The paradox of hope.

Do you remember the Greek myth about Pandora?
Not the streaming music service.
The first woman created by the Gods.
She was given a box (actually a jar).
And was instructed to never open it.
Fat chance.
Anyway, out flew all the evils of humanity.
Hate, pain, disease, Internet popup ads.
When Pandora was aware of what she had done, she quickly closed the jar.
And trapped one item inside.
Elpis.
Hope!
But why hope?
Is hope evil, like the other contents?
Nietzsche thought so.
He called hope the worst of all evils.
“Because it prolongs the torments of man.”
I appreciate where Friedrich was coming from.
I’m also predisposed to scoff at hope.
To face up to the realities of life.
But I see it a bit differently.
Hope is a double-edged sword.
Yes, it can be evil.
Especially when it keeps us on a misguided path.
One that causes us to live a disengaged or inauthentic life.
Which inevitably gives rise to the other evils in that jar.
Burdensome toil, regret, despair.
But hope truly is a paradox.
Because hope also helps us remain optimistic.
To push forward in the face of adversity and setbacks.
Hope moves us to pursue our desires and to change the world.
But hope can also blind us.
To a suppressed existence.
Or to our quixotic ideals.
And keep us blissfully numb.
Or seductively engaged in a pursuit that we can’t possibly attain.
David Mamet wrote, “We all hope. It’s what keeps us alive.”
And he’s right.
But being alive and living an authentic, inspired life are quite different.
To be fully alive, you must know when to abandon hope.
When to smash the jar of conjecture on the hard ground of reality.
Embrace your individuality.
Change course.
And allow unexpected possibilities to create life anew.

Eat the rice.

I’ve been privy to the lifestyles and routines of scores of athletes.
Boxers, collegiate wrestlers, weight lifters, downhill skiers.
And I’ve come to realize a simple distinction.
Between them and just about everyone else.
It became clear to me at the gym last week.
When I witnessed a guy eating rice from a plastic container.
“What the hell are you eating,” I asked.
“Rice.”
“Rice? At 9 o’clock in the morning?”
“It’s part of my program,” he replied matter-of-factly.
And quietly walked away.
There you have it!
No need to discuss it.
He does what he does, because he believes that it needs to be done.
Period.
One of my University roommates did hundreds of pushups each night before bed.
Another would sit against a wall in an invisible chair, while reading his assigned text.
None of them invented their extreme diets and painful exercises.
Nor did they particularly enjoy them.
But they wanted to be the best.
So they sought out advice.
And then followed that advice.
There’s the distinction (do you see?).
Why do people continue to attend conferences, participate in webinars, and hire consultants?
To get the answers?
So they can use the information to become the best?
I don’t think so.
All of the questions have already been answered, repeatedly.
Instead, they’re searching for validation.
They’re looking for permission to do what they feel like doing.
The other day I decided to hard-boil some eggs.
So I did a quick online search to find a recipe.
One that would produce moist yellow yolks (not dry green ones).
And, most importantly, eggs that were easy to peel.
I found one.
In fact, I found a lot of them.
So, did I follow the instructions to a T?
Hell no.
I was distracted.
By my cat, my smartphone, the latest issue of The Week.
And what eventually happened?
I bitched at each and every one of those eggs as I struggled to peel them.
I see and hear people bitching all the time.
What I rarely see are those same people doing pushups.
Sitting against a wall.
Eating rice from plastic containers.
And following their recipes to a T.

Am I missing something?

Someone took issue with my TEDx talk (again).
Specifically where I make this heretical assertion:
“It’s a faulty metaphor, that the brain is a computer. It’s not.”
So he or she commented:
“This guy (me) needs to look into the definitions of some words, e.g. ‘computer’.”
And so I did.
And every definition I’ve found makes use of these words:
Machine, device, electronic, program, operations, mathematical, logical.
Nowhere did I come across animal, biological, impulsive, emotional, stories, illogical.
Am I missing something?
I don’t think so.
Last week, I was walking down the street with my philosophical attorney friend.
(Rare, I know).
It was a beautiful day and we had just finished a wonderfully rich conversation over lunch.
As our gazes wandered ahead of us, I called attention to the not-so-obvious.
“You know, you and I are not seeing the same thing right now.”
He didn’t bite.
“Of course we’re not. Perception is selective, subjective.”
“And,” he added, “You’re not seeing the same thing you were seeing the last time we met.
And I’m not referring to the blossoming flowers and trees.”
(Turnabout’s fair play).
“How’s that?” I bit.
“You were quite concerned about the future, and it was coloring your perceptions.
You seem more alive today, brimming with possibility.”
He was absolutely right.
The “data” being “input” into my mind was not only selective and subjective, but highly dependent.
On my mood, my present interests, my focus and desires.
As John Milton so dramatically expressed in Paradise Lost:
“The mind is its own place and in itself can make a heaven of hell, a hell of heaven…”
Doesn’t sound much like a computer to me.

What is willpower?

Have you heard of SmartPlate?
It’s a high tech dish that “tells” you what you’re eating.
It can “detect the difference between a fried drumstick and a grilled one.”
(In case you can’t).
I guess it’s suppose to be a sort of brain aid.
To help us achieve our goals.
Because willpower alone may not be enough.
Our cognitive powers may be insufficient.
But is that true?
I don’t think so.
What is willpower?
People think it’s an invisible mental muscle.
A mysterious inner strength that we can exercise.
And which becomes depleted.
It’s not.
Quite simply, it’s a battle.
And not between emotion and reason.
Impulsive temptation vs. thoughtful aspiration.
That’s where the confusion lies.
Your thinking mind will never control your feeling mind.
At least not for long.
Rather it’s a clash of conflicting desires.
Between tangible happiness now.
A big slice of chocolate cake.
And conditional happiness later.
A more attractive physique.
Willpower is simply a choice.
Now or later.
Reality or possibility.
Are people who lack willpower lazy?
Do they lack the cognitive power known as self-control?
Absolutely not.
Their desire for now is simply greater than their desire for later.
Do you want to achieve your goals?
Then don’t fight your feeling mind (desire) with your thinking mind (reasoning).
You’ll lose.
Your sensory perceptions will eventually overwhelm you.
They’ll fuel your short-term desires.
At the expense of your longer-term aspirations.
Instead, suffocate those impulses.
By changing your environment and eliminating enticing perceptions.
Willpower is not a cognitive battle against your desires.
It’s an ongoing struggle between them.
Give your dreams a fighting chance.
Immerse yourself in the surroundings of possibility.
And replace the tedious nagging of your thinking mind.
“Don’t do that.”
With the impassioned desires of your feeling mind.
“Yes, do that!
Again!
And again!”