like this. Sadly, that’s not how the world is. Years ago, when I trained as a kundalini yoga teacher, I realised the world was going nuts and will keep going nuts, and, in fact, it’s been going nuts for millennia. As far as I can see, there’s not that much difference in the nuttiness that we are experiencing right now.

All I know is this: life is all that we have. There isn’t anything else. These days we are bombarded with all this technological stuff, but if you are going to be plugged into it, you need to know how to unplug from it. You have got to know how to be a loving, beautiful human being because nothing else is as important. At the end of the day, all this technology  could be suddenly switched off and then everything would fall apart. I guess that’s what conscious living is really about. Shedding dependence on the material world.

Sue: What’s the situation with your health at the moment?

Fi: The last time I saw my consultant, he told me I was in remission, which is amazing. I don’t always feel completely well. Sometimes I feel poorly and sometimes I feel better. The big thing is not having much energy. I joke with my son about him having an old woman for a mum.

Sue: Yet you have the energy for a Psychology MSc!

Fi: Yes, I am doing my MSc at the University of Gloucestershire. I am doing it because I really want to.I used to be a cook, but I can’t be on my feet these days. Coupled with the cancer, I have chronic arthritis in my lower back and sacral joints. This causes me the most pain, and I have to take strong pain killers. But I wanted to go back to using my brain again and become much more conscious of what is going on in the world.

I lived on a narrowboat for a while, so I am also acutely aware of the environment and what we are doing to it. I imagine the world as one big house. But I can’t get my head around why someone would  drill great big holes into the floorboards to extract big sticky oil and make a horrible mess everywhere when everyone else has got to live in this house as well. It doesn’t make sense.

Sue: I don’t think I have come across another person in your situation who is so positively engaged in life as you are.

Fi: To keep going, we all need hope. Hope means that we can keep progressing in our thought and in our minds – and hopefully in our bodies too. It about propelling forwards. I haven’t had a passport for years, but I had to get one for my student loan. It was such a good moment when it arrived. To me it means a future.

Sue: Since giving up work, how do you cope financially?

Fi:  I have my student loan and I am received PIP – luckily or unluckily, depending on how you look at it – and ESA [PIP: Personal Independent Payments are given to those with chronic or terminal illnesses. ESA: Employment Support Allowance]. So, everything is as okay as it can be. I’m not used to having a fortune.  I’m used to scraping by on old muddy vegetables! Sometimes I lament about not having a car, but I am not sure I can afford a car anyway. As long as we have clothes on our back, shoes on our feet and food in the fridge we’re doing fine.

Sue: Is there any advice you would like to pass on to us?

Fi: I think it’s really important to look at the positive, not the negative. So, for me when I was ill, instead of reading about people who got cancer and died in a month, I read stories about people who got cancer and survived.  And I think we need to look at the world like this as well. If there’s someone on television droning on negatively – turn it off! Instead, think about what you can do to help create a better future for all of us.

Get skilled up for climate crisis!

Conversations about Living Consciously for a Better World provide practical skills, resilience and supportive information in this time of uncertainty, challenge and change.

Sue Brayne in conversation with Pam Candea, CEO, climate activist and group work facilitator.

Pam Candea is CEO of The Surefoot Effect, a community interest company which equips people, communities and organisations with skills for sustainability and resilience. Its main focus is working with businesses and communities to support them to take action to lessen the impacts of the climate crisis and to promote social justice.  

Sue: Pam, what got you interested in climate issues?

Pam: ‘Even as a teenager I was an environmental activist. I was horrified by how our rivers and lakes in Michigan state where I grew up had become so polluted. They had literally turned into fire hazards.

During the 1980s I ended up working in the IT industry, and this took me to the UK in the early 80’s. Yet, all the time, I was increasingly alarmed by the warnings that James Hansen, Director of NASA Goddard  Institute for Space Studies, and other scientists like him, were giving us about the impacts of climate change. I couldn’t understand why no-one was listening to him.

