I’ve never really succeeded at optimism, because I could never completely ignore all the unhappy endings in the world. “All shall be well,” say the optimists (echoing Julian of Norwich), even as millions die every day from malnutrition and preventable diseases. How can you promise a happy ending to an impoverished single mother of five living in a third-world slum? Any belief in a fairy-tale romance for her is just magical thinking with no basis in reality.
However, I have learned a different kind of optimism, inspired by those who have risen above their circumstances to do great things. I have learned, despite all circumstances, that I have the power of intention on my side. I can choose a new intention for a better life for me and those I care about. I have the power of choice. I have the power to take action, even if my actions are somewhat limited by my circumstances. I have the power to change my world for the better.
I have more power than I’ve claimed in the past. And I am not bound by my past. I may be affected by my past; I have debts to pay, anger to resolve, excess weight to shed, and trust that needs mending. But this brokenness does not define me or confine me. I have the power to choose a new future and take action.
I have the power of compassion on my side. I am a co-conspirator with Spirit, an agent of the Divine. Yes, in fact, I am on a mission from God – and so are you. I can and I must tap into the fountain of compassion and beauty that lives in every human soul, and manifest it lavishly in the material world.
Having a bad past is not enough to stop me, but having a good intention is not enough to ensure my success. Good intention without action is just magical thinking and impotent optimism doomed to failure. As Saint Teresa of Calcutta put it: “Prayer without action is no prayer at all.” But with action, I bring the power of Spirit to bear on any situation, no matter how difficult, and have a chance of at least making it better.
Maybe I can’t cure all the diseases in the world, and maybe I can’t even stop a friend’s addiction, but I can do something. I can’t control the results, but I can have compassion and bring at least a little light and love to the situation. And as I continue to do what I can, where I can, believing in my intention, my strength of compassion has the opportunity to come out of the darkness and into the light, and it gets stronger with use.
In the past, my response to overwhelming difficulty was often anger mixed with powerlessness, leading to depression and stagnation. I equated positive intention with magical thinking in many cases (and not in a good way), because I didn’t believe in the power to create a happy ending. I still don’t believe it’s possible to guarantee that my actions will inevitably yield the results I want. But by giving in to depression and resignation, I deprived my world of much-needed action and compassion, and guaranteed failure.
I need love. My world needs love. I need to express love. It’s time to make a choice and go do something.