Meditations on Awakening

(Looking for Volume 1: Meditations for an Age of Despair? Go here.)

From the introduction to Your Daily Shot of Hope Volume 2: Meditations on Awakening by Diane Silver:

Consider the drop of water. It is the most helpless of substances. In a split second, you can rub a drop out of existence using nothing more than thumb and forefinger, but combine that drop with other drops, and it can wear away mountains.

When I was a newspaper reporter, I was assigned to cover a flood in rural Kansas. Police had blocked the roads into town, but my job was to get there and bear witness, so I methodically tried every road that seemed to lead in the right direction. I kept running into barricades and backtracking and trying again until I came across one road authorities had forgotten. Grinning, I drove forward, quickly turning a corner only to confront a gaping hole in the asphalt. I slammed on the brakes, skidded on wet pavement, and came to a sideways halt a foot from a sharp drop.

I got out of my car and stood witness to the only bit of the disaster I could see that day. It was enough to make my heart pound. The water had undermined about 10 yards of roadway, lifting the asphalt in a solid piece and flipping it over, pavement side down, dirt side up. It looked like a giant had taken an enormous spatula and flipped that road as easily as I flip an egg in a frying pan. That is the power of water.

Whether we’re engaged in a personal quest for sanity, meaning, love, safety, or prosperity, or seeking to shape our nation, it can seem as if we’re as powerless as a single drop of water. It can feel as if we’re helpless against a world rigged against us, or powerless to overcome our own flaws and mistakes. It can even seem foolish to hope.

But consider a certain infant. Born helpless as all babies are, this girl should have come into the world without hope because she was born in about 1820 in Dorchester County, Maryland, to parents who were slaves. That meant she was a slave, and neither she nor her parents controlled her present, her future, or even her own body. At the time, slavery as an institution was as strong as a mountain. Here and there, a few abolitionists had won victories, but they were considered the crackpot fringe. This baby was born more than four decades before the start of the Civil War.  Racism was an unquestioned fact of life. The U.S. Supreme Court even ruled that no American descended from Africans—whether slave or free—could be considered a citizen of the United States. This was the Dred Scott case.

This girl was supposed to be powerless. Her world was completely rigged against her, so what did she do? At age 29, she freed herself by running away, and then she returned to the South 13 more times to free nearly 100 slaves, including her own relatives. During the Civil War, this woman, who couldn’t possibly fight because she was both female and black when neither was considered soldier material, led troops from the Union Army. In one raid on plantations in South Carolina, she helped free 750 slaves. This was Harriet Tubman. At a time when slavery was the law of the land, Harriet Tubman did what was supposed to be impossible. She personally freed nearly 900 people. How did she do that? How did she even think she could try?

I suspect Harriet Tubman was a good woodswoman, able to find her way through swamps and forests to freedom, but many people who opposed slavery had the same skills yet did nothing. She must have been courageous because she risked her life and freedom on every mission she undertook, but others had courage and didn’t act. What set Harriet Tubman apart from all the good people who did nothing to help slaves? There could have been many factors, but one was hope.

Harriet Tubman wouldn’t have even attempted to escape if she didn’t have hope that she could find a better life. She wouldn’t have returned time and time again to free others if she didn’t have hope in her own power to succeed. Neither she nor the other conductors on the Underground Railroad would have acted if they hadn’t been able to imagine a different world than the one everyone else claimed could never change. Their task had to have felt overwhelming. Not one of them, not even Harriet Tubman, had the power to free every slave, but day by day, week by week, month by month, they acted. They succeeded.

It is untruthful, false, dishonest, mendacious, and down-right deceitful to claim that you, me, and the old lady down the street are helpless. We have power dripping from our fingertips and swelling in our chests. The problem is we’ve been taught we don’t. It’s time for us to wake up to our true nature. It’s time for us to awaken to our own power and to feel hope about our ability to change our personal lives and our world for the better. But coming to consciousness can be difficult, particularly if outward signs point to failure. A few of us have even fallen out of the habit of optimism so that our hope has atrophied like an unused muscle.

