Join Eckhart Tolle for The Power of Now and Awakening to Your Life’s Purpose, an evening to celebrate Common Ground’s 25th Anniversary. November 30, Vancouver Convention & Exhibition Centre, 999 Canada Place. Tickets available starting September 10 through Tickets Tonight, www.ticketstonight.ca, Touristinfo Centre, Plaza Level, 200 Burrard Street or call 604-684-2787.
JR: Einstein said that we cannot solve a problem with the same level of consciousness we created it with. The ego has created most major cities and the culture of North America that was founded upon the bloodshed of the Natives and the slave trade, not too long ago.
ET: Yes. That was the form unconsciousness took at the time. In some ways, we’ve gone beyond that, but there are always new thoughts about consciousness that arise. It has taken on new forms and different ways over the centuries. In the 20th century, it manifested in massive ways. Although slavery had been abolished and it seemed we were making process, the 20th century was the worst in terms of people killed, violence inflicted on other humans and havoc created by humans. It was the worst century ever.
So my interest and focus is always going to the root of where all that madness that we inflict on ourselves and the planet originated, rather than trying to tackle individual manifestations of that madness. I’m not saying there’s anything wrong with that, and for quite a few people that is part of their outer purpose. They may become engaged in certain kinds of work to alleviate the effects of human unconsciousness in one field or another – through social work or ecological work, or whatever. That’s outer purpose and it’s beautiful and it’s a good way of bringing inner and outer into alignment.
But if you only focus on the outer without realizing that what primarily matters is the transformation of consciousness, you get very frustrated. Ultimately, there is no solution unless there’s a transformation of consciousness.
It always starts with you. If you’re waiting for humanity to become transformed, you could wait for a long time, but if it starts with you then it becomes accelerated. So my focal point is where the madness originates, which is in the egoic state of consciousness, which is why I describe it in detail in the book.
JR: I love the way you phrase the three ways that consciousness flows into what you do and through you into the world. You can align your life with the creative power of the universe. You mention acceptance, enjoyment, enthusiasm and write: “If you’re not in the state of acceptance, enjoyment and enthusiasm, look closely. You will find that you’re creating suffering for yourself and others.”
ET: Yes, at any one moment you have to be in one of those three states and if you’re not, you are out of alignment. Acceptance would be when something happens that would usually bring about a negative reaction, when something goes wrong: a flat tire or you lose something or suddenly become drenched in the rain or break your leg or you come home and your house has collapsed.
But the moment is always as it is; it’s the “isness” of what is. Once you argue with that you’re lost. Once you go against that you’re out of alignment. So acceptance is to be in alignment with what is even if it looks unpleasant. You say, “Well, that’s it. I’m just getting wet in the rain and the body’s cold. That’s what is.” Of course there’s still the unpleasantness on the physical level, but there doesn’t need to be suffering on the mental or emotional level. It doesn’t mean you don’t take steps towards changing a situation; it is what is and now we go from there.
JR: That’s the realm of acceptance.
ET: It’s shown very beautifully in the film Groundhog Day. The character lives his life in almost continuous non-acceptance. He hates everything – where he is, what he’s doing. And suddenly he finds himself stuck in the same day in a place that he dislikes. Every morning he wakes up in the same day and he tries everything to get out. He tries suicide; he jumps off a cliff and suddenly he wakes up in the same bed. He begins to enjoy what he can’t get out of and he becomes a very helpful power. Everybody loves him suddenly because he’s open to the present moment and whatever happens, he’s helpful. Suddenly one day he wakes up and he’s out of it. He doesn’t need to get out any more; he’s out. So towards the end of the film, he says, “Let’s stay here; it’s so nice here.” Nothing has changed externally. Everything has changed internally.
So this is acceptance and sometimes, in a very subtle way, acceptance can suddenly shift into enjoyment, even with something you had disliked before. So then joy flows into what you do. This could be a simple thing like going from here to there, going for a walk, making a cup of tea. The simplest thing can be joyful. Joyful energy flows into what you do and you’re strongly aligned to the present moment. If you cannot enjoy it, you can at least accept it. Enjoyment can be an added energy that comes when what you do becomes empowered by the deeper consciousness. It could be some creation and suddenly enthusiasm is added, which is a very intense enjoyment. It flows into and empowers what you do.
