Ask any educated person what was the gift that Prometheus stole from the gods and brought down to earth and they’ll say Fire. But few people know about the Greek belief that there was a second gift Prometheus gave us - Hope. And, unlike fire, that one was a curse.
Hope as a curse? It may strike us at first as absurd. Isn’t hope the only thing that stands between us and despair; the thing that keeps us cheerful, optimistic, and ever so American? There is something counter-intuitive in viewing hope as undesirable, yet the Greeks weren’t alone in their dim opinion of Hope. The Buddhists (and the Hindus before them) also had bad things to say about it. To them hope, like most other human mental constructs, was a delusion, a strategy designed by our brain for the sole purpose of avoiding reality.
Thich Nhat Hanh, the Buddhist teacher, recommends that you start every day with a brief meditation on the only sure things in life:
As a morning meditation it is a pretty rude awakening I’d say. You may be inclined to soften the blow by mixing in a little bit of hope in there, perhaps hope you’ll stay young (“youthful” as the euphemism for aging goes). Maybe you’ll be the one person who lives to be 100 without ever being sick, or, who knows, maybe you’ll live forever in another dimension? Try this trick and it may make you feel better, but you will have erected a bullet-proof firewall between you and reality.
Living in hope is living in delusion. It is an opiate, an addictive drug. Hope is what fuels lotteries and Vegas and romance fantasies. It is the bedrock upon which all religions are built, and the fodder for the snake-oil merchants of the “prosperity churches” and the billion dollar industries of “Be all you can be”.
Hope perpetuates human misery by masking its symptoms, like Tylenol.
I love Thich Nhat Hanh’s morning meditation also for its humor content. Can you think of a better example for the absurdity of life? It’s hilarious. Here we have this mysterious, magnificent phenomenon of being alive, and the only things we can count on are the things we are most afraid of, getting old, getting sick, and dying. Thanks a lot. Why couldn’t life guarantee us instead happiness, or continuous health no matter what we snacked on or drank? Why couldn’t we keep life forever, right here, not in some ill-defined after-life? And not just human life either, how about making our cat or dog immortal?
What a bum deal we got.
I have no doubt that the author of life on earth was a humorist, some cosmic Mark Twain. I believe he threw Hope into the mix simply to keep the comedy going.
The Kvetching Factory
"Start every day with a smile and get it over with" (W.C. Fields)