Knowing When To Pull the Plug
"Should you find yourself in a chronically leaking boat, energy devoted to changing vessels is likely to be more productive than energy devoted to patching leaks." W. Buffett
" Sometimes letting go is an act of far greater power than defending or hanging on." E. Tolle
This is the first in a series of articles contrasting and comparing the teaching and philosophies of two very different modern day masters: Warren Buffett and Eckhart Tolle. It might seem odd to put these two men in the same sentence let alone compare their wisdom. Warren Buffett, iconic capitalist and one of the world's richest men; and Eckhart Tolle, one of today's most enlightened spiritual masters, travel very different paths.
Warren Buffett, now the world's richest person, has lived in the same house in Omaha, Nebraska since the 1950's. He has built enormous wealth through a set of very no-nonsense, and some say even ruthless investing principles. But what I find most compelling about his story is what he plans to do with his wealth. Warren Buffett has bequeathed his entire empire to the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation upon his death. He intends for his wealth to do good in the world, not only to enhance his personal fortunes; what Richard Stylla, economist at NYU's Stern School of Business, calls "profitable patriotism".
Eckhart Tolle has written some of the most poignant and powerful books on the subject of human consciousness today. A soft-spoken man with a quiet presence; almost elf-like in looks and demeanor, Tolle has touched millions of people through his teachings, including the web cast series he recently co-hosted with Oprah Winfrey based on his latest book, A New Earth: Awakening to Your Life's Purpose.
Buffett's philosophy grounds us in the practical world and gives us structure and form. Or as my scientist friend, Brian, would call "bottom-up" thinking. Bottom up thinking is informational, it shows us how things work in the everyday world. It gives us a map with specific, detailed instructions about how to get from A to B.
Tolle's philosophy takes us to the depths of human consciousness and returns us to the well of our own inherent wisdom. He shows us the larger "territory" or the land where many maps exist. When we see the bigger picture, we discover there are infinite ways to get from A to B. Top-down thinking is contextual. It looks for larger themes and hidden patterns and helps to uncover what is not readily apparent.
I wondered what could be learned from comparing the philosophies of these two very different teachers with their divergent ways of thinking and seeing the world. In the coming weeks, I'll be exploring their writings to see what practical and spiritual lessons we can learn and how to apply them to our daily lives.
For starters, I wondered what each of them might have to teach us regarding one of the most common themes I hear among the people I meet in public seminars and in my private coaching practice: how to know when it's time to pull the plug on something that just isn't working. For most people, this usually implies relationship-related issues .
Referring to the two quotes at the top of this article: Buffett's advice has to do with the effective expenditure of energy. It's practical and quite matter of fact. It doesn't take into account the aspect of feelings, or the conflict between the head and the heart. He says don't spend your energy trying to fix something that is broken beyond repair. It's probably safe to assume he's referring to something stock or investment related. OK, don't ride a stock all the way to the bottom. But what greater application might we draw from this advice?
Look to see: how much energy have you expended trying to repair a "chronically leaking boat" in your life? (Chronically leaking, being the operative words here). How many jobs or relationships have you stayed in long after they were over, hoping things would turn around?
How many times have you stayed in a relationship with someone based on their unmet potential, or on who you hope they'll be "someday", completely overlooking who they are today? Or how long have you stayed with someone, wishing or hoping they could just be who they used to be when you first met? Wishing, wanting, hoping and waiting for the other person to change is a prescription for disappointment and frustration.
This is a huge relationship dilemma. I often ask people, "Who, in your life, needs to change in order for you to be happy?" The usual approach is to look at the other person and think it's their responsibility to change. But unless you want to keep repeating the same mistakes over and over, you must be willing to look at yourself and see what has you devoted to finding and fixing "leaky boats".
If fixing "leaky boats" has become your full-time job and you tell yourself this isn't what you want, the reason you keep doing it is because there is some hidden benefit you're receiving. Whether you know this consciously or not, getting that benefit is more important than having what you say you want. In order to move forward, it becomes critical to discover what those hidden benefits are. As long as they remain hidden from your conscious awareness, they'll continue to be your motivation for creating more suffering. (Much more on the subject of hidden benefits in future articles.) Stay tuned.
Here's the next question: How do you know when you've expended so much energy trying to patch a "chronically leaking boat", you're running on empty? How do you know when you've really, finally, definitely, for sure run out of juice? (Hint: Pay attention to your body. It tells the whole story. Insomnia, weight gain, elevated blood pressure, chronic fatigue and irritability are common symptoms that all is not well. The body never lies.)
Let's turn to Tolle to see if we can learn more about this subject. He invites us to consider what it takes to have the courage to let go, to stop holding on, defending and staying safe. In our frenzy to repair the leaky boat, we're focused on the boat and become disconnected from our own experience. Perhaps we can't see how frightened we are. Perhaps, because of hanging on so long, we don't know ourselves any more, or what we actually want. Perhaps hanging on has become a kind of security blanket or an identity we've created; "the one who doesn't give up", and maybe we wouldn't know what to do if we did let go. Perhaps, in grasping, we've crushed the very thing we thought we wanted.
Tolle suggests there is power in the letting go itself. In the letting go, we make space for courage. In the moment we unclasp, we make space for freedom. In the absence of grasping, we make space for presence. In being with our fear, we see the truth; there is only now. Breathe in. Breathe out. Now. Hence, Tolle's first book, The Power of Now, brings us to the only place we can do anything about our lives. Now.
So the icon of capitalism, Warren Buffett, and spiritual teacher, Eckhart Tolle both advise us to put our energies where they're the most productive and profitable. Both direct us into being present, seeing clearly what's right in front of us, drawing from the well of wisdom and courage and taking action in the direction of freedom.
I look forward to discovering more along this path with you in the weeks to come. You might want to read the first official biography on Warren Buffett, Snowball: Warren Buffett and the Business of Life by Alice Schroeder, just published. I'd also love to hear your thoughts so please leave your comments below: until next time.