Question: I have had glimpses of this state of freedom from mind and time that you describe. But past and future are so overwhelmingly strong that I cannot keep them out for long.
Eckhart Tolle: The time bound mode of consciousness is deeply imbedded in the human psyche. But what we are doing here is part of a profound transformation that is taking place in the collective consciousness of the planet and beyond. The awakening of consciousness from the dream of matter, form, and separation. The ending of time. We are breaking mind patterns that have dominated human life for eons. Mind patterns that have created unimaginable suffering on a vast scale. I'm not using the word evil. It is more helpful to call it unconsciousness or insanity .
Question: This breaking up of the old mode of consciousness or rather unconsciousness, is it something we have to do or will it happen anyway? I mean is this change inevitable?
Eckhart Tolle: That's a question of perspective. The doing and the happening is in fact a single process. Because you are one with the totality of consciousness, you cannot separate the two. But there's no absolute guarantee that humans will make it. The process isn't inevitable or automatic. Your cooperation is an essential part of it. However you look at it, it is a quantum leap in the evolution of consciousness as well as our only chance of survival as a race. To alert you that you have allowed yourself to be taken over by psychological time, you can use a simple criterion. Ask yourself is there joy, ease, and lightness in what I'm doing? If there isn't, then time is covering up the present moment and life is perceived as a burden or struggle. If there is no joy, ease or lightness in what you are doing, it doesn't not necessarily mean that you have to change what you are doing. It may be sufficient to change the how. How is always more important than what. See if you can give much more attention to the doing than to the result that you want to achieve through it. Give your fullest attention to whatever the moment presents. This implies that you also completely accept what is because you cannot give your full attention to something and at the same time resist it. As soon as you honor the present moment, all unhappiness and struggle dissolve and life begins to flow with joy and ease. When act out of present moment awareness, whatever you do becomes imbued with a sense of quality, care and love, even the most simple action.
So do not be concerned with the fruit of your action. Just give attention to the action itself. The fruit will come of its own accord. This is a powerful spiritual practice. In the bagavagida, one of the most oldest and most beautiful spiritual teachings in existence, non attachment to the fruit of your action is called karma yoga. It is described as the path of consecrated action. When the compulsive striving away from the now ceases, the joy of being flows into everything you do. The moment your attention turns to the now, you feel a presence, a stillness, a peace. You no longer depend on the future for fulfillment and satisfaction. You don't look to it for salvation. Therefore, you are not attached to the results. Neither failure or success has the power to change your inner state of being. You have found the life underneath your life situation. In the absence of psychological time, your sense of self is derived from being, not from your personal past. Therefore, the psychological need of becoming to become anything other than who you are already is no longer there. In the world, on the level of your life situation, you may indeed become wealthy, knowledgeable, successful, free of this or that. But in the deeper dimension of being, you are complete and whole now.
Question: In that state of wholeness, would we still be able or willing to pursue external goals?
Eckhart Tolle: Of course. But you will not have illusory expectations that anything or anybody in the future will save you or make you happy. As far as your life situation is concerned. There may be things to attain or acquired. That's the world of form. Of gain and loss. Yet on a deeper level you are already complete. And when you realize that there's a playful joyous energy behind what you do. Being free of psychological time, you no longer pursue your goals with grim determination driven by fear, anger, discontent or the need to become someone. Nor need you remain inactive by fear of failure which to the ego is loss of self. When your deeper sense of self is derived from being. When you are free of becoming as a psychological need, neither your happiness nor your sense of self depends upon the outcome and so there's freedom from fear. You don't seek permanency where it cannot be found: In the world of form, of gain and loss, of birth and death. You don't demand that situations, conditions, places of people should make you happy and then suffer when they don't live up to your expectations. Everything is honored, but nothing matters. Forms are born and die, yet you are aware of the eternal underneath the form. You know that nothing real can be threatened. When this is your state of being, how can you not succeed? You have succeeded already.
Chapter 4 - Mind strategies for avoiding the Now.
Question: Even if I completely accept that ultimately time is an illusion, what difference is that going to make in my life? I still have to live in a world that is completely dominated by time.
Eckhart Tolle: Intellectual agreement is just another belief and won't make much difference to your life. To realize this truth, you need to live it. When every cell of your body is so present that it feels vibrant with life, and when you can feel that life every moment as the joy of being, then it can be said that you are free of time.
Question: But I still have to pay the bills tomorrow and I'm still going to grow and die just like everybody else. So how can I ever say that I'm free of time.
Eckhart Tolle: Tomorrow's bills are not the problem. The dissolution of the physical body is not a problem. Loss of now is the problem or rather the core delusion that turns a mere situation, event or emotion into a