Holding on to Hope


In my last newsletter, I gave creative advice on imagining your vision, but what about holding on to it? The gestation phase of the creative process is often extremely uncomfortable as you move into the uncertain space between the known and the possible. Depending on the scope of your vision, this period can stretch for long spans of time, requiring you to commit over and over again to your imagination. This can feel easy even right when life is aligning to validate your risk. But what about when things fall apart? Can you trust your imagination even when it feels like life is conspiring against you? I am in the midst of facing this question: 


I have a clear vision for my future, not necessarily the details, but the brushstrokes. I know that I want to help people get in touch with their innate creativity and manifest more possibility and agency in their lives. I know I want to redefine a way of teaching understanding of creativity that recognizes the impact systems of oppression have had on limiting creative potential, and counter this by validating the lived creativity of individuals and communities surviving these systems. This newsletter is part of my gestation phase, a way to keep in touch with my vision as I work towards a larger impact. Every time I write this newsletter, I can taste my potential. But potential doesn’t satiate. I literally can’t wait for my vision to put food on the table. I have to survive till then, which means holding on, even when things are though. 

In this moment, I am struggling. It is not possible to support myself on an adjunct professor’s salary in the Bay Area and so I need a second job. But another job will limit my ability to work on projects that could make my vision a reality. And on top of that, my home life just fell apart, a foundational need for any life. So I suddenly find myself having to choose yet again between my vision and my stability. Do I hold out in staunch belief of my capacity, even when my basic needs are not guaranteed? Or do I prioritize my immediate wellbeing and trust my vision will manifest later? 

Perhaps the answer comes down to asking the right question. As Krista Tippett posits: “Questions elicit answers in their likeness.” (1) And she quotes the poet Rainer Maria Rilke to illustrate her point:

“Don’t search for the answers, which could not be given to you now, because you would not be able to live them…. Live the questions now. Perhaps then, someday in the future, you will gradually, without even noticing it, live your way into the answer.”

(2) Rainer Maria Rilke, Becoming Wise: An Inquiry into the Mystery and Art of Living

So let me rephrase my question to: How can I create more possibilities for myself in the present?

Creating more possibilities is one of the elements of adrienne maree brown’s emergent strategy, and so I will yet again return to her wisdom. adrienne continually looks to nature for guidance on living. Here she quotes Chrislene DeJean about a tree near a stream: “It makes me think… how that tree had to survive before it reached the stream. This helped me think about how, when we feel limitation, this is when we figure out how infinite our possibilities for us to grow out, around, thru to reach abundance.” (3) This quote reminds me that survival can be beautiful; that resilience is inspirational, not ease. I am living my research, which will shed far more light than a perfect narrative. So instead of a dichotomic choice between holding on or giving up, let me move more like water: “One of my favorite ways of understanding nature creating more possibilities, is to watch water move through the world. Water creates ways for itself, moving with gravity, moving around obstacles, wearing down obstacles, reshaping the world.” (4) Someone recently told me I move my body like water, and I felt a surge of pride. I love the sensation of flow, the ease of movement and breadth of time. But this is also why I struggle when my natural flow is stop-gapped; I feel stifled, restrained. Though if I were to learn from water, I know that I can still find ways to seep in and saturate all parts of my life with hope. This connects to another element of emergency strategy: intentional adaptation.

“As an individual, developing your capacity for adaptation can mean assessing your default reactions to change, and whether those reactions create more space for opportunity, possibility, and continuing to move towards your vision.”

(5) adrienne maree brown, Emergent Strategy: Shaping Change, Changing Worlds

Many of our default reactions are spoils of colonialism, white supremacy, or capitalism (just to name a few). For example, either/or thinking is a legacy of white vs. other framing, which limits potentials in between (6). Scarcity mindset is a product and aim of capitalism that effectively scares us into being less. We can push against these constructs by mirroring the tree by the stream, by finding abundance through imagination. I was moved by those in my sphere calling for an abundant memory of Kobe Bryant that can hold both the grief of his sudden passing and the accountability needed for survivors of sexual assault. We need robust questions and answers to navigate the complexity and uncertainty of life. Which brings me to the central question of this newsletter: How do you hold on to hope? For a generative answer, I will turn to Rebecca Solnit: 

“Hope locates itself in the premises that we don’t know what will happen and that in the spaciousness of uncertainty is room to act. When you recognize uncertainty, you recognize that you may be able to influence the outcomes…. Hope is an embrace of the unknown and the unknowable, an alternative to the certainty of both optimists and pessimists.”

(7) Rebecca Solnit, Hope in the Dark: Untold Histories, Wild Possibilities

This is hope without attachment to outcome; a hope not predicated on success. So even when the situation feels hopeless, you can still make space for the experience. Instead of shutting down in the face of uncertainty, you can see it as an opening up. My 3-year-plan is out the window, but now I can ask myself: How many more ways can I move? What would water do? This experience has not shaken my belief in my larger vision; in fact, it feels more needed than ever. So let me take my own advice, and let my vision be a process. Or as arts therapist Shuan McNiff reminds me: “It helps to think more about the responsive nature of the creative act than the more typical focus on initiating action according to plans.” (8) Because a vision is never about the actual steps; it’s about cultivating an imagination that is attentive to the possible. Only then will you be ready to respond when the time is right. 

Living is a creative act,
Evelyn Thorne


Everyday Creativity Tip

One way to concretely practice holding on to hope is to find a mantra that can steady you when the ground is shaky. This can be a saying that reminds you of your worth, or connects you to your vision, or cultivates self-compassion. I offer a few mantras passed down to me for you to adopt. You’ll know you’ve found the right one, when the words feel like a balm to your tender wounds. 

Possible Mantras
May I trust in the unfolding
I am loved; I am love
I am home in this body; this body is home
May I rest in the awakened heart
I am beautifully human
I am enough 


Footnotes

1. Krista Tippett, Becoming Wise: An Inquiry into the Mystery and Art of Living, p. 29
2. Krista Tippett, Becoming Wise: An Inquiry into the Mystery and Art of Living, p. 31
3. adrienne maree brown, Emergent Strategy: Shaping Change, Changing Worlds, p.152
4. adrienne maree brown, Emergent Strategy: Shaping Change, Changing Worlds, p.153
5. adrienne maree brown, Emergent Strategy: Shaping Change, Changing Worlds, p.71
6. Kenneth Jones and Tema Okun, “The Characteristics of White Supremacy Culture,” Dismantling Racism: A Workbook for Social Change Groups, ChangeWork, 2001, https://www.showingupforracialjustice.org/white-supremacy-culture-characteristics.html
7. Rebecca Solnit, Hope in the Dark: Untold Histories, Wild Possibilities, p.xiv
8. Shaun McNiff, Imagination in Action: Secrets for Unleashing Creative Expression, p.11


Originally published February 3, 2020 on the Creativity in Context Newsletter by Evelyn Thorne.


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Living is creative act

Published by Evelyn Thorne

Evelyn is a writer, educator, and facilitator who helps people unlearn misconceptions and limiting beliefs about their creative identities.

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