“I was born in the slum, but the slum was not born in me. And it wasn’t born in you, and you can make it. Wherever you are tonight, you can make it. Hold your head high; stick your chest out. You can make it. It gets dark sometimes, but the morning comes. Don’t you surrender! Suffering breeds character, character breeds faith. In the end faith will not disappoint. You must not surrender! You may or may not get there but just know that you’re qualified! And you hold on, and hold out! We must never surrender! America will get better and better. Keep hope alive. Keep hope alive!”
Those of us who have engaged in changing the world or in changing ourselves may have the experience of running out of steam occasionally. The days get longer, the forces get more challenging, and the culture seems more hardened than ever before. Despite being passionate about the topic we’re working on, our jobs just seem harder. Or funding ran dry and now we’re out of a job. Or this, that, and the other thing simply makes staying connected to change more challenging than ever before. We get tired quicker, snap faster, feel more stressed, and want to quit what we’re doing in order to do something else.
These are the times when we need to purposefully acknowledge Heartspace. These are times when we need to lean on our lasting connections within ourselves. What is it that you’re most passionate about? What makes you tick or rock-n-roll? Name those things, literally, right now. Make a list. If you name the work that you’re doing right now, then you should keep doing it, even through the hard times. There are few places in our society that reinforce the idea that you should stay with something when it is rough in order to grow through it. However, you will grow through it. If your job or the issue you address or the thing in you you’re trying to change does not make the list of things that you’re lastingly connected to, then it is time to reconsider your engagement with them. Recognize that the people around you are engaged too, each in their own way, and forgive them if you need to do that.
Marching countless miles, getting arrested dozens of times, facing constant death threats, and always facing the barrel of whites in America, the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. regularly gathered his closest confidants and lieutenants to strategize, pray, relax, and rally themselves. Their religious faith was a driving force in their work, and their consciousness of the lasting connections they had within themselves, among their followers, and throughout their work supported them, too. It was this knowledge that powered them through hard times, even strengthening Dr. King as he went onto the balcony on that fatal afternoon in April in Memphis. Every time Dr. King and his immediate circle was done with one of their meetings, they would deliberately circle up, hands in the middle of the circle, and as a group shout one time, “Keep hope alive!”
Twenty years after his death, one of Dr. King’s lieutenants reminded America of his roots at the end of his presidential campaign race. Rallying the audience to support another candidate, Rev. Jesse Jackson said,
This chest-thumping, love-filled determination reminds me that Heartspace powers our most personal and social engagements, driving us towards a collective power and ability that we have not begun to realize. In times of personal struggle, group process, or community need we can rely on the engine of engagement to draw us nearer to our own forces by purposefully nurturing our most lasting connections.
In a fatalistic tone, Leonard Bernstein once said, “I think it is time we learned the lesson of our century: that the progress of the human spirit must keep pace with technological and scientific progress, or that spirit will die. It is incumbent on our educators to remember this; and music is at the top of the spiritual must list. When the study of the arts leads to the adoration of the formula (heaven forbid), we shall be lost. But as long as we insist on maintaining artistic vitality, we are able to hope in man.”
It might help you to get musical in order to re-ignite your personal engagement. You might consider creativity and reflection, or embrace childhood again, or just getting busy doing whatever you do. Whatever you are doing, no matter how frustrating, deflating, or disconnected it seems, if you have a lasting connection to it, do more of it. A long time ago, I suggested that if you’re struggling in the struggle, you need to get busier in the struggle. Do things for the movement you care about beyond the job you have. Do things to help develop other people instead of yourself. Move other peoples’ mountains instead of just your own.
Keep hope alive.