Helpless Hope

I am often asked how one copes with a sense of powerlessness? Or how one functions with a long term, thin sense of hope? And these are very good questions. When we are struggling is when this training is most useful to us.

Two and a half years ago, when I heard on the BBC that the Chinese had seized my friend, I was immediately gravely concerned. I knew he was a pawn in an international game that could easily take years, if not decades, to play out, and that his security was not assured.

I immediately tried to think of how I could help him. I knew there wasn’t a lot I could do in a practical sense. His wife, Vina, is a stunningly capable person for such a job. And Michael may have the best collection of friends one could have for fighting wrongful imprisonment in China.

I could only come up with three things to offer: First off, Michael was one of my many friends who have taken my course. So, my book suggestions often seemed to exist for other reasons, but all were designed to remind him of key parts of his training, because I knew remembering those principles could help ease his suffering.

Secondly, I knew he would be starved of nature. So one of those semi-spiritual books was The Legend of Bagger Vance. It includes wisdom about reality. But we live where our thoughts are, so it was recommended primarily as a way to have him ‘spend time on’ a golf course, surrounded by trees.

Upon his return, one of the first things he noted he wanted to do was to spend time with trees. I cannot tell you how happy it made me to know that I’d at least thought of a useful book. But those were things I could do. They didn’t take up much of the two and a half years. The hardest part for everyone was the waiting.

That’s the question that started this post: how do we handle major things we can’t do much about? I’ve never faced anything harder to not-think about, than my friend being imprisoned. But spending over a thousand days ‘wanting’ would have killed me, and yet it would have done him no good. I needed something more active, and hopefully something more optimistic.

Seeing Michael freed may very well have been the very best day of my entire life.

Starting on his second night in captivity, I began doing a 30 minute meditation every single night. It was half deep meditation, half lucid dream. It was always extremely intentional. In it, I would always make sure that I met him framed by a door, opened as wide as possible on its hinges.

We would always embrace, and smile, and look into each other’s eyes. And then we would walk with our arms on each other’s shoulders. There were always bright, blue, cloudless skies above us, and sometimes we’d be near a river, other times on the side of a mountain. But the vistas were always spectacular.

During our walks we would talk happily about the classes he did with me, or the days when we would be reunited with loved ones. We never talked in desperate or dark terms. It was always as though we were on a holiday together. The walks got to feel like him doing some additional training while hiking, and eventually we’d end with talking about who we were looking forward to seeing, when we got home from our ‘trip.’

I’m a science person, so I have no reason to believe that Michael could ‘feel’ what I was doing in those meditations. I can offer long shot, nebulous explanations for why he might. And I can choose to believe there is one of those ideas that may work. But that is not the point of this.

The point is that, first Michael, and then all his loved ones, were forced to face a terrible situation. We had little power to end it. Personally, we each had to find ways to live with it. I could torture myself with thoughts about how I wished things were. Or I could save my energy for better things, and I could focus instead on those meditations.

Those meditations allowed me to feel as though I’d allowed myself to think of my friend, without creating a lot of negativity about his situation. And it even let me feel like I’d spent time with him, which helped a lot. So, I remained concerned, but hopeful, which is a positive, healthy state.

Interestingly, if you’d asked me for my greatest wish during those 1118 days, the answer was easy: Michael’s freedom (both of theirs—there was two of them). Yet, on day 1117, I did not yet have any indication whatsoever that my greatest wish was about to come true.

Can we see what this tells us about our greatest days? Often times, we have absolutely no indication they are headed our way. That morning I awoke to surprise U.S. news. And by early the next morning, I was still up, watching him get off a plane in Canada.

The day Michael was freed was easily one of the very best days of my life. Easily. I literally had my greatest wish come true right in the midst of the darkest event in my life. It’s important that we remember that life can be that surprising. And still, if I think his freedom was surprising for me, just imagine how incredible it must seem to him.

peace and love, s