By Valerie Brown. Broadleaf Books, 2022. 275 pages. $26.99/hardcover; $22.99/eBook.
I’ve always loved the sentiment behind the saying “People may forget what you said or did, but they will never forget how you made them feel.” Two years ago, I participated in a Pendle Hill retreat with author Valerie Brown, and although I don’t remember the specific topics or activities from the retreat, I absolutely remember that it made me feel ready to take on the year ahead. I got the same feeling of empowerment from Hope Leans Forward: Braving Your Way toward Simplicity, Awakening, and Peace. Valerie Brown is a Quaker Buddhist and uses the wisdom of each of those spiritual traditions to share significant wisdom in every page of this book. Each chapter explores one of Buddhism’s Seven Factors of Awakening and ends with a mindfulness practice and a list of Quaker-inspired queries. The combination is powerful and leads readers on a journey of meaningful insights and practical tools.
Hope Leans Forward provides a window into the lessons that Brown has learned through pain and grace and that she shares in her professional life as a teacher, coach, and spiritual guide. Over the course of the book, she describes how she went from being a lawyer-lobbyist who was obsessed with productivity and achievement to someone who is able to center love and community in her life. She also describes her path as she moved through and grew from the heartache of divorce. She shares that her work now includes encouraging people “to release the idea that we will be perfect, and to move at a human pace: the speed of trust” and to accept that “more often than not, community is about conflict and about how we together navigate it.” Her reflections about love particularly resonated with me, including that “risk is a part of love” and that “[l]ove begins with me, with choosing love, no matter what.” I appreciated that she consistently acknowledges the complexities of the wisdom she is sharing. Brown’s noting that we are all—herself included—works in progress inspires me to embrace the journey rather than seek to discover or do the “right” thing.
Brown does offer some next steps to try, wherever readers are in their journey. Each chapter includes practical tools for cultivating hope. Some of the suggestions and models are very personal, such as Brown’s daily practice of asking herself, “‘Am I rationalizing, ignoring, sidestepping a voice that is struggling to be heard, calling me to be more generous, more loving, braver?’” Others include more common mindfulness exercises, such as a noticing practice, a pausing practice, and body practice. The queries she shares at the end of each chapter are excellent for individual and collective reflection, and even include a description of clearness committees. I was thrilled to see that the queries at the end of one chapter come from my local monthly meeting. The mindfulness practices and queries will help readers to apply and sustain the lessons from the book.
At its core Hope Leans Forward is indeed a meditation on hope: its significance and how to cultivate it. Brown describes hope as “the resolve to live with a generous heart, to dedicate and rededicate myself, to awaken my soul’s voice at this sacred time of global disruption.” She describes joy, belonging, and courage as the ingredients for a life filled with hope. She makes clear that hope carries with it the potential for disappointment and suffering, while also using the stories of her own life and the lives of those she admires to paint a clear picture of why hope is worth the leap of faith it requires. Early in the book, Brown writes that she hopes readers will “let [Hope Leans Forward] surprise, inspire, and warm your heart.” It set mine on fire.
Lauren Brownlee is a member of Bethesda (Md.) Meeting, where she serves on the Peace and Social Justice Committee.