“Wait, Adam. Eckh…art…who?” Umm, THIS little German dude…
I know what you’re thinking. I mean…you kinda remember Marcus Aurelius. You saw Gladiator. That movie was most beautiful and heart-touching. And yeah…of course you know Abraham Lincoln…that grisly looking tall dude who freed the slaves in 1776. But who’s Eckhart Tolle.
Only the wisest due all time of the earth. Lemme explain…
I mean, this is why you visit this beautiful site pretty much all day, every day, right? Not just for sound financial planning advice, and tips on crude oil prospecting, but also for learning new and uplifting life lessons, like the following gem from Herr Tolle, which I first read during a period of my life when I was improving a lot from the depression of my past, but still working hard at removing a lot of the bullshit in my life:
What will be left of all the fearing and wanting associated with your problematic life situation that every day takes up most of your attention? A dash – one or two inches long – between the date of birth and date of death on your gravestone. To the egoic self, this is a depressing thought. To you, it is liberating. – Eckhart Tolle
So Many Damn Problems…
The great many of us have no shortage of problems. In fact, it seems we have a never-ending supply of them.
We collect them. We horde them. We damn-near seek them out.
We have so many damn problems, as if each person were miraculously and strangely the most troubled person on earth, as if somehow – in the mass sum of sadness, misfortune, and evil in the world – we of all people had drawn the shortest straw.
We believe our problems are the worst. Ours the most important. Ours the most worthy of others’ sympathies and considerations; their infinite compassion and their perpetual kindness.
“I have this problem and this problem, and that’s why I suck. That’s why life sucks. Please, oh please, feel as sorry for me as I feel about myself.”
Except, well…it never sounds quite like that, right?
Instead we say we’re stupid or ugly, unlucky or unloved, heartbroken or hopeless, and our lives are too difficult to manage, or endure, or change for the better. Life’s just too much.
“Woe, is meeeeee!”
The Problems Multiply
From adolescence onward, our list of worries grows far faster than our list of joys. And as life goes on the tendency to count life’s negatives above life’s positives only grows stronger, as we become more aware of the things around us, and as we get drawn further and further into the adultness of life; into the inevitable problems that come with jobs, and relationships, and duties, and responsibilities.
We get caught up in life, and life slowly and surely gets on top of us.
Our reasons to be happy soon disappear. They go away. They somehow completely escape the mind when day after day, year after year, the problems just keep coming; when classes at school get harder, when the desire to have friends gets more intense, and the need to feel secure despite bills, and deadlines, and pressures only gets stronger.
And all-the-while the problems continue to mount. The problems only multiply, like a cancer upon our lives.
“This class is killing me. And I have college application deadlines coming. And Jenny said this and this about me. And Steve doesn’t like me. And the teacher’s being too mean. And my parents are being too strict. And this and this, and that and that. Yadda, yadda, yadda. On and on and on.”
“My job sucks. And the boss is doing this. And everyone around the office is saying this. And the bills are due. And the kids are all over the place. And bitch, bitch, bitch. Moan, moan. moan.”
We bury ourselves in problems. We drown ourselves in them, and when we can no longer breathe; when the troubles and struggles we took upon ourselves suffocate us finally, life sucks it seems. Life becomes to us what the great majority of the world believes it to be…hard, sad, and lonely.
Because we took the world on our shoulders. Because we took those things we should worry least about and never care about, and made them into the greatest problems in the world; problems which we think will change us, hurt us, end us.
There are no problems too insignificant to cause in us the belief that they are important; that THIS little thing is the end of ALL things; that it’s deserving of our most anxious stress and baseless fears.
But it isn’t. Few things are. And none are forever.
Can I Sell You MY Problems?
Of course, our problems are never enough. Even the misery and stress and fear we accept from the countless worries in our own lives isn’t suffering enough for us.
Because not only do we carry the painful weight of our own troubles, but – if you consider yourself anything of a caring person – those of others as well.
You carry the burdens of those you love – parents who may be struggling, a sibling who may be hurting, a friend who may be in need. In your love for these people, and your desire to protect them, or help them, or save them, all of their problems somehow become your problems. You stress over them and worry about them as if their problems were your own; as if you could do anything to solve the difficulties they endure, which very likely began outside of your control, and will remain outside of your control.
You hurt because of them, for them.
But how can one live and be happy like this?