Some people who create great things, even some performers, have additional energy flowing in when they perform; there’s enormous enthusiasm which everybody can feel and they almost want to soak it up. Enthusiasm cannot last indefinitely. It comes in waves. As I say in the book, nobody can spend his whole life living in enthusiasm. Usually, it’s a creative wave that comes in. Something new is being created, whoosh, with enthusiasm.
It also means that helpful factors are attracted. Your intention is very strong and enthusiasm has an element of future to it, but you never lose yourself because you know where you want to go. There’s some structural tension between future and the present but the present remains the focal point. I explain that in more detail in the book, but those are the three stages. So whether you’re drinking a cup of tea or working, the moment you detect a negative state in yourself, even irritation or impatience with someone – now you don’t condemn yourself for not being more spiritual; that doesn’t work – all you need to do is recognize the negative state.
Even subtle ones because if there are many subtle negative states and they’re not detected they can easily accumulate into a larger negative state. For example, if little irritations are building up and you’re not aware of them during the day, suddenly in the evening you blow up or become depressed over something insignificant because all these irritations have not been recognized.
So alertness is required. Always be more interested in what’s going on inside you than what’s going on outside of you. That’s the key because most people are lost in what’s going on outside. What kinds of thoughts and emotions are being produced? That’s interesting, look at that. Not in any judgemental way, not even wanting to get rid of anything – because you will be fighting what is – to simply notice, ah, there’s anger rising, there’s an irritation. When you say “Ah,” it brings a space around it. That’s the formless consciousness. Irritation is form. When you say “Ah, there it is,” there’s a space around the irritation. That is more who you are than the irritation. That is essentially who you are, the formless dimension of who you are. Irritation is a temporary form that a person has taken.
People mistake the now for what happens in the now, but in essence when we talk about now, that means the space in which everything happens. So to be in touch with the now is to be in touch with the space in which things happen. Not resisting the form of what happens I transcend the limitations of the form that happens now, because whatever happens in your life will be one or another limitation.
Any thought you think excludes many other thoughts you could be thinking at that moment. The situation you’re in excludes many other situations. If you’re in Vancouver you’re not in Hawaii. If you’re in the snow, you’re not on a tropical beach. Or if you’re with some woman who is sexy but you’re not with that woman who is spiritual… but the form is always limited and in some people form is extremely limited. For example, a physical disability limits one’s life. Or someone might be in prison.
There’s nothing wrong with trying to go beyond limitation on the level of form, but we can’t totally go beyond it, ever, so at some point you realize that. Some people think if they become rich and famous their lives will become limitless, but the fame will be a new limitation because then you might need a bodyguard when you go out or you may not even go out at all because you get pestered continuously.
So we don’t resist the form any more, internally. We become one with the form of this moment, which is temporary anyway. Then something arises within that is greater than the form and that is spaciousness around the form.
Another pointer that helps to understand this is allowing. Allowing this moment to be as it is, just this moment, no more. Just this moment. Suddenly there’s an inner space around it which frees you from the limitation of the form. The greatest image of that is the crucifixion, which you may not be fond of; some people don’t like it because it’s very negative, but I believe it’s a deep symbol of a truth that perhaps at that time could not be expressed in any other way. It’s expressed in mythical form and the cross is the greatest limitation you can imagine, a torture instrument.
There’s this man nailed to the cross – a great limitation – but the cross is also the symbol of the divine and there’s deep wisdom in that. How is it that a torture instrument is also a symbol of the divine? It’s about surrendering to the limitation of form, and the cross is an extreme example of that. The crucifixion means not my but thy will be done, which refers to the totality of what is. If you surrender to what is, the extreme limitation becomes an opening into space.
That’s the deepest rule really that there is for human beings to realize that. Even the worst thing that happens to you can become the doorway then… will become the doorway into transcendence. Limitation becomes space.
That’s where human suffering comes in. There’s a grace hiding behind every form of suffering. There’s always the possibility of transcendence, which comes from not resisting the present moment. Some people need extreme suffering to be driven to that point and then suddenly something shifts.
The one thing humans need to learn so they can live a different way, so that there’s an inner freedom, is the complete transcendence of the conditioning of the past.
JR: What does love have to do with all of this?
ET: Well, love as conventionally understood is really an egoic addiction to another person. That’s the conventional view. When we say we “fall in love,” there’s some wisdom in that expression because when you fall in love you become more unconscious. You’re using another person to cover the state of insufficiency and unease that is always part of the egoic state of consciousness. In other words, you think another person is going to fulfill you and make you complete. So you’re using that as a substitute for true transformation.
