Lincoln quoted it. Tolstoy’s life was changed by it. Hemingway was inspired by it. Seeger wrote a catchy tune about it. The Book of Ecclesiastes has inspired and confounded readers for millennia. For me, it was the door to a new life of peace, health, and right attachments. I haven’t thought about it for years until I stumbled on the challenge of @naturalmedicine and decided to make this my first entry in the contest.
I can vividly recall the night I read Ecclesiastes. I had just decided to drop out of graduate school after extreme unhappiness. I was looking for work in a recession. While unsuccessful getting a job, I took an overnight train to my parents’ house to help them paint their house and declutter the attic before listing the house for sale. I don’t know what inspired me to get the Bible down from the shelf but I stayed up past midnight savoring Ecclesiastes.
A shattering of beliefs
Before I read it, I was desperately attached to worldly things. You know those stories that you whisper in your brain. Be rich. Be seen as successful. Be popular. And as a result you will be safe.
For years, I was anxious that “if I do something wrong, something bad is going to happen.” If I don’t work harder than anyone else, I am not going to make it. If I don’t get as much value out of these professional relationships, I am not going to successful. If I don’t lock the doors, turn off the coffee pot, make sure the dryer is off, something bad is going to happen. So you can imagine how unhappy I found myself that August night. Unemployed, unknown, feeling like I had made all the wrong choices.
Ecclesiastes shattered through this narcissistic mirror with the truth.
the race is not won by the swift, nor the battle by the valiant, nor a livelihood by the wise, nor riches by the shrewd, nor favor by the experts; for a time of misfortune comes to all
- You are going to die
- Nothing you will do can change this outcome
- Very little that you are going to do actually matters
- It is very unlikely that anything you will do will be remembered
- Many worldly attachments (greedily acquiring wisdom, money, or pleasure) are not genuine sources of happiness and will leave you off worse than ever
A path to joy
It may sound paradoxical but I can’t tell you how much my mental health improved with this lighting strike of insight. All these things I was trying to control with white knuckles were just illusions of control, “vanities.”
But I also learned there were great opportunities for joy if I had the courage to let go of my attachments and false stories in my head and accept life at is really was.
- Accept joy
Work, eat, drink, and be joyful “for there is nothing better under the sun”
- Accept uncertainty
Though our monkey brains whisper the opposite, the truth is humans are not very good at predicting the outcomes of our actions or future events. “So you do not know the work of God, who is working in everything”
- Accept non-attachment
Like mindfulness-based meditation, the writer of Ecclesiastes urges readers not to have their happiness attached to the goals or problems of a changing temporal world.
Since I first read Ecclesiastes, my life is nearly unrecognizable. I have had many joys and sorrows. I have fought battles and won. I have taken risks and lost. I have seen children born, and I have seen friends die. And throughout, I am happier and more confident living in this world, not a world of pride and anxiety, and more joyful than ever before. For truly,
There is an appointed time for everything, and a time for every affair under the heavens. A time to given brith, and a time to die, a time to plant, and a time to uproot the plant. A time to kill, and a time to heal; a time to tear down, and a time to build.