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.
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.
Do you love life? Then do not squander time,
for that’s the stuff life is made of.
- Benjamin Franklin
I find this quote very interesting… and somewhat difficult to grasp. First of all, what does it mean that life is made out of time? Well, we were born, we live and someday we will die. The time span between our birth and our death encompasses all our life (at least on Earth). Life is short. No matter how long we will live, our life will flew us by. We have limited amount of time to live our lives. To do what we want, to enjoy life, to build, create, learn. So, time is precious. If you love life you should not squander the time you have.
And how do you squander time? For example: is playing guitar a waste of time… or not? My take on it is that it really depends on your goals. Let’s say that you want to become a great guitar player and you diligently practice every day? Then this is not squandering of time. Every mastery requires a massive imput of energy and time and if you want to become a master in certain area you have to practice a lot. Let’s say that you don’t want to become a great player; you just play for your enjoyment and relaxation. This is not a waste of time either. There may come no tangible result from you doing it, but all work and no play makes Jack a dull boy. (Don’t forget to the other side of the equation though: all play and no work makes Jack a mere toy).
A real waste is when you do something that you neither enjoy nor do you know a purpose behind why you are doing it. When you are not doing it because you want to learn or do something constructive or enjoyable but because you just want to kill some time. Or because other people have told you that you should do it even though you don’t want to (let’s assume you are a grown up and you can decide for yourself). Or when you are doing it compulsively because you are caught in habitual patterns of thoughts and actions that are governing your life.
So, to answer a question whether you are squandering time, you should answer these questions: what are your goals in life and what is your main life purpose? (Finding your life purpose is a topic for another post.) What are your intentions behind doing certain activity? Does it take you closer to your goals or does it distancing you from your goals? If it serves no purpose, is it at least enjoyable? If you find that certain activity is not getting you closer to your goals and it doesn’t serve the purpose of enjoyment and relaxation either, then you are probably squandering your time.
*Originally: Dost thou love life? Then do not squander time, for that’s the stuff life is made of.