In 2007 I decided to retrain in environmental architecture because I wanted to build an eco-house. I thought eco-housing could be the answer to climate change. But I soon realised it wasn’t nearly enough. This realisation turned my attention to climate activism. I wanted to get as many people as possible engaged with climate change. So, I began working with community groups who were focused on climate change.

Sue: Can you explain what The Surefoot Effect offers.

Pam:  We established The Surefoot Effect in 2007 to work in value-based ways with organisations to understand what was right for them, but equally to draw attention to the fact we were fast approaching a climate emergency.

Sue: How do you deliver this work?

Pam: We focus on group work but have also recently created some online materials through European Union Erasmus + programmes. I think it’s important to understand and identify how insular and individual we have become, certainly in Western cultures. There are very few opportunities for people to come together as an effective group. Yes, there’s loads of community groups out there, but most are dominated by one or two strong characters. This may be okay for the rest of the group when things are running smoothly. But it’s not okay when things become difficult. How we work together as a group becomes incredibility important. So, my job is about helping groups to understand the importance of coming together cohesively to tackle the issues important to them.

Group Work

The Surefoot Effect runs various workshops and trainings for people to work together effectively.  One of our programmes is carbon conversations, a series of 6 workshops, which give people the time and space to look at what changes they can make in their own lives, and what changes they may be able to instigate in their communities. We also provide facilitator training for people to run these groups, our climate justice workshop, and to do other work with groups.  For me, the most essential thing is that people learn to work well together and learn how to talk about difficult issues with others. Following these workshops, I am always encouraged when participants feed back to me how they had previously found it almost impossible to talk to their family about climate change, or how to tell them that they no longer wanted to eat meat or fly anymore. But now they had the skills to do this in a non-confrontational way. It makes a huge difference.

Materials

Through recent Erasmus + programmes we created a platform showcasing projects around the world helping to address the climate crisis:  A Tale of Two Futures; And Illustrated Climate which created a graphic novel and an e-learning programme to help people learn about the climate emergency and potential actions to ameliorate the risks.

Sue: Can you outline what these skills are?

Pam: I believe we have evolved somehow into a society that is lacking in emotional intelligence. It’s as if we don’t even have a language to express ourselves anymore. So, I am a fierce believer in helping people develop honest communication skills, through active listening, becoming aware of how we are feeling in the moment, and recognising the power of working collectively, collaboratively, supported by a group

Active listening

Active listening is about getting used to listening to others. This means being fully present with the other person – rather than composing in your mind what you are going to say next while the person is still talking, or breaking in when, for example, they mention they have a dog, and you want to tell them about the dog you had as a child.

Active listening is also about giving the other person the time to say what they want to say and creating space to pause and be silent with each other, while you mindfully consider what you might say next. So, it’s really connecting with each other and being present.

Becoming aware of and expressing what you are feeling

Good communication skills are also about the ability to identify and voice how you are feeling emotionally. This means learning how to share your feelings with others and being able to receive it when others share how they are feeling with you. Then to sit with what’s been said without brushing it aside or trying to fix it, and acknowledging what you feel and what others feel is valid.

 Recognising the power of the group

The third skill is learning to work together as a group and recognise how working in a supportive group toward a goal is more rewarding than individual striving – and competing. I think we really struggle with this; it’s another thing that’s been lost. We have become so individually focused that we fail seeing the power of group cohesion.  Working together means creatively building on each other’s views and ideas without feeling threatened.

Sue: The work you do is really on the front line because you are helping people to confront what climate crisis may do to their communities. But, do you even think you are trying to help people when we’ve reached a time when we may be almost beyond help?

Pam: Working in this area certainly can take its toll.  A few years ago I was guiding a group in a future visioning exercise of what the world will be like in 2050 if we have implemented all the sustainability measures we speak about. People drew beautiful pictures and we presented them back to each other. Someone asked me, ’Do you really believe we will get to this?’ I really struggled to answer their question. Knowing what I know about climate crisis, I couldn’t say yes. So, I said, ‘I want to be able to say I have done everything I can to get to this vision.’ Taking personal responsibility, for me, is a vital part of coping with what is happening to our planet.

