It was 2007, and I was on my way to the airport. On a long business trip to Europe or Asia, I always pick up a couple of books to while away some time on the plane. I found "A New Earth" by an author I had never heard of before. The title looked intriguing so I bought it. Later as I passed the security line I saw "The Power of Now" by the same author; it was then when it clicked; yes, I had heard of Eckhart Tolle, the new spiritual author on the block. It turns out the "A New Earth" was a symptom of my own awakening. Today, nine years later, I am one of the millions of initiated light-workers Eckhart Tolle had with his book in mind.
The irony was that when Eckhart Tolle submitted his first book "The Power of Now" to a publisher, it was rejected on the grounds that this idea is as old as spirituality itself. True, but still, how nice that another publisher brought it on the market instead, as it lit a wild-fire in the New Age community. So perhaps we should just remind each other from time to time of the ancient wisdoms that apparently have to be rediscovered again and again by each spiritual traveler. GOD's "secret" has been out there for millennia, ready for everyone to discover it. "The Power of Now" is one such book, but there are countless others. Different as the are, the Old and New Testaments have very similar revelations as were known to the Sufis, the Buddhist, the Hindus and the Taoists as well. You could say that GOD's secret is as old as humanity itself.
The note below zooms into a little book that is a psychological, philosophical and spiritual master piece: "To Have or to Be", by Erich Fromm. The author was foremost a psychologist, with a passion for the Talmud, spirituality and socialism as well. Erich Fromm knew GOD's secret, just to fall in love with life; to do something with your life that is both purposeful and passionate; to learn to recognize the distracting whispers of the ego that keep you from the WAY, and perhaps most importantly, to discover true love for the people you interact with, and the mission you are on. I wanted to share some of his beautiful insights, and collection of spiritual truths in this note with you.
The Problem Statement: Separateness instead of "At-One-Ment"
Everything starts with the greatest story ever told, the fall of Adam and Eve. We were one, but with self-knowledge also came the perception of separateness from GOD, from nature, and from each other. Writes Erich Fromm in "To Have or to Be":
What is the sin they have committed? To face each other as separated, isolated, selfish human beings who cannot overcome their separation in the act of loving union. The sin is rooted in our very human existence. Being deprived of the original harmony with nature. Being endowed with reason and self-awareness, we cannot help experiencing our separateness.
This now begs the question, can we find this unity back in this life-time? Sure, that's what our spiritual path is all about, learning to recognize ONENESS where others can only see separateness. Again, in the words of Erich Fromm in "To Have or to Be":
There is but one way to save ourselves from this hell: to leave the prison of our egocentricity, to reach out and to one ourselves with the world. If egocentric separateness is the cardinal sin, then the sin is atoned in the act of loving: "at-one-ment" is Middle English for union.
Only in the process of mutual alive relatedness can the other and I overcome the barrier of separateness, inasmuch as we both participate in the dance of life. (Erich Fromm, To Have or to Be)
Problem statement: Me, Myself and I
Psychologists have the hope that the ego can somehow be made sane. Erich Fromm probably had the belief that we somehow can "rationally" discover love, and that we all have a meaningful mission of sorts that we need to accomplish. Egoism, he argues, can only lead to depression in the long run. Or as Jesus once put it, "what shall profit it a man if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul." Erich Fromm's own observation on greed:
Mental greed - and all greed is mental, even when it is satisfied via the body - has no satiation point, since it's consummation does not fill the inner emptiness, boredom, loneliness, and depression it is meant to overcome. (Erich Fromm, To Have or to Be)
He quotes Spinoza who had the view that egoism can in fact be viewed as a form of insanity:
But if the greedy person thinks only of money and possessions, the ambitious one only of fame, one does not think of them as being insane, but simply annoying; generally one has contempt for them. But factually, greediness, ambition, and so forth are forms of insanity, although usually one does not think of them as illness. To be driven by irrational passions is to be mentally sick. To the degree that we achieve optimal growth, we are not only (relatively) free, strong, rational, and joyous, but also mentally healthy; to the degree that we fail to reach this aim, we are unfree, weak, lacking rationality, and depressed. (Erich Fromm, To Have or to Be)
Erich Fromm links egoism and craving to the "having philosophy" that he judges as doomed for misery:
Everything and anything can become an object of craving: things we use in daily life, property, rituals, good deeds, knowledge, and thoughts. While they are not in themselves "bad", they become bad; that is, when we hold onto them, when they become chains that interfere with our freedom, they block our self-realization. (Erich Fromm, To Have or to Be)
This is an important point, and in fact it is also a little depressing. When you think about it, everything can become a search for having, for being a cut above the fellow next door. Even our search for GOD and spirituality can be a trap. In fact, I often observe how even we spiritual travelers are tempted to perceive ourselves as a cut above the not-so-awakened folks. All of us are in the same boat, and only together can we reach the other shore.
