Three Cheers for Despair!!! / by Ariel Carson


Dear Despair
Please pull up a chair
And let’s have a meal together


Hope is a prized value woven prominently into the fabric of America. Our culture urges us not to sit in the discomfort of despair. We insist on striving for a hopeful outlook no matter how bleak the circumstances. However, I write this in defense of despair. Allowing ourselves to be with this discomfort can act as a catalyst for change. Rather than thinking in mutually exclusive terms: hope or despair, I’d like to propose a spectrum containing both. We want our personal and collective containers to be large and resilient enough to hold hope and despair simultaneously.

Despair plumbs our darkest depths, asking us to come home to ourselves and look inward. It is in this space we can contact our most existential questions, and tap into our deepest desires and essential purposes for being. It asks us to wade through the primordial waters out of which new creation forms.

Hope orients us to the light through, above, around, and beyond the darkness. It gives us externally related direction and motivation. It moves us into connection and action with confidence. Hope assures us that we can affect change, and we can!

We need access to both components of the spectrum to thrive. Balanced wholeness comes with keeping at least one drop of despair in our infinite sky of hope, and at least one spark of hope in our infinite ocean of despair; yin and yang. Our systems are always seeking balance, but sometimes we need outside help establishing the conditions for it to occur in manageable centered ways. Curiosity and not knowing are essential ingredients to this process. The key is not to get stuck at any point. The degree to which we are able to move easily along the continuum of hope and despair is what measures our resilience and freedom.

Let’s use our despair to soften us, to understand “what is” from the inside, and to reflect on our personal contributions to how we created these circumstances. Let’s use our hope to consciously decide how best to move forward in connection to each other. Let’s trust that when we simultaneously say no to what disorganizes us and destroys our unity, and yes to what expands us and promotes coherence, something fresh can occur.

Surrender is implicit in embodied despair. We release our previous assumptions about the effort it takes to keep ourselves upright. We soften our muscles and let our weight pass through the soles of our feet. And then we find balance in our participation with hope. We receive the support of the ground to aim up along the curves of our spines and through the crowns of our heads. Every time we consciously feed these processes, it is a practical exercising of our free will. We have power over how we exist in this world and how we respond. Let us remember to remember that.

When we embody this framework, we create the conditions out of which we can skillfully respond to the demands of the task at hand. Movement is inevitable, but let us not move out of desperation to avoid pain or discomfort.

Care tenderly for your despair. Listen deeply to what it’s asking of you. And imagine hope. Seek it out in the most mundane moments just as much as in the noticeable victories. Let the fullness of your hope~despair spectrum breathe. Let it open you up from the inside out and the outside in. Let it move you forward in wholeness.