Sometimes, in lonely hearts you even see, “Looking for man or woman to make me happy.” Of course that’s not going to happen. You might meet somebody, fall in love, start living together and then realize, “Oh, that didn’t work.” No person can make you happy. Temporarily, you can be in a state of euphoria until the honeymoon is over and then you realize the person has a pain body and an ego and they suddenly stop playing the role you’ve assigned to him or her.
Everyone who’s had some experience of relationships knows that happens sooner or later. So, that’s the conventional meaning of love: an egoic need that cannot really be met and always leads to frustration, the end of the honeymoon.
Now, true love requires you to have found within yourself that which is unconditioned. Even glimpses are good enough. The state of consciousness that is unconditioned, no matter what you call it – I sometimes call it stillness, presence, inner space. You’re no longer totally identified with the form of the person that temporarily you appear to be. When you’ve found that within, you’re no longer totally identified with the “me” form. So on that level, you’ve touched the dimension. If you’ve touched it, you can sense it or glimpse it in another human being too. That means you’re no longer totally identified with the form of me; you can sense in the other person also the dimension that is beyond either the physical or mental form of the me, the conditioned person.
So you sense that which you’ve already sensed in yourself also in the other. That aliveness, that vitally alive stillness – you sense the being you are in the other, shining through the form. When you sense that in another, which is really reflecting yourself because the being is the same, even glimpsing that is the beginning of true love, in which there’s no need whatsoever. Any need means love has become contaminated with the ego notion of love. In true love you need nothing; there’s simply a joyful coming together, a joyful recognizing of the other, not just on the intellectual level, but on a deep sensing level, recognizing the aliveness in the other. You could call it a deep empathy with the “beingness” of the other. The other could be a human being, an animal or a tree, any life form. That’s also compassion. You can no longer inflict suffering on the other.
But when you’re not in that state, and you’re so identified with the form of “me” only, you’ve never sensed anything in yourself beyond that, what you see in the other is also the form. This means you cannot feel the aliveness any more so you have reduced them conceptually to objects. And the more labels you attach to the other person, the more you deaden yourself to their aliveness. You call them this or that or that.
When you’ve completely deadened yourself to their aliveness, you can inflict pain and suffering on them without knowing what you’re doing because to you they are not alive, they are just mental concepts. You cannot sense the life that you share because you can’t sense it in yourself either. So any human who inflicts suffering on another is out of touch with who they are and impose what they’ve already done to themselves on you. They have deadened themselves to who they are, made themselves into concepts.
Sometimes whole nations do it. We have a collective image of us and them, who, of course, are the others, the aliens. Once you’ve labelled them that way, you can do anything to them. They’re not human any more.
So that’s the opposite of love, but we need to see the opposite to really understand love also. That’s why one could even say love is an essential part of the new rising state of consciousness. It’s so natural I rarely talk about it. I rarely talk about God either because those terms have been misused so much that too many misunderstandings arise.
JR: Thank you for that. I find you write in such an inclusive way that it doesn’t matter which faith or tradition someone follows.
ET: Yes, I often get correspondence from people from all kinds of backgrounds or religion – from Buddhism to Christianity to Islam to Judaism. They recognize suddenly the deeper truth that is in their own tradition which is beyond form too. The deeper truth is always beyond form. But others who are so identified with the form of their traditions only see the external.
JR: The word “truth” is over-used.
ET: We’re not speaking here of relative truth, like any relative statement, but absolute truth which is to do with the truth of who I am. Truth. What is the truth of that? Everything we’ve been talking about today is that waking up means finding the truth of who you are, of what the deeper meaning is when you say, “I am.” There are two levels to “I am” – one the level of form, when you add something to “I am.” I am Canadian, a professional whatever, a man or a woman, a liberal or conservative, a sufferer of this or that illness, nationality, religion, heterosexual or gay or whatever. This is all to do with form identity. It’s one level of “I am.” You can add anything and on the level of form it has its place. For many people, that’s all they know. It’s the relative truth of who I am.
Then there’s a deeper level which is when you add nothing to “I am.” You no longer say I am this or that. After you’ve said, “I am,” there’s a space and there’s no form in that space because it’s space. That is the truth of who you are. Finding that is the one thing that matters. You are concerned about many things and worried about many things, but there’s only one thing that really matters and that’s finding the truth of who I am.
