Thoughts on hope

In the face of so much uncertainty amongst all the Brexit turmoil, in a changing world where nothing and no one remains the same, there seems to be so few things we can hold on to. None of us can step into the same river twice.

A family friend’s daughter was going through severe depression, for many years she chose to follow her heart to become an actress despite her family discouraging her time and again; she fought so long and worked so hard for it, and the big opportunity hasn’t come to her way yet. She started to feel so low that she became suicidal.

There comes a moment in life when you start to feel so tired of this battle which drains you physically, mentally and emotionally, so tired of this marathon which never seems to be ending, when hope seems so distant.

Fortunately, history has always been a great place to find inspirations and answers from. There is one particular character who has instilled so much admiration in me.

His name was Yangming Wang, a Chinese idealist Neo-Confucian philosopher, official, educationist and general who lived around 500 years ago. Born into an affluent family, he was a well-known child prodigy, and received the best education. When his father, who was a successful politician, asked him what was his life aspiration, instead of wanting to become China’s next Premier, he said he aspired to be a saint.

As one of the most respected scholars and the best generals China had seen, he went through a life more turbulent than most people would experience. He was forcefully stripped bare and whipped forty times in front of the entire government cabinet, because of standing up for his political belief and offending an eunuch. He survived the worst prison and then escaped from the hands of assassins. Afterwards, he was exiled to a remote jungle with poisonous fog and ferocious wild animals such as tigers, far away from civilisation and family and friends.

It was a time of no hope for him. Even his only servant nearly died in those extremely harsh living conditions. He often lied in a stone coffin inside a cave, he felt dead, although he was alive.

Then one night suddenly he sat up from this coffin. After months of reflection and soul searching, a new perspective formed in his head, that was the start of his Neo-Confucian School of mind.

He decided to teach, even though he might die next day in the jungle. He decided that wherever he was, however desperate the situation could be, he could always make a difference using his talent and gift. He started teaching the local ethnical tribes to speak and write Mandarin Chinese. Soon the word spread far and wide, people from neighbouring counties brought their children for his lessons on history, philosophy and so on; after all, who would like to miss out the opportunities of learning from the best scholar in China? Within a few years, many students in the entire province flocked to his place and he won the heart of all of them.

Eventually after a few years of exile, he was recalled to the central government, because a few of his students spoke up for him in front of the emperor. Despite the fact that he had never received any formal military training and only studied the military theoretical books in his spare time, he was sent to the most dangerous battles. He won every single one of them, yet reaped hardly any personal benefits for all the victory. Sadly, his victories only aroused more jealousy from his political opponents and they kept him away from the capital for the rest of his life. Everywhere he went, thousands of students followed him. He often spent half the time planning the strategies for the battles and half the time teaching his students. A lot of his enemies on the battlefield surrendered and became his students. His philosophical insights influenced the generation of the young people in China and later spread to Japan and inspired many Japanese people.

In his life time, he faced many dangers, temptations and desperate situations, but he always remained true to his heart, committed to his students , and he cared about the people and stood up for what he believed, often at the risk of his own life and his political career. He remained faithful to his wife even though she bore him no children, in a culture where men were freely allowed to marry many wives and giving the husband no offspring was considered unforgivable sin for a woman. He was not enslaved by the desire for power, money, fame or sex. Eventually, he died of poor health after many years of winning every single battle for China. After he died, he was recognised as a Saint, just as he aspired to be when he was a teenager.

For someone who lived a privileged life and then was stripped off everything he had in life and went through the valley of shadow of death, he came back as a man who was refined and enlightened. His suffering only added to the depth of his character and enriched his understanding of life.

Wherever you are, whenever it is, please remember that you have the choice of making a difference there and then, please remember this quote, ”In the midst of my winter, I finally learned that there was within me an invincible summer”.

Hope comes from looking up and looking within, it doesn’t come from looking at outside circumstances.

Choose hope. Love Scape xxx

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