This book seeks to strengthen that muscle, exercising it day by day. There are enough meditations in this book to provide at least one shot of hope a day for three months. This book’s mission is to help you awaken to your own hope, to rest when needed without guilt, and to act in ways you never before thought possible.

This is the second of four volumes of daily meditations on hope. When all four of the Daily Shot of Hope books are published, more than 365 meditations will be in print, one for every day of the year.

How to Use This Book

There are no rules. You can read one meditation a day, or you can read them all in one sitting, as many readers do. No matter how you choose to approach the book, you might want to consider picking one meditation a day to contemplate.

Here’s what I do: I find a quiet, private place and sit comfortably. If I’m preoccupied, I set my thoughts aside. If that proves to be too difficult (and it has at times), then I visualize putting my preoccupations into a secure box and setting the box outside the door. I promise myself I can pick up that box and reclaim my preoccupations when I leave.

I read (or reread) a single meditation and then sit for a few minutes. I close my eyes and open myself to the feelings the meditation evokes. At first, I don’t try to analyze the words, but seek to smell, taste, hear, see, or feel any images in the meditation. I seek to experience the emotions. When I’ve given myself a few minutes to sit with emotion and images, I ask, How can I use this meditation to be stronger? What can I do to put these ideas into action today? Some days this feels impossible. When that happens, I don’t worry about forcing myself to believe. Instead, I take hope as a hypothesis. In other words, hope becomes a possibility to be explored. I ask myself, If I really had reason to hope, what would I feel? What would I say and do?

Our task to live with hope can seem overwhelming. We are the heroes of our own lives, and yet even the greatest heroes like Harriet Tubman couldn’t fix everything. Today slavery is illegal, but racism and injustice still exist. Human trafficking exists. But then again, so does hope. Consider the heroes of natural disasters like Hurricane Katrina. In the 2016 edition of her book Hope in the Dark, Rebecca Solnit describes them:

(I)n Hurricane Katrina, hundreds of boat-owners rescued people—single moms, toddlers, grandfathers—stranded in attics, on roofs, in flooded housing projects, hospitals, and school buildings. None of them said, I can’t rescue everyone, therefore it’s futile, therefore my efforts are flawed and worthless, though that’s often what people say about more abstract issues in which, nevertheless, lives, places, cultures, species, rights are at stake. They went out there in fishing boats and rowboats and pirogues and all kinds of small craft, some driving from as far as Texas and eluding authorities to get in, others refugees themselves working within the city. There was bumper-to-bumper boat-trailer traffic—the celebrated Cajun Navy—going toward the city the day after the levees broke. None of those people said, I can’t rescue them all. All of them said, I can rescue someone, and that’s work so meaningful and important I will risk my life and defy the authorities to do it. And they did.

We do not have to fix everything in our personal lives and in our world today, but we do need to do something. I think we have a moral duty to act, so here is my recommendation to you. Do one thing. Do it now. Tomorrow, do something else. This is important. It’s worth risking everything we have to do it. Like drops of water, we are a force. We can flip roadways, reshape ourselves, and reclaim our societies.

May these meditations help you hope. May they help you act. May they help you find peace.

From the meditations:

Day 1.

Dark, dark, dark in the moment.
We are lost in the night.
A tree trunk appears.
So odd after this long
to suddenly spot a single tree,
lighter than its surroundings.
Bark becomes easier to see by the second,
branches are unexpectedly visible.
The sun hasn’t even cleared the horizon.
One bird trills, then another.

Day 12.

On this day, we promise
to become more aware
of our voices, speaking honestly,
of our wisdom, knowing all along,
of our joy, sometimes hiding,
of our love, enfolding,
of all the gifts we bring.
On this day, we promise.

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(Looking for Volume 1: Meditations for an Age of Despair? Go here.)