Every era has its pressures and traumas that leave people searching for answers. In the seemingly prosperous modern world in which we live, the need for a deeper understanding of life appears more pressing than ever.
As most psychologists, therapists and others who deal with the human state of wellbeing would acknowledge, there isn’t such a thing as a perfectly happy or fulfilled person and most of us achieve only a percentage of our potential in that regard.
The reasons for this are many but often include a person’s past, their predisposition to certain anxieties, lack of self-esteem or any combination of interconnected factors that affect their world view and sense of self.
We pursue success and status, usually expressed in the form of material belongings or power, and are encouraged in this by an economic system that has long since focused on what we want – or think we want – than on what we need, both individually and collectively.
This drive for success and happiness, and the belief that the one leads to the other, is and has always been one of the main motivators of mankind. The idea of finding paradise on the horizon being the very dynamic that makes the human world go around and defines us as a species.
On an evolutionary level it explains why we are such fighters, survivors and therefore so biologically successful, but it also provides a lot of insight into why people find it so hard to just be happy. Having been duped to associate wealth and beauty with happiness, millions strive towards these paradisiacal goals only to realise that it is often the simplest of folk that come closer to a state of earthly bliss. In the end it all comes down to a state of mind, for once you lose all self-perception and fear the door opens to a life without anxiety and doubt.
Most people grapple with these existential questions at some point in their lives, particularly at times of trauma, struggle or when the expected happiness pay-out doesn’t arrive, but some are destined to walk the full length of the tunnel so that they may shed light on the essence of life’s meaning.
Born into depressed post-war Germany, Eckhart Tolle played among the ruins of bombed-out buildings, later describing the sense of oppression he felt as a pain that “was in the energy field of the country.”
Living with his father in Spain as a teenager, he drifted away from formal schooling and was drawn to literature, languages and books that could provide answers to gnawing feelings. Even when he later graduated from the University of London, the sense of emptiness remained, and by now the young man was suffering from severe depression, anxiety and fear.
On the night it threatened to overwhelm him, the crushing, almost physical burden of depression gradually gave way to a trans-like state, which he later described as a life-changing epiphany. Having reached a point where his sense of self was so low that he began to look at the ‘self’ in an abstract way, he ended up disconnecting from it and starting afresh, fully focused upon simply being and experiencing life.
“I didn’t know at the time that what really happened was the mind-made self, with its heaviness, its problems, that lives between the unsatisfying past and the fearful future, collapsed. It dissolved. The next morning I woke up and everything was so peaceful. The peace was there because there was no self. Just a sense of presence or ‘beingness’.”…
Words Michel Cruz / Photography courtesy of Newworldlibrary.com