An Evening with Eckhart Tolle

Last night I spent a wonderful evening at London’s South Bank Centre, listening to Eckhart Tolle, who spoke for over two hours.  He is one of the most well-known, living spiritual teachers, his books “The Power of Now” and “A New Earth,” having been translated into thirty-three languages.

Given that “being in the moment” is now widely understood to be the best/only place to try to inhabit (future-based thinking can bring about anxiety and dwelling on/in the past can bring depression), he proceeded to give suggestions as to how we might connect with this state of “presence” or acute “awareness.”

His delivery was interspersed with moments of humour, not contrived in any way but happening quite spontaneously.  For example, he said that the buzzword “mindfulness” was really a misnomer because a better description would be “mind emptiness!”  He noted that part of our problem was that we become so identified with our apparently ceaseless thoughts – a continual stream of thinking that leaves us exhausted by the end of the day – fatigued by all our judgements, criticisms, expectations, desires, etc.  So “mindfulness” implies a mind that is full and therefore aware, whereas Tolle sees the key to a new dimension of Self is to be found in the “spaces” between our thoughts…  He sees thought as a useful tool but a terrible burden if we become a slave to its processes.

If we can practise stopping our thoughts for just a few seconds, this will bring us back to the present moment by focusing our awareness solely on the current experience, e.g. just staring at the sky or a tree, without any judgement.  In this way, the ending of thought can be the beginning of freedom: out with the old, habitual ways of thinking/responding and in with the opportunity for a more creative existence.

Tolle postulated that we are dual-level beings, living in a world of form (material circumstances, including all objects and thoughts) whilst also inhabiting a (spiritual) essence, something he refers to as “consciousness.”  It is this “consciousness,”  if/when we can locate it, that we share with all other beings and if we could locate it then there would be no more War on our planet as it would be simple to recognise that any hurt to another also causes hurt to oneself.  The analogy drawn was that each of us behaves like a separate ripple in the ocean without realising that this is just our surface level self (ego) and, in fact, just underneath the ripple is the entire ocean.

So we are not simply our thoughts or even our own personal histories, we are part of a Oneness, which some might call God, our Higher Self, Nature, the Collective/Cosmic Consciousness, etc.  He states that the way our planet can evolve is through each individual undergoing an inner change.  After all, external changes, through (political) revolution, ultimately only lead to future revolutions…

Tolle also talked about the inadequacy of words, quoting the late, great teacher, J. Krishnamurti, who said that the moment you teach a child the name of a bird, this is also the moment that the child loses some of the mystery of the wonderful essence of that creature.  In other words, words can never replace direct experience…. so I will write no more!


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