Mindful Moment is a new mindfulness column from Psych Central that invites you to look within. Each month, we’ll feature a conversation with a mindfulness expert and offer tools, tips, and inspiration to help you tap into your inner resources to create meaningful change in your life.
The world can often feel like a dark and difficult place.
Just as the promise of endemic from COVID-19 offered a glimmer of hope, a humanitarian crisis began unfolding in Ukraine.
War, famine, poverty, and other injustices seem commonplace as polarizing ethical and political debates pit us against each other. Meanwhile, uncertainty about the future and concern for the planet loom in the background.
I don’t know about you, but I’m exhausted. And when there’s no sign of good news, it can be all too easy to become fixated to our detriment or turn a blind eye to cope.
When things feel hopeless, mindfulness can teach us how to tune in versus tune out — and show us a path forward during unsettling times through empathy, compassion, and truth.
As we look toward the light of warmer days ahead, we can awaken to hope and possibility by connecting to the goodness that already lives within us.
La Sarmiento, a mindfulness teacher based in Baltimore, told me that it takes a lot of courage and patience to actually be with this life the way that it is.
“As I reflect on my relationship to hope, I actually do not have one,” they said.
“I believe hope sets us up to want things to be other than they are. It’s through the acceptance of what is that we may find the courage to look deeply at all we avoid to [understand] that all of that is a part of this life.”
Born in Manila in the Philippines, Sarmiento moved to the United States at about 10 months old when their father enlisted in the U.S. Navy. After spending what they describe as “a lifetime” of assimilating into the dominant Western culture, Sarmiento discovered their true identity through mindfulness.
“Through my 23 years of practice of mostly vipassana meditation and the teachings of the Buddha, I’ve realized that true happiness and peace doesn’t come from anything outside myself — whether it be a relationship, my livelihood, or the end of racism, xenophobia, or transphobia. It comes from the acceptance of uncertainty, impermanence, and death; from having faith and trust in my own innate goodness and that of others.”
For Sarmiento, much of their past difficulties had come from internalizing the messages that society holds for an immigrant, nonbinary Person of Color.
“My liberation comes from decolonizing my heart and mind and acknowledging that everything I sought was already in me — wisdom, compassion, love, and the dignity of remembering my inherent worthiness of existence and belonging on the planet,” they said.
Change and growth come from within. As Sarmiento explained, hope is more about being in the present moment than expecting things outside yourself to change.
“It’s a natural human tendency to want things to be different, but if we’re unable to find ways to be with what we’re experiencing, things won’t change for the better,” Sarmiento said.
“We are what we think. All that we are arises with our thoughts. With our thoughts, we make the world.”
Hope is not a destination but rather an awakening to what’s possible inside you.
Sarmiento described spiritual hope as trusting in what you already have, a process of watering the metaphorical seeds within to cultivate personal growth.
“Often we’re looking for something outside of ourselves to solve our problems or to take care of us, which is a natural human tendency when we’re in need,” they said.
“Spiritual hope is about trusting and having faith in our own inner resources so that no matter what’s happening out there, it’s not going to throw us off.”
Spiritual hope is a process of recognizing the innate goodness within you and how you relate to what’s happening around you. This practice, according to Sarmiento, is maybe the only thing that human beings have any control over.
“One of my favorite quotes from the Buddha is, ‘we are what we think…with our thoughts, we create the world,’” Sarmiento said.
“If I see the world as a friendly place, I’ll experience the world in a much friendlier manner. If I see it as an evil and awful place, that’s what I’ll be noticing more of in my experience.”
Existential theorist and psychoanalyst Viktor Frankl, an Austrian Holocaust survivor of Auschwitz, famously wrote in his book, “Man’s Search for Meaning,” that it’s possible to find hope and meaning even in our darkest hours.
In fact, a large body of evidence supports hope as a healing salve, suggesting that hope can be a coping mechanism during difficult times, especially for individuals with cancer.
A 2010 study calls hope an “important resource” for those with cancer, suggesting a positive impact on their quality of life. Another study from 2021 suggests that hope may help increase survival rates.
