If you’ve ever had the good fortune to attend a lecture presented by Eckhart Tolle, you’ll remember the experience for years to come. This remarkable man has the ability to hold an audience of hundreds spellbound while he explains how to live more fully in the present.
You may recall his very simple approach to giving a presentation: the calm way he enters the stage, the basic chair where he sits for several hours while talking. As most speeches go, his methods are almost counterintuitive. But it’s the comforting rhythm of his speaking voice, his tone tinged with an interesting touch of an accent that has people attentively listening.
Perhaps it’s the respectful hush that comes over participants that you remember. There’s an absolute silence in the lecture theater when he speaks and a ripple of laughter that flows through the hall when he injects a little humor now and then. It’s the feeling of the experience that you harken back to as much as the content in his stream of consciousness.
When you read any of Eckhart Tolle’s books or attend his lectures, the main message you come away with is about how powerful it can be to live more so in the here and now. This spiritual teacher reminds us that most of us live our lives on a sort of auto pilot, moving through our days without being fully engaged in what’s happening.
He suggests that we’ve forgotten how to slow down and disengage from our ego-driven need to accomplish more and more. Our personal value is too often bound up with our productivity. Furthermore, many of our thoughts revolve around worrying about the future or focusing on past disappointments.
It’s obvious from his popularity that what Tolle has to say resonates with a great number of people. We see how our work and personal lives have become increasingly busier. Once predicted to open the door to more leisure time, technological connectivity has actually exacerbated the problem. We now find ourselves in an environment where we’re available to others 24/7, continually bombarded with media and multitasking while we try to juggle all this input and get done what we need to each day.
Tolle asks us first to acknowledge what is “false” within us that leads to dysfunctional behavior. He puts it this way:
“. . . unless you learn to recognize the false as false — as not you — there can be no lasting transformation, and you would always end up being drawn back into illusion and into some form of pain.”
He believes that over-identification with what’s going on in our minds — our judgements, fears, insecurities, and more — is the ego’s way of making us feel separate from the world and from our own essence. Tolle explains that the path to true enlightenment requires that we get back in touch with our natural state of feeling connected with ourselves. As so many spiritual teachers have said before — the Buddha, chief among them — Tolle reiterates that we can only do this by quieting our thoughts. This involves being intentionally and mindfully aware of the present moment.
Granted, this is easier said than done. Our success is dependent on persistence and practice. Tolle advises us to free ourselves from our incessant mental chatter and get back in touch with the nature of being with a few small steps. The first move is to begin to observe the ongoing self-talk in your mind.
Tolle recommends listening for any repetitive patterns in particular. Neuroscience has taught us that what we tell ourselves is extremely important in how we view the world and our place in it. Therefore, this internal dialogue, and the judgements that we continually make, get in the way of connecting with our true selves. They also prevent us from acting more purposefully and so we continue to react to our surroundings and remain frustrated with the myriad of everyday occurrences that our outside our control.
The next step, according to Tolle is to listen to our inside voice without judging or condemning what we hear. This is necessary, since by having an emotional reaction to what we hear we’ve really done nothing to further our efforts. If you can simply recognize your habitual thoughts and sit with them for a moment, as Tolle says, “. . . you are aware not only of the thought but also of yourself as the witness of the thought . . . you feel a conscious presence — your deeper self . . .”
By interrupting our silent monologue and noticing what we’re thinking, we’ve effectively reset our consciousness. The reward that comes with Tolle’s practice is feeling more alert and waking up, in a sense. This leads to greater contentment and happiness, which are good reasons to follow this admirable teacher.