How Prayer Changes Your Brain
Prayer is changing your brain chemistry—and it’s no miracle.
Hope is related to the notion of progress or redeeming the world. This is reflected in the practice of tikkun—to repair the world by creating unity. We do not accept things as they are but can always make them better, both collectively (working toward ending suffering in the world) and individually (perfecting our own consciousness and actions). We are aware that every moment is absolutely new, that there is no past or future, only the eternal now. In the Jewish tradition, it means a complete surrender to the moment, as an expression of God’s will, and a commitment to create a better future. Both perspectives reflect hope, which is essential. If you don’t believe in a better world, you can’t create one.
Practice: Engage in an act of tikkun. The way out of depression and hopelessness is to feel self-worth, which requires doing something worthy. So perform some small act of kindness that will serve as a rope to pull you out of hopelessness.
— From an interview with Rabbi DovBer Pinson, director of the IYUUN Institute for Jewish Enrichment in Brooklyn, New York
The great hope of Buddhism is the aspiration: “May I free my mind from greed, hatred, and delusion, for the benefit of myself and for the sake of all beings.”
If hope translates into needing things to work out in a particular way, or refusing to face things as they are, it is delusion. It creates attachment, which creates suffering. Attachments narrow the scope of possibility for true happiness—other options arise and we don’t even notice them—and create disappointment or powerlessness. But if hope means that in adversity you believe you have inner strength, or that you are connected to something deeper and larger than whether you get what you want, it is positive. This kind of hope asks: Will this difficult situation deepen me? Will it teach me patience? Can I find more compassion for myself or others through this situation? Can I lift up my spirit in the face of challenge?
Practice: Meditate on your breath. When your mind wanders, let go of thoughts and start over. This meditation itself is a hopeful statement: no matter what, you can always begin again. It’s also a reminder that everything changes all the time. See what happens inside you as you contemplate that notion.
— From an interview with Sharon Salzberg, Buddhist teacher, author, and founder of the Insight Meditation Society in Barre, Massachusetts
Paul of Tarsus said that these three will endure: faith, hope, and love. At one point, the Christian Church called these “virtues,” but today the word for those three sacred supremes is “art.” Hope is an art: it rests on tradition, yet makes everything new. It requires practice and creates beauty. Tradition warns us that hope is neither mindless optimism nor rigid certainty. Hope looks toward the future triumph of love, justice, and the good—but Christ Himself said He did not know when, where, and how. It’s beside the point. Hope is about a vision of the kingdom of God. That’s why the masters of the art of hope have not been theologians but mystics; they don’t offer answers, but rather the poetry and music of the deep and mysterious future. There is no guarantee. And yet, somehow, God will hold the cosmos safe, like a hazelnut in the palm of the hand.
Practice: Gregory the Great suggests an effective daily practice. Each morning, take a moment to be mindful of four things: where you are (the state of your life), where you are not (the perfect version of you), where you have been (your spiritual progress), and where you will be one day (envision your heaven, for, as Gregory explains, you will receive it if you want it).
— By the Reverend Clair McPherson, an Episcopalian minister and professor of theology at New York University in New York City
There are two sayings of the Prophet Muhammad I associate with hope. One is, “If you are planting a fruit tree and it turns out to be judgment day, or the end of the world tomorrow, continue planting.” The other maxim I try to follow is “Live for the things of this world and the work of this world as if you had eternity in front of you. And live for the spiritual world and matters of spiritual importance as if you might die tomorrow.” Some trees don’t bear fruit until they are 20 years old, but because others have planted them for us in the past, we have a duty to plant for the future—in the present. Hope is a state of being; it is beyond outcomes.
Practice: Plant (your version of) a fruit tree.
— From an interview with Shaikh Kabir Helminski, spiritual leader of the Mevlevi Sufi Order and director of the Threshold Society in Watsonville, California
The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali say: “Our perception of our true nature is often obscured by physical, mental, and emotional imbalances, which can promote restlessness, uneven breathing, worry, and loss of hope. These imbalances can be prevented through loyalty to a sacred practice.” For most of us, it is a luxury to retreat into the realm of the spirit. Without this reprieve, true hope as well as other spiritual virtues goes into hiding. With such a reprieve, we can elevate our consciousness and see the ebb and flow of all things. We see that holding on—even to our hopes—impedes this flow, keeping our minds reeling, our hearts dissatisfied, and our dreams out of reach. We see that even if we realize our dreams, they are like snowflakes, melting as soon as we take hold of them. When we turn our view inward, we see that a grand discovery awaits us. We find the place where hope abides: our true nature.
Practice: Take time to find your sacred practice, and then retreat with it into silence.
— Nischala Joy Devi, author of The Secret Power of Yoga
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