In addition, a 2015 review of 22 studies on finding hope during severe illness suggests that hope may help improve:
- coping abilities
- spiritual well-being
- quality of life
- depression symptoms
Awakening to the power of the hope that lives within you sounds easier said than done — but with practice, it may be possible. Here are a few ways to bring more hope into your life.
Acknowledge your feelings
The Buddhist teaching of acceptance is centered on the idea that everything is impermanent — even our emotions. In fact, 2017 research suggests that the average lifespan of a fleeting emotion is 90 seconds.
Acknowledging and investigating your feelings can help you manage whatever may be arising within. Being mindful of your emotions versus avoiding them may help them to eventually subside.
Whether you’re feeling anxious, sad, angry, or afraid, Sarmiento said you might allow yourself to be with those feelings by:
- recognizing them
- understanding how they live in your body
- examining their overall impact on your life
Self-compassion is key during difficult times. Recognizing that you’re not always going to be able to put your best foot forward is perfectly OK.
“We’re all burnt out, so acknowledging that allows us to be present with it,” Sarmiento said.
“We live in a culture where everybody’s got to be perfect. To me, that’s just caused so much more suffering because there’s this expectation we’re trying to meet.”
Reminding yourself that you’re doing the best you can at any given moment may help you learn how to accept yourself and others. This practice of self-compassion may be helpful for anyone seeking more hope and meaning in their lives.
Self-compassion phrases to try
- “May I have faith in the wisdom and compassion that is already within me.”
- “May I trust that I am doing the best I can in any given moment.”
- “May I create spaciousness and ease around feelings of doubt, insecurity, and fear.”
- “May I know that I am enough.”
Move through the ‘mud’
Thích Nhất Hạnh, a Vietnamese Thiền Buddhist monk, activist, author, and teacher, passed away in January 2022 at age 95.
One of his main teachings, as described by his book, “No Mud, No Lotus,” is a metaphor for getting through difficult times. The lotus flower cannot grow without the mud.
“The mud represents the more difficult and challenging aspects of life,” Sarmiento explained.
Here, Sarmiento shares a short mindfulness practice to move through the proverbial mud and cultivate spiritual hope.
- Lie down (because we’re all exhausted).
- If it’s comfortable for you to do so, place your hand on your heart to help you feel held and supported.
- With as much sincerity as possible, offer yourself a self-compassion phrase that resonates with you.
- Imagine the unconditional support of the Earth holding you. “No matter what we do to her, she’s there, she just keeps creating beauty and supporting us,” Sarmiento said.
Awakening to hope: A Tibetan prayer
Sarmiento offers the following prayer they’ve been reciting for the past 25 years:
“Grant that I may be given the appropriate difficulties and sufferings on this journey, so that my heart may be truly awakened and that my practice of liberation and universal compassion may be truly fulfilled.” – Tibetan prayer
Awakening to the power of hope is a process of learning to see clearly, discerning what matters to you most, and aligning your life accordingly.
Remember that the path toward growth and healing is nonlinear. It’s a constant practice of learning, forgetting, and remembering. Change is possible — but only when we are willing.
Sarmiento said that once we find hope, we can strengthen it by keeping company with those who also aspire to awaken.
“Life has its joys and sorrows — and we can’t even take in the good sometimes,” they said. “One of my biggest mantras is to trust that life will show me what I need and will bring me the people I need to learn from.”
La Sarmiento (they/them) is an immigrant, nonbinary, Filipinx American, ukelele-playing teacher of mindfulness. They are the board president and a teacher with the Insight Meditation Community of Washington, DC.
Andrea Rice (she/her) is an award-winning journalist based in Raleigh, North Carolina. As a staff writer for PsychCentral, she covers mental health news and trending topics. Her work has appeared in news outlets such as The New York Times and INDY Week, and wellness publications such as Yoga Journal, Verywell, and mindbodygreen. As a yoga and meditation teacher since 2010, Andrea’s book, The Yoga Almanac, offers seasonal practices to nourish the body and mind. Connect with her on LinkedIn and Twitter, and read more of her work on her website.