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Karen Stewart, MA, and David Stewart, PhD, are psychologists who work with individuals, couples, groups, and organizations in their Durham practice.


By Karen Stewart, MA

Karen Stewart, MA

How do we maintain hope in this time of pandemic, economic crises, political polarization, racial injustice, and climate change? How do we keep our equilibrium? Tonight, as I was feeling a bit of despair about the problems, something came to me that I want to share. I realized that no matter how bad I would ever feel, I would not give up. I would go on because I would not let those I love down. I realized that my hope comes from love. Love makes me feel aware of my interconnectedness. I am not alone. In fact, I believe I am connected with everything—earth, sky, sea, plants, animals, and a force in the universe that I would call love. I am not alone; we are all in this together. I will continue to play my small part no matter what.

We go on, we try, we do our best, we keep our hopes up even against all odds because we love someone, something, ourselves, the divine. In the face of overwhelming hardship, love is what carries us through. It is wonderful to feel loved, but our love for others is most important and motivating.
What do we love? Family—biological or chosen? Partners? Children? Grandchildren? Parents? Sisters? Brothers? Friends? A beloved pet? Picture any person or animal that you love and notice how you feel and where you feel it. Do you feel energy around your heart? Perhaps your arms ache or some other sensation arises. Pay attention to that feeling, drink it in. While not the same as being with the person, recalling and experiencing the feeling is nourishing to our physical and emotional selves. Love may also bring some sadness about not being able to touch our loved ones, and yet how lucky we are to have friends that we love and miss. When I think of who or what I love I feel connected. I am not isolated and alone. I am connected and I know this isolation won’t last. I can reach out and speak with those I love, keeping the connection alive. Connection is essential to our well-being.

What else do we love? Perhaps it is being in nature—as simple as going outside or for a walk. Feeling the fresh air and breathing it in, really noticing the trees, plants, clouds, sunshine, rain, stars, planets, and moon at night can remind us of how dependent we are on our natural surroundings for food, water, and air. We are deeply and intimately connected to this earth.

Do we love ourselves? I hope so, although I know for many it is a stretch—we can be critical, harsh and judgmental of ourselves. We all need to take time to appreciate the miracle of our body. At more than seventy I am grateful for my heat beating, lungs breathing, eye seeing, ears hearing, the ability to walk and move—grateful for every working part no matter how saggy and wrinkled. We owe our bodies deep gratitude for all they have survived.

Do we love something beyond ourselves? For me, love is the guiding force in the universe—even if we may turn away from it and be caught up in fear that can lead to all kinds of terrible consequences. I do not how to name this force, but I believe the Divine by any name is love. When I can remember to sink into this grounding love, I can move forward to do what I need to do.

There are no promises that if we have hope and move forward with love that things will turn out the way we want them to. That is not the point. When things are hard what keeps us going? What is the best way forward? William Penn in 1693 offered the following advice “Let us then try what love will do.”