By Deb Matlock

“Where there’s hope, there’s life. It fills us with fresh courage and makes us strong again.” Anne Frank

Last month I led a workshop at an environmental education conference exploring hope and a new vision for education and nature connection work going forward.  The workshop was attended by about thirty professionals – experienced educators, newbies to the field, and people who have worked on environmental issues in several ways throughout their careers.  Everyone came to the program for their own reasons.  Some were looking for inspiration.  Some were looking to share their own thoughts on hope and how to sustain it in the future.  Others were experiencing more of a crisis of hope…a crisis of faith.  Many of these folks were sitting with deep, heartbreaking questions of how humanity can change course and begin to value, comprehensively, the earth and all her inhabitants.  As I heard each person’s reasons for attending, I grew increasingly humbled.  I was in the presence of visionary thinkers with broken hearts.  I was in the presence of people unafraid to ask the tough questions facing us today. I was in the presence of people who, for me, represent the embodiment of hope and potential for a sustainable and compassionate future.

Grass growing in sidewalk crack“Hope is being able to see that there is light, despite all the darkness.” Desmond Tutu

Hope seems to be a hot topic these days…and with good reason.  We need it!  Desperately! We are barraged daily with challenging news about the climate, pandemic, environmental destruction, human suffering, inequality, animal welfare challenges, and on and on and on.  To not live with a question of what the future looks like might well be to live in denial of the present.  We have a lot of options in front of us.  Sometimes, those options might feel hopeful as when we see certain people and organizations making progress to conserve a patch of land in our community, or when people come together to help each other out in times of crisis.  Other times, hope might be a bit harder to find.  Regardless, without hope, without at least a glimmer of thought of a beautiful, inspiring, sustainable, compassionate future, we will not be propelled into action.  Hope, in my mind, at its core is a deep and powerful motivator.  It spurs us into action, in pursuit of a vision, perhaps towards something different than we currently see.

“Once you choose hope, everything’s possible.” Christopher Reeve

Several years ago, I spent many months personally grappling with the meaning of hope.  What was it?  How did it relate to faith?  Were faith and hope one and the same?  How could I cultivate hope in my life when my heart was repeatedly being broken by what I was seeing in the world?  I spent hours, days, and weeks hiking, journaling, reflecting…essentially apprenticing with hope.  The ponderosa pines and the chickadees, the creeks and the rocks all held my angst and my questions and helped me navigate this especially important terrain.  It was as if they patiently reminded me that we all must keep on moving forward, doing the best we can to fill our niche in the world.  If we provide beauty and inspiration as we journey on our paths, that is a bonus!  Tomorrow is ever the mystery, yesterday is always the past.  We can only really plan for tomorrow and see the future by having hope in the present moment.  Wisdom from the wild…I certainly did not come up with this myself!

So, given the important of hope how do we know what it really is and how to practice it?Earth in hands

I am so grateful for my time struggling with the meaning of hope for myself.  This time not only gave me a sense of personal mission, resilience, and courage, but also taught me that seeking the meaning of hope is a very personal, unique, and necessary journey.  Since then, I have found that I need to be aware of continuing to practice hope and allow inspiration from that place of awareness move me.  Some ways that can help all of us remember hope is a constant companion:

Allowing ourselves to feel awe.  This world is stunning, amazing, mysterious, incredible…and full of life and potential.  Letting awe overwhelm us at times reminds us that we are small, insignificant humans and the mysteries surrounding me are much larger than we can comprehend.

Appreciating beauty in all its forms.  So much beauty surrounds each of us every day.  From large vistas with breathtaking sunsets to the tiniest pebbles reflecting the light.  Taking even just a moment to look for beauty, feel it inside of ourselves, and appreciate it can provide such a sense of hope.

Practicing gratitude for the earth and what she provides.  It is so easy to take for granted that absolutely everything we need to get through our lives…everything…comes from this amazing earth.  Even chemicals and non-biodegradable plastics were once organic and a part of the whole.  This earth gives us life.  Full stop.  Being forever grateful, I feel, can help us keep our tired minds and broken hearts in alignment with a hopeful future that allows life as we know it to continue to exist.

Look for hope in humanity. It may sound counterintuitive, but I find that looking for signs of hope in my own species does amazing things for my ability to stay focused on my own contributions and ways of being in service the larger world.  We are an amazing species and many people all over the world are doing amazing and beautiful things every single day!  This also reminds me that none of us are acting alone.  Combined, all our efforts and passions can profoundly change the world.

“Hope is a waking dream.” Aristotle

Hope is the propeller of action.  Hope is a reminder of our infinite possibility and our finite time.  Hope is, at its core, the embodiment of love for life.   The earth needs our hope.  Wildness needs our hope.  Our souls need our hope.  Hope is the keeper of the future, the lover of the present, and the teacher of the past.  Hope is what we have…and what we need…and what will take us forward.

“Hope and fear cannot occupy the same space.  Invite one of them to stay.” Maya Angelou

A couple of lovely books on hope for your inspiration:

Reason for Hope: A Spiritual Journey by Jane Goodall

Active Hope:  How to Face the Mess We Are in Without Going Crazy  by Joanna Macy and Chris Johnstone


Deb Matlock grew up in the mountains of Colorado and is deeply committed to nurturing the connection between people, animals, earth, and spirit.  She has spent twenty-five years working as a professional environmental and humane educator and naturalist.  Additionally, Deb offers shamanic-style spiritual guidance, animal communication, nature connection workshops, and retreats through her business, Wild Rhythms.  She is passionate about helping people find connection and deep spiritual meaning in their lives and in the places where they live.  Deb holds a Master of Arts in Environmental Education from Prescott College and is pursuing her doctoral degree in environmental studies at Antioch University New England. 


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