Vision Quest – The Hope Series, Part III

Buoyed from my serendipitous meeting with Ronna, (Part I here) I returned to my clinic and colleagues with hope on my mind. What followed is somewhat a blur – regrettable, because I suspect it was one of my finer moments. Either I was masterfully persuasive, they were as ripe as I for a paradigm shift, or both.

It doesn’t really matter, except that I learned in that moment to believe the world can respond when someone speaks from a place of inner conviction.

How else to explain the outcome: that we’d close the entire clinic for a day to go on a hope retreat? All of us. Everyone from the nurses to the family medicine residents, the doctors to the lab technicians, the secretarial staff to our one lonely psychologist. We’d learn how to reconnect to hope ourselves, we decided, and then we’d decide what that might mean for our clinic.

As the date approached, I’ll admit to a certain degree of nervousness. I could tell there were a few people with reservations, and to be fair, it sounded like a woo-woo-ish concept. Add in medical training, where one is taught to evaluate treatments with a critical mind, and that this had kind of become my baby… If it went poorly, I’d have even less credibility than during my burnout.

I needn’t have worried.

Ronna began the morning with more hard statistics about hope – a strategy designed to soften resistance, I suspect. She interviewed a client in front of us who had been through the ringer in terms of medical procedures and conventional psychology, yet who only flourished after hope-focussed counselling. The patient was very convincing. I know because of the workout the the tissue box got, and not just by me.

Then Ronna got serious.

See, hope is a lived experience. Every one of us, no matter our circumstances, no matter how challenging our lives, have had one or two hopeful moments. Those memories are stored at a level of understanding that is more primal than words, goes deeper than logic.  Learning to access those memories is a powerful way to bring hope into the present.

And here’s where it’ll be more helpful to you to have some idea of the exercises she put us through, rather than another thirty pages of principles.

You know those speed dating services they have set up now? The ones where people spend ten minutes together to assess compatibility before being moved on to the next candidate? Well, Ronna did something similar with us. She had us stand in two lines, facing each other. Then she perched on her toes on top of a chair and called out instructions.

“If hope was a color, what color would it be, and why? Tell your partner,” she’d say. Then we’d have a few minutes to exchange stories, and just when things were winding down, she’d move us along by one person and we’d begin anew.

“If hope was a smell, which one would it be, and why?”
“What is the single most hopeful moment you can recall in your life?”
“If you could chose one picture on your wall that embodied hope, which one would it be, and why?”
“If you couldn’t find it in you to hope one day, which TV character could do that for you?” And so on.

By the end of that day I was dazed with gratitude and  awe, and possessed by a maelstrom of emotion I can hardly articulate.

Because no one held back in that room. Age didn’t matter, nor gender, religious background, nor whether the individual came skeptical to the exercise or not. I heard simple, profound words from people I had worked beside in the trenches for years, yet  never really known. I emerged with a shared experience and a common language with every one of my colleagues. I had questions I could ask of myself to reconnect with hope on the bleakest of days.

And the best part of all: I wasn’t alone in seeing the potential for hope in my work.

How do I know that? Simple. A week or so later, in a meeting that took an hour and a half, we met again, this time without Ronna. Time hadn’t diluted our energy. Our vision for the future was unanimous, and we believed it to be bold and exciting.

I’ll let you be the judge of that. What I will tell you is this: it would change my practice, bring tears to a CEO’s eye and change three local hospitals.

But that part of the story will have to wait… until the fourth installment of the Hope Series.

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