I had to take a break for six months after this particular workshop. I needed to deeply question my motives of asking people to make small changes such as doing more recycling or establishing community gardens when I realise that the action needed was, and still is, enormous and infrastructure related. In my heart of hearts, it all felt too late and useless without taking big actions such as taxing jet fuel.

Sue: How did taking this break inform the work you do now?

 Pam: It helped me to focus on working with resilience. I don’t for one minute believe we are going to be able to continue our relatively idyllic existence, but I hope that by using good communication skills and developing resilience we can come out of whatever happens better than when we went into it. Developing resilience is confronting the fact that when we experience on-going stress or a huge shock, we can either break down or break even by clawing our way back to where we were, or we can breakthrough using the adversity to springboard to something better. So, there is always the option of hope – that’s the breakthrough. We have to keep engaged. It’s not okay to accept the status quo. All of us need to participate in finding ways of making things work for us in the best way possible.

Sue:  How do you keep moving forward in the face of what is happening to our world right now?

Pam: I am really struck by the images of people dragging an Extinction Rebellion protestor off the top of tube train in London. Some people started to attack the protestor, while others tried to protect him. Someone posted the footage onto the internet, asking the question, ‘What will happen when there are food shortages?’  If we don’t know how to work together as a group, how to share and think about what’s best for the whole group, we are just going to see more and more of those scenes.

For me, the question of how to deal with potential conflict is about building skills for connection, active listening, being able to express and receive emotions and working as an effective group.

I find I am now much more aware of what really important to me. I question how much time I need to spend on certain areas of my life. Is this something that is going to bring joy to me or those close to me?  It is going to help bring about change in the world or is it just another noisy distraction on the side? I am astonished at how many noisy distractions on the side there can be.

I also question how much time I need to spend worrying about things that at the end of the day aren’t that important. If it doesn’t contribute to joy or contribute to ameliorating large global issues, it really isn’t important at all.

When I started working in this area, I used to think ‘maybe I will figure out a way to change what’s happening on my own.’ Then I began to think, ‘maybe someone I am working with will change what’s happening, and I will be a tiny help towards this.’ Now it’s ‘maybe I will do something that helps some people to suffer less.’

Sue: Yes, that’s a really big reality check. What else sustains you personally?

Pam: I am Buddhist, so for me, I find comfort in knowing that there’s a is kind of cosmic view that we are all trying to reach enlightening. We are part of a very grand cycle – the turning of the wheel, if you like – which gives us the opportunity to practice or work towards ending the suffering of all beings. We are certainly getting the practice now. If humanity is wiped out or severely decimated by climate change, I see it as another opportunity for us to practice towards reaching the state of nirvana (a transcendent state devoid of suffering or desire, and the release of karma and cycle of death and rebirth).  And I meditate to keep a focus on the present.

Sue: Do you have any other advice for us?

Pam: Yes, keep yourself informed! I believe awareness is key. I was speaking to a friend the other day who is concerned about climate change but was clearly not well informed. I asked her if she watched the news. ‘No,’ she said.

Of course, I can understand why people don’t watch the news. It can be depressing and debilitating. However, if you are not keeping tabs with what’s going on, I don’t know how you can be fully conscious of what is happening in the world, or how much many things have deteriorated.

Another thing is to look after yourself. Personally, I meditate a lot, and I like to meditate with other people, too. I do yoga as well, which helps me to feel more embodied, and I spend as much time as I can in nature. Next weekend I am spending three days with Natural Change, an organisation which provides a structured immersion in nature to restore people through connection with others, in natural surroundings, and to encourage to them towards environmentally friendly behaviours.

I believe developing skills for learning how to deeply connect with each other is the most important thing to pursue right now. Whether this happens in the form of carbon conversations or singing groups or even a Death Cafe – it doesn’t matter as long as it happens. These skills will enable us to be prepared for whatever comes our way.

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