I just heard an interviewer (okay, it was Oprah) ask a bunch of different people to answer this question:
"I feel the presence of God when..."
Now I know that some people get freaked out by the word "God," so if that word doesn't resonate with then I would encourage you to substitute the words "the Universe" or "Higher Power," or "a Force At Work That's Bigger Than Myself," instead.
OR, how about if we substitute the word "Hope."
"I feel the presence of Hope when..."
Here's my answer:
1. At the ocean. Every time I stand at the water's edge and I see and hear the waves crashing against the sand I'm rejuvenated. I'm reminded that the ocean has been in existence for far far longer than I have been, and it will still be around for far far longer after I'm gone. That's not to make me feel insignificant, but more as a reminder that no matter what terrible things are going on in the world, the ocean is a constant. It has always been there, it will always be there, and we cannot control for one instant the rhythm of its motion. And no matter how many millions and millions of waves have come, there will always always be more. Better times lie ahead. Hope.
2. On a mountaintop. While I haven't been on many actual mountaintops, I have climbed up to a few, and the view of the vast land that lies beneath is miraculous and always instills me with inspiration. Like in Dead Poets Society, when he encourages the students to stand on the desks to get a different perspective on the world, there's something about being high up in nature that allows us to see things with a new frame of reference. I'll never forget the view from the top of a mountain on Kauai where we could actually see the curvature of the Earth as the horizon. Seeing that made me feel small, but also filled me with the hope that anything was possible.
3. Holding an infant or seeing very young children play. Whenever I have the opportunity to hold a baby I take it eagerly. Getting to see and hear and feel and smell this brand new life always reminds me that there is hope. I feel like if there wasn't any hope, new people wouldn't continually be being brought into the world. Also, when I see toddlers play I can see the beauty and simplicity of their innocence combined with their wonder in the world around them. My son did a service project with a group of young children a few years ago and while watching them run around gleefully the thought came into my mind, "The world is going to be all right." Little kids being free and comfortable interacting with the space around them stirs hope inside of me.
4. Collective joy/purpose. The best way I can explain this is when everyone at football game or baseball game in a huge stadium stands, removes their hats, and sings the national anthem together. The people around you might have different political views, religious views, ways of thinking, etc. But for those two or three minutes we are all proud Americans and we all stand together in unification. I have often taken my own moment to realize the exquisiteness of those unique capsules of time and space. I feel the same way when seeing people cheer together at local sporting events, at the Olympic opening ceremonies, on the sidelines of charity races, and when people gather for parades. There's something about human kind coming together to celebrate something that they all have in common, rather than everyone focusing on their differences. They're very hope-inducing for me.
5. Seeing a sunrise. I've seen many sunrises in my life and for me, each one is magical. The colors are always magnificent, and the tangible(ish) reminder of a new day dawning always sparks hope within me. It's like the quote from Charles Schulz that says, "Don't worry about the world coming to an end today. It is already tomorrow in Australia." Hope.
6. Laughing together with my family. There have been times, usually when watching RiffTrax together, that all 4 of us have been doubled over laughing in our basement in our respective seats on the couch, recliner, and giant beanbag. The times when we have to pause the show because we're all laughing so hard that we can't hear what's coming next are miraculous experiences for me. I have taken time to step back for split second to enjoy the preciousness of these times and they are honestly the moments in my life that I treasure the most.
I'll stop there because the point of what I want to say isn't about me going on and on about where I find hope in the world. The main thing that I'm trying to express is that it's extremely important to figure out what concrete things bring us the most hope, so that if we encounter times of hopelessness, we can consciously seek out experiences that will trigger hope within us.
For example, if you're in a rough patch and have misplaced your hope, what can you actively do to find it? If you're with me on the collective joy thing, then buy a ticket to the next baseball game in town and GO! Major league, minor league, little league (those are free), doesn't matter, just get up, get out and DO IT! Or soccer or lacrosse or football or a charity bike ride. You will be inspired by the collective happiness and exuberance that's in the air at those events and you'll most likely have your spirits lifted by cheering with other people who share a common goal.
If holding babies gives you hope then volunteer at your local hospital, orphanage, or place of worship. They are often looking for caring individuals to hold infants and give them the loving touch they need so desperately to thrive.
If seeing a sunrise gets your hopeful juices flowing then set your alarm for earlier, go outside where you can see the sky well, and take in the beauty and majesty of the beginning of a glorious new day. What it can inspire in you is well worth the missed hour or so of sleep.
If oceans and/or mountaintops inspire hope in you then GO TO THEM! They can't come to you so it's good that you will have to get up from the comfort of your misery and actually go and seek them out. Breathe in the salty air of the sea or the fresh clean mountain air. That alone will do wonders for your soul and spirit.
Whatever you figure out works for you, GO AND DO IT! Then part two is doing something to help you remember it, so that if you can't get up on the mountaintop when you might need to, you will have created something to help activate the memory. Creating something usually generates hope in a person, combined with the feeling of having accomplished something. So when you get back from your hike up the mountain, paint a picture of it so you can remember the feeling. On your return from the ocean make a collage out of sand and shells that you picked up there. If you knit or sew, create a blanket or hat for the baby you just held and bring it the next time you go. Make a photo book of pictures you took at the sporting event or marathon you attended. After taking in the experience it's so helpful to create something to bring back the connection to the hopeful feelings you had when you were there.
One last thing: when you're in the experience, I would encourage you to REALLY be in it. Experience it as fully as you can, engaging all 5 of your senses. I'll use the ocean as an example:
1. Look at the waves. What color are they? How do they compare to the color of the still part? Examine how they foam and then dissolve away. How clear is the water? What can you see at the bottom?
2. Listen to the rumble and crash of each wave as it builds, crests, and releases. Close your eyes and really listen to everything there is to hear. Is there a rhythm to the sounds or are they random? Can you hear birds chirping? Was that a boat horn? Are there kids laughing nearby?
3. Feel the sand beneath your feet. Squish the wet sand in your toes and allow them to be washed clean by the water. Feel how cold or warm the water is. Close your eyes and focus on the sensation of the water lapping against your ankles. Put your hands in and feel how the water caresses them and cools them off.
4. Smell the air around you - again, close your eyes. Can you smell the brininess of the seaweed? Can you smell the salt in the air? Are there food smells from vendors nearby? Breathe in deeply from your nose and smell everything.
5. Open your mouth, stick out your tongue and taste the air. Is there salt in the air to taste? Scoop up some water, taste it, and reflect on how salty it is. Is it as salty as the last ocean water you tasted?
You can do the same on the top of a mountain (some leaves and flowers are interesting to taste, just make sure they are safe first), while holding a baby (I wouldn't do any tasting there but nothing smells quite as good as a fresh baby head), and there are certainly lots of ways to use all of your senses at a ball park. The idea is to immerse yourself fully in the experience so you can get the absolute most out of it that you can. Simply put, if if you're looking for hope, don't just look with your eyes.
Hope is all around us. If you feel like you can't find it right now then I encourage you to seek it out. Make it a conscious effort to bring hope to yourself when it's not coming on its own. And above all:
"Let your hopes, not your hurts, shape your future." - Robert H. Schuller