This is the timeless, internal dimension of who you are beyond the temporary form of this or that. That is inseparable from the now, because the now itself is space, the unconditioned consciousness before forms arise. And that’s who I am. For some people, it’s enough to have that as a pointer. If you’re ready, that will be the most powerful pointer. Many people are ready now to hear this truth. They only need a few pointers and then it’s, “Oh yes!” There’s a sudden awakening. If people are not ready, that’s fine but the words we’ve been speaking here will be meaningless to them. There’s nothing wrong with that, but it means they need to suffer a bit more until they are ready.
If you are ready, that period in human evolution where you need suffering to evolve has come to an end. If something within you responds and says, “Yes, I know what this means, beyond intellect. I can feel what this means. I may not be able to formulate it in words, but I can feel the truth of it,” that means you are ready. If you cannot feel the truth of it, the words are meaningless. For example, sometimes the reviewers get it and sometimes they don’t. In Time magazine a reviewer said the whole of The Power of Now is mumbo jumbo. Didn’t get it. Totally beyond him or her.
JR: Funny it is called Time.
ET: That may not be a coincidence. It would perhaps be too much to expect a magazine called Time to get it.
JR: Art mimics life. What’s going on on the outside is mimicking what’s going on on the inside.
ET: Yes. Reflection. The external reflects the inner. The fact that we are polluting the planet on the outer level; that it is full of poison substances which we have produced, must be a reflection of something we have done within. A state of very heavy negativity collectively in human beings. That’s the inner pollution. An ego dominated mind creates political, social, economic structures that reflect the egoic state.
JR: I was thinking of friends of mine who smoke cigarettes and I see the butts littered on the ground, so they are littered inside, littering outside. I’ve noticed concentric rings of butts outside the doors of hospitals from nurses and doctors and it seems like there’s some wrong thinking going on there. With your book Awakening to Your Life’s Purpose, with one of the intentions being to bring peace to the planet in our time, how is this awakening going? How are we doing from your perspective?
ET: It’s happening and at the same time the egoic consciousness is still very active, even more so than before. There’s acceleration on two levels: one of the madness and one of the awakening. It’s an amazing thing, two movements simultaneously happening. The world is becoming more mad and at the same time there’s a stream, to some extent underground in the sense that with the main source of information being our media we could believe all that’s happening is an acceleration of the madness. Not a lot is reported in the media about awakening, but it is happening. I can feel it very strongly; I get so much feedback from people who are awakening. The only question that arises is if it is happening fast enough to dispel the stream of accelerating madness. If it’s not, and I don’t know, all it means is the accelerating madness will bring about a great deal of destruction on the outer level, a kind of collapse of all the egoic structures.
JR: And provide more suffering.
ET: Yes. The more quickly and the greater the rate of humans awakening, the less destruction is required because there would be a non-violent shift. But I cannot tell you; I do not know. Some destruction, I think, is inevitable on the outer level. It’s simply what the ego does. The ego is always ultimately self-destruction, which is actually the good news. Perhaps the visionary like the one who wrote the Book of Revelation may have seen something because they can see what the ego is going to lead to. They already saw how the human ego operates so they can easily see what’s going to happen. They realize it must end in self-destruction.
This is undoubtedly true and I believe that many planetary upheavals will also be part of the process of renewal because destruction is also renewal. So not only the structures of the ego will end in self-destruction, probably the planet will also go through certain upheavals because we are part of the planet. It is a being and it knows. It has its own intelligence. It’s very slow to react because it has a different time scale, but it will react if it feels it’s being threatened, just as the body will react against certain viruses and bacteria.
So the planet will do something, whether it’s tidal waves, hurricanes or earthquakes and it will also reflect the enormous shift that’s happening on an inner level in the consciousness of humans. So when an enormous shift is happening on an inner level, it will also be reflected on the outer. All this is ultimately a good thing. There’s nothing to be afraid of. What really matters is the awakening, which is your own awakening. The shift of consciousness of humanity must start with the individual. If it happens in you, it’s happening externally. Don’t wait. The shift is not something that’s going to free us. Freedom can come only now at this moment, not as a future event. Awakening cannot come as a future event; it can only come now.
We’re not waiting for some kind of Utopia. We’re not waiting for anything. Now is primary. If you get this moment right, everything falls into place.