How could you ever expect to survive life’s most difficult challenges if life’s most meaningless ones hurt you now? How can you expect to endure the countless real problems you will face if some stupid thing some stupid person says is enough to make you angry, if the predicaments of others is enough to keep you up at night, if some person leaving you or some person rejecting you is enough to leave you in tears?
If, to you, what is so small seems always so large, what then will the truly large seem like?
What will you do then? How much of your life will that ruin? How much of your sanity will that destroy?
How will you ever make it through?
Tolle is So Super Clever
In reading Tolle’s quote here, I’m reminded of what I wrote in another post, on the meaninglessness of life. There I said:
What exactly is left of all those billions of human beings who ever lived; of all those so fortunate enough to have graced this beautiful earth; the men and women, the young and old, the rich and poor, the good and bad? In almost every case – essentially every case – there remains neither a bone nor an artifact; not a memory nor a name. And what of the trillions of days they lived; of all they accomplished and strived for, of all they learned and mastered, of all their joys and tears, their fears and insecurities; of everything they spent their whole lives worrying about and waiting for?
Nothing. Nothing remains.
And what do they have to show for the struggle that was their life, for their greatest accomplishments, and most epic failures? What trophy or reward; what token or prize? What proof of their existence at all; anything to validate what to them was the most difficult thing in this world – their life?
Nothing. Nothing remains.
What Tolle means when he says the worries of your life are reduced to a dash, and what I mean when I say nothing remains of your life and problems, is that the suffering we accept and shoulder in our lives is, in fact, in vain.
It’s for nothing.
It gets you nothing and helps you nothing.
Because for all that suffering – for all the tears and stress, the worrying and wishing – what is left?
The entirety of your life is summed up on a stone above your bones, with two dates and a line.
To the egoic self, as Tolle says – to the thing within you that thinks that YOU are the most important person – that thought is indeed depressing. Because to you the problems you carry aren’t meaningless, and useless. They aren’t just problems, and they aren’t unreal.
They’re YOUR problems.
You feel a connection to them; an identification with them. They’re yours in something of a similar way your pet is yours – something you love and care for, something you identify as uniquely your own. And for all that suffering and worrying, you’d like to think that it was worthwhile, that it helped you in some way or improved your situation in some way.
For how else would they have been solved if not through stress, and fear, and concern?
But there’s far more truth on your gravestone than in your mind. And when that time comes, the lies we tell ourselves are stripped, and only reality remains.
Because Tolle’s word aren’t meant to be depressing. They are indeed liberating. Those words are freedom – freedom to be yourself; to do as you want when you want, and be as you dream right now with the knowledge and trust that the consequences will be temporary; that all the problems you now face are but problems for a time, and not worth the pain you or others would attach to them.
Because all the problems that prevent you now are actually nothing.
Just a dash between your years.
The Dash Between YOUR Birth and Death
So how do you use this then? How do you turn these pretty words into a better life, an easier day at school or work or whatever?
The truth is…words will not eliminate your fears or your worries. Problems in your life will still arise, and situations that scare you will still confront you.
They always will. That is life.
But when that happens – when I face a problem that seems too great, or I’m challenged to put myself in a situation that most others would call horrifying – I often first think to myself the following:
When I am old and grey, will this matter?
Will this “problem” matter?
Will it still mean so much to me when it becomes nothing more than a dash between my years?
And when I’m so old I can walk no more, or speak no more, or eat no more, will I care what this person thinks, or that person says? Will I care what they’ve done when the hurt they cause becomes nothing more than a dash between my years?
And when I stand at death’s door – when I prepare to depart from the world these “problems” made me hate so much in my youth – will ANYTHING I spent that life worrying about and preparing for matter then? Will ANY of it still scare me then, when all that suffering and pain, when all that fear and anxiety, when ALL of it becomes nothing more than a dash between my years?
THIS problem doesn’t matter.
THAT problem never mattered.
NO problem has ever mattered. At least as much as it seemed to me then.
And yet I’ve surrendered so much of my time, and wasted so much of my energy on them; on thinking that these problems were real problems; that life wouldn’t be the same, or I wouldn’t recover; that the consequences were too great and the risks were too high to do as I wanted to do and be as I wanted to be at that time.
But the problem before me will go, as I too will go. And the situation that scares me will pass, as I too will pass.
And when that day comes – when I depart from the earth – all the problems that scared me and consumed me will be as they should. They’ll be put in their rightful place and context, in proportion to the importance I should have given them all along:
A dash – or two inches long – between my birth and my death.
It’s all they deserve.
It’s all they’re worth mentioning. And the most they’re worth worrying about.
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