I recently had a very moving call with a prospective Lightning Process client. They had had ME for the last fifty years, so I asked them why they wanted to do the Lightning Process. Their answer was straightforward: “I want the next quarter of my life to be different.”
This response is so wonderfully hopeful to me, and it got me thinking about hope – what is it? I then found myself following, quite by accident, a breadcrumb trail to the view that hope is not a thing a person has or doesn’t have but is instead a skill.
I came across the idea of Active Hope in an article by Kirsten Bradley of the Milkwood Centre, who teach the skills of Permaculture. Kirsten’s inspirational work is focused on how we build strength, capacity, resilience, and justice “while keeping our hearts open”.
The article references a book, Active Hope, by Joanna Macy and Chris Johnstone, which sets out the importance of this active hope on both a personal and a societal level and how to actually go about practising it.
Then I read a Washington Post article by Amanda Ripley talking about the idea of hope as a muscle that we can exercise and strengthen. Both articles frame hope as something active, a skill to be developed and practised, with a focus on ideas of agency, goals, desires and roadmaps.
The Steps to Practise Hope
The steps set out in each article are at their hearts very similar: both emphasise a grounding in realism, with Macy and Johnstone’s Active Hope beginning with a “clear view of reality”.
Next, you must clearly identify what it is that you desire, or your goals, and these should be attainable and measurable.
Your roadmap is the set of actions you can take that will lead you to your goal.
The practice rests on these ideas of agency and roadmaps. The more you practise hope, the better you get at developing these roadmaps and the easier it is to understand the power you have to affect change – just like lifting weights strengthens muscles.
Active Hope isn’t Blind Optimism
This hope is not a blind optimism that we either feel or don’t feel; it is something that we choose and practise with intention. As Johnstone and Macy point out in Active Hope, this means that even in cases where we don’t feel hopeful, we can still choose to take action and work towards the change we want to see. I find great beauty and power in that.
To return to my prospective client from earlier: they believed that the next quarter of their life could be different – this was their desire – and they wanted to explore whether learning the Lightning Process was a step they could take to help make it so.
Parallels between Active Hope and the Lightning Process
I also can’t help but notice the parallels between active hope and the Lightning Process itself. You must come to the Lightning Process open to the idea that you have the power to influence your own mind and body. And you need a clear idea of what you want to achieve in order to work out how exactly you want to exercise that influence.
Then comes actually practising the Process. We have the desire, a roadmap, and action!
Hope Bolsters Resilience
There is a pervasive belief that hope and optimism are a sign of naivety and that cynicism is somehow protective and more ‘adult’. But Ripley talks about research being done on the impact of practising hope which suggests the opposite: hope can bolster your resiliency, help you to perform better and to manage pain, illness, and injury better, and it can make you happier. She quotes Chan Hellman from the Hope Research Centre at the University of Oklahoma in Tulsa: “Hope is the process. Well-being is the outcome.”
Clearly active hope is a wonderfully powerful skill. Why not join me in looking for ways to practise hope in your own life, whether it’s with respect to your health, your work, or perhaps in growing the veggie garden of your dreams?