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.