Q: I’m having difficulty right now keeping fear out of my heart when it seems as if the dark forces seem to be prevailing everywhere right now, violence around the world, man-made violence to our beautiful Mother Nature, continuing exploitation of Third World countries, people dying of famines, etc. I am grateful for my life and loved ones, but my heart aches terribly these days. I do what I can to bring cheer and light. How can I see hope again and feel all is not lost? — RJ, Oregon

A: Your question touches upon some of the most crucial spiritual challenges we face, living in the midst of rampant world-wide violence, injustice, suffering, and destruction to the environment.

Living gratefully certainly does not mean being complacently happy with our own little sphere of interests and affections, as you obviously realize. To be truly grateful requires our being deeply immersed in life — and such deep living is never circumscribed by the limits of a mere personal scope. And so our hearts and minds are acutely sensitive to the suffering and disharmony in the world. This gift of vulnerability to others’ misfortune and misery is the primary means by which we develop compassion. Compassion not only inspires practical ways to alleviate some suffering in the world, but also broadens and deepens our own connection with life.

When we live gratefully — not just as a gleeful surface response to things going our way, but as an exquisite savoring of experience because of its intrinsic transpersonal value — we are palpably drawn to our center of gravity in the mystical heart. Here we are given the strength and measure of wisdom to willingly embrace whatever tribulation we ourselves may be passing through. We embrace it because we know that in “good” and “bad” experiences alike, life presents us with lessons to be learned. But even more fundamentally, to live deeply from our heart is to be in accord with all life. As such, experience is shot through with the sacred. This has the effect of making our own personal suffering relative, even on a felt level, because everything is lit with a sense of goodness and love, as the hue of the sacred.

This intrinsic goodness that we taste in grateful living spills out into an informed attitude of hope based on the deepest promise of the spirit. At the same time, gratefulness fine-tunes our reception to all the frequencies of the world, as we gain a glimpse of the source of its unity through our own heart. On the existential level, this presses us with an indelible stamp of impersonal sadness about the world adrift in a sea of ignorance and suffering.

There seems to be an edge where we can stand with hope in the large movements of life even beyond our present vision, a grateful recognition of the preciousness of life in all its phases, and a blessed sadness that marks our cognizant belonging to our troubled human family and earthly home. Slip off this edge, and we land in the darkness of hopelessness, despair, and fear, where we can neither help ourselves nor others.

In the end, hope, like true faith, is based on an intuited connection with the spirit. In this sense hope is far more profound than optimism, which is exclusively tied to a judgment of the probabilities in the field of concern. Hope has its source in the very sunlight that shines upon that field, and thus takes into account grace and the divine intent that unfolds in the world.

All violence, hatred, and destruction — as well as all constructive peaceful movements in the world — begins with our thoughts and feelings and the actions that spring from them. Precisely because there is so much horror and suffering in the world, it’s crucially important that we each sustain ourselves in hope, faith, and love. This act of fidelity may be a real factor in attracting much-needed grace to help humanity pass through these present dangers.

— William Young, Community Development Director of A Network for Grateful Living from 2000 to 2004.