Category Archives: Quote of the Month
This too shall pass.
This phrase (or a variant of it), which can also be attached to a story of a king and/or a ring that has this words inscribed on it, is a sentence that is always true – in times that are good, and in times that are bad. First found in the writings of the medieval Persian Sufi poets, this simple proverb reminds us of the transient nature of everything that is, including our own existence. Nothing lasts forever. I try not to see this as either good or bad. It is what it is.
The comprehension of the “law of impermanence” leaves little ground for arrogance or desperation. Knowing that nothing is eternal, life’s achievements and drama lose its seriousness and can be accepted for what they are: a mere chapter in a life of a person, a nation, a planet. Nothing matters that much in a big scheme of things.
Of course, animals and humans, we have a natural survival instinct that serves the purpose of evading death for as long as possible. Pain and fear are parts of this self-preservation strategy, for they guide us away from danger. So, I am not suggesting at all, that you should ever ignore pain and fear, even though they are also impermanent.
However, unlike animals, humans have an added capacity to form an identity out of their life situations, be it good or bad. Even this ability probably has some benefit for the individual, but it can also grow out of proportion, into a delusion of grandeur or, conversely, into a victim identity. When this happens, suffering is a guarantee. If you identify yourself as a victim, your whole life will be miserable; and if you have a big ego, you will suffer when things don’t go your way or when your world starts falling apart, as it will eventually. If nothing else, you will grow old and helpless.
It is only when you truly accept impermanence of everything, including your own, that you can really start living your life with ease. If nothing lasts, then it doesn’t matter much if things go one way or the other. It can make a difference now, but in the long run it will make no difference. With that burden taken off of your life, you can start looking at the world as a light place. You can still strive for achievements and success, but you do it as a game, a play, and not because you want to build your self-importance, or because you want to run away from something (provided that you already have your most basic needs taken care of).
You live your life like a kid who is building a sand castle on the beach. You know that it will be washed back into the sea tomorrow – yet, you are doing it anyway, simply for the fun of it.
The whole essence of Zen consists in walking along the razor’s edge of Now – to be so utterly, so completely present that no problem, no suffering, nothing that is not who you are in your essence, can survive in you. In the Now, in the absence of time, all your problems dissolve. Suffering needs time; it cannot survive in the Now.
- Eckhart Tolle, The Power Of Now
Since I first stumbled upon the concept of Zen I have realized that there is something profound in it, but I had never quite understood it. I haven’t really committed to find out what Zen is all about, however I put a mental note in the back of my mind that I need to explore it someday.
And then, one day, I read a book written by Eckhart Tolle – The Power Of Now. I had mixed feelings after reading it: on one hand, I realized that it is a profound book on spirituality, but on the other hand I was turned off by some New Age terminology and concepts that I could not connect with. So after I read it, I put it away and didn’t think much about it.
Until last month, that is. I decided to have a second look at The Power Of Now and this time I actually experienced some of the things that Tolle talks about in the text. There is a big difference between reading about presence and actually being present. Only when you experience for yourself the things that Tolle describes in his books (he also wrote a sequel: A New Earth) you can really understand how powerful his message is. I guess I wasn’t ready yet, the first time I read it.
I still don’t buy into everything he teaches. I still cannot connect with – what I see as – New Age nonsense – like when he talks about different worlds (or interpretations of reality): a human world (with its many sub-worlds), an ant world, a dolphin world, etc. He then says that all these worlds are interconnected, so “when collective human consciousness becomes transformed, nature and the animal kingdom will reflect that transformation. Hence the statement in the Bible that in the coming age “The lion shall lie down with the lamb.” This points to the possibility of a completely different order of reality.”
I just cannot comprehend how enlightenment of humanity could possibly make lions vegetarian, although even today there are rare instances of the predators and the prey living together for a while – for example, when maternal instinct prevails (A lioness adopts a baby antelope).
Nevertheless, I highly recommend The Power Of Now to anyone who is interested in living more at ease, being present, and in the moment. You may not connect with it the first time you read it. That is OK. Put it away, just as I did, and revisit at a later time. If you cannot connect with a certain concept or a word that he uses, just ignore it and continue reading. View The Power Of Now as a guided meditation, not as a book of absolute truths. Tolle himself states, that every word that comes out of him is just a pointer, a signpost that points towards a certain state of being. He actually did a pretty good job with describing something that ultimately cannot be described with words. Don’t get attached to concepts and words – in fact, the whole point of this book is to get you beyond your mind with its little concepts and thoughts.
The mind, while being a useful tool, is also the source of all suffering in life. Suffering is the result of mind dwelling on the future and worry about problems, or dwelling on the past and deriving identity out of it (for example a victim identity). This is what Tolle describes as “psychological time” (as opposed to “clock time”); you are creating psychological time whenever you are putting your attention on past or future, although you haven’t had any practical reason to do so (at that particular time). If, on the other hand, your attention is on the present moment, there can be no suffering for you, no problems, no worry. Only situations to be accepted and then dealt with or left alone. If you have a hard time understanding this, then contemplate The Most Zen Chart Ever until you do understand.
Pain in life is inevitable; suffering is optional. The power of now will set you free.
There’s a difference between knowing the path and walking the path.
- Morpheus, The Matrix (1999 film)
This has been one of my favorite quotes of all time – I even used it for my signature on internet forums at one point. The reason that I put it there is because I knew that I should be reminded of this quote every single day. Because it applied perfectly to my own life, for I was one of those people that would intellectualize all day long on a certain topic but never actually do anything about it. One of those people that live by the rule that knowledge is power.
However, I don’t believe anymore that this is a good way to live. Knowledge is pretty much useless, if you don’t apply it in practice. What’s even worse – everything that you learn, you will eventually forget, unless you internalize it through repetition or practice. Let’s say that you want to learn how to develop web pages – do you think that it is a good idea to read every single book you can find on how to develop and code web pages before you attempt to build your first web site? I think not. Before you will even finish reading one of those 600+ page books on HTML or PHP, you will forget 95 % of what you have learned in earlier chapters.
The best way to remember what you have learned is to read and learn about a few basic concepts regarding web site development and then immediately implement your knowledge by building a simple web site. It is first hand experience that gets you real understanding of the subject and it is much less likely that you will forget the knowledge that was tied with your personal experience. Knowledge supported with experience will then form a good foundation for further learning. You can build up your knowledge from there, one step at a time.
So, knowing the whole path from the beginning is not even necessary in most cases. It is much more important that you know the direction where you want to go, that you know your very next step that will lead you in that direction, and finally, that you actually do it then. Without action, nothing will happen. You can have the best map, compass, GPS and satellite images of your route but if you won’t bust your butt and walk it through you will never get anywhere. You have to walk the path.
But it is not just achievements that are important here. The path is important in and of itself. After all, that is your experience of life. At the end, you may not reach all of your goals, but if you walk your path, you will probably have quite a good ride. If, on the other hand, you just collect knowledge as you go through life, you may die as a living encyclopedia, but you won’t have really lived.
Eckhart Tolle – famous author, whom I generally find a little too New Agey for me, but I like some of his concepts – uses a very good example for the difference between gobbling knowledge and experiencing things: he says that you can study and talk about honey for as long as you like, but you won’t really know it until you taste it. Think about that.
No thing great is created suddenly.
There is no way around it. You have your current situation and you have your vision. If you envision great things that are not yet present at this time, there are obviously certain steps in between that need to be taken in order for your vision to come true. Each step requires some time and some effort that needs to be put in. You have to know what those steps are and you have to be willing to put in your time and your effort. You can’t just snap with your fingers and expect it to happen by itself and instantly.
A painter may have an instant inspiration for his next painting, but he can’t sell it or show it to anybody until he materializes his vision on canvas. And in order to do that, he needs to take certain steps and put in his time and energy and even money. He needs to prepare and mix the right shades of colors. If he doesn’t have the right colors then he needs to go to the store and pay with his money for them. Then he might spend hours, days or even weeks on working on the painting. And he would need to interrupt his work many times for eating, sleeping and other mundane things. These things are so obvious that I feel silly even describing them.
However, I want to emphasize all the trouble that an artist might have with creating a single painting. He would need a lot of patience and persistence in order to complete the work. They are both necessary for just about any accomplishment. Although both words have somewhat similar meaning, I consider persistence as more connected with what you’re doing (your actions), whereas patience as more connected with time frame of things and your state of being during that time. For example, if you are patiently waiting for something then you are at ease while being inactive for a certain period of time.
There are other uses of the words, but for the purpose of this article we can define persistence as continued effort to do and actually complete each and every step that is necessary for success, regardless of any difficulties, failure, or opposition. Persistence is the outer manifestation of determination or willingness to do. And we can define patience as willingness to endure something unpleasant and long lasting (or to delay gratification) in order to reach a certain goal – patience is the willingness to wait for the outcome. When you wait willingly you remain calm, you don’t get bored and you are not in a hurry. So, patience also includes unwillingness to take supposed short cuts that you know are most likely no good – like skipping steps or doing them in wrong order, doing them too soon or not long enough or rushing through them too fast.
An impatient painter would not go to the store to buy the right colors – he would start painting immediately with colors he already had at hand, even though this might compromise his painting. Epictetus himself gives another example of patience, as his whole quote goes like this: “No thing great is created suddenly, any more than a bunch of grapes or a fig. If you tell me that you desire a fig, I answer you that there must be time. Let it first blossom, then bear fruit, then ripen.”
But of course, we all want instant gratification instead. We don’t want to wait until the fig is ripe – we want it now. We want immediate results for everything. In this day and age our culinary example may be slightly out of date – you can probably buy a fig in your supermarket all year long, because it is being transported from wherever there is a season right now. However, not everything can be bought in the store.
You can’t buy successful career or good relationships or your health. Sure there are drugs for almost everything, but good health requires more than eating a ton of pills. All serious success is gradual. Relaxation techniques or meditation won’t work miracles the first time you try them. Right diet or physical exercise won’t make you healthier the next day. You won’t become more social just by remembering a few jokes. And you can be successful at your work only if you are dedicated to what you do and you think long term – that is, if you are patient and persistent.
Risk is the price you pay for opportunity.
This line is almost the natural continuation of the last month’s quote. Half of what I wrote in January can also be applied to this quote.
The quote itself doesn’t tell us anything about the outcome of our actions – of course, it couldn’t. But it is important to emphasize that the outcome can really be one way or the other. Taking the risk can either be worth the trouble or not, and your courage to enter a risky business is not enough by itself. There is no guarantee of a positive outcome. If it were then there would be no risk!
Therefore the notion that all fear is an obstacle that needs to be overcome is very naïve. Fear has a purpose of guiding you and preventing you from doing something stupid. It incites you to carefully evaluate and minimize risk. Fear is actually your friend – if and only if you don’t allow it to dictate your life entirely. Otherwise it becomes your jail keeper, and it’s up to you to choose if you want to live that way – imprisoned, half alive.
You see, if you never take any chances, then probably the choices you are making could hardly be worth anything. Nothing that is valuable in life, no opportunity, comes easily and without some degree of risk. However, you have to decide on what risks you are or are not willing to take. You can ask others for advice, you can inform yourself and gather all the available information, but the final decision is yours – every person has to decide for himself. Just remember: if you play, you may win or lose, but if you don’t play, you can never win.
*I don’t know who the original author of this quote is, but apparently Robert D. Selleck used to say it a lot. His son Tom Selleck, an actor and film producer, used that line on screen.