GOD's Answer to the Problem: Being, not Having
Erich Fromm seems to have spotted a solution for the psychological having trap. It is activity, purpose and passion. It is love for what you do and the people you spend time with. It is about falling in love with life, with the holy NOW, or the FLOW of things. By getting completely lost in what we do, nothing could be further from our mind than "having" or holding on to something. In Erich Fromm's words,
The active, alive man is like a "vessel" that grows as it is filled and will never be full.
(Erich Fromm, To Have or to Be)
Freedom in the sense of being unfettered, free from craving for holding onto things and one's ego, is the condition for love and productive being. (Erich Fromm, To Have or to Be)
One of the main themes of the Old Testament is: leave what you have; free yourself from all fetters; be! (Erich Fromm, To Have or to Be)
Perhaps he puts it best when he quotes the German mystic Meister Eckhart who lived around the medical times:
Knowledge is no particular thought but rather it peels off (all coverings) and is disinterested and runs naked to GOD, until it teaches HIM and grasps HIM. (Meister Eckhart in Erich From, To Have or to Be).
Master Eckhart taught that to have nothing and make oneself open and "empty", not to let one's ego stand in one's way, is the condition for achieving spiritual wealth and strength. (Erich Fromm, To Have or to Be)
Erich Fromm describes the enlightened travelers who truly embrace the "being philosophy" as:
They respond spontaneously and productively; they forget about themselves, about the knowledge, the positions they have. Their egos do not stand in their own way, and it is precisely for this reason that they can fully respond to the other person and that person's ideas, because they are not holding onto anything. While the having persons rely on what they have, the being persons rely on the fact that they are, that they are alive and that something new will be born if only they have to courage to let go and respond. (Erich Fromm, To Have or to Be)
God's Answer: Purpose, Passion and Love
The joy of a mitzvah (the fulfillment of a religious duty) is he only way to get the Holy Spirit. (Erich Fromm, quoting the Talmud in "To Have or to Be")
Activity is "wholesome" only when it is rooted in and expresses the ultimate ethical and spiritual demands. (Erich Fromm, To Have or to Be)
In non-alienated activity, I experience myself as the subject of my activity. Non-alienated activity is a process of giving birth to something, or producing something and remaining related to what I produce. (Erich Fromm, To Have or to Be)
There exists only the act of loving. To love is a productive activity. It implies caring for, knowing, responding, affirming, enjoying: the person, the tree, the painting the idea. It means bringing to life, increasing his/her/its aliveness. It is a process, self-renewing and self-increasing. (Erich Fromm, To Have or to Be)
GOD's Answer: The Power of Now
The mode of being exists only in the here and now. The mode of having so exists only in time: past, present and future. (Erich Fromm, To Have or to Be)
Living structures can be only if they become; they can exist only if they change. Change and growth are inherent qualities of the life process. (Erich Fromm, To Have or to Be)
Every new step contains the danger of failure, and that is one of the reasons people are so afraid of freedom. (Erich Fromm, To Have or to Be)
GOD's Secret - Conclusions
In just a little book, Erich Fromm was able to share GOD's secret to happiness, purpose and passion. All insights that he shared in the note above are nuggets of wisdom every spiritual traveler can discover for herself. Perhaps the one area he wasn't quite bold enough is to remind us of the metaphysical present that we receive when we trust in GOD and let go of everything. Find your path, hold HER HAND, and discover magic wherever SHE sends you. In the olden days we didn't think, we did GOD's will automatically. Let's reclaim the Garden of Eden today by doing HER WILL consciously instead, as free beings who are becoming aware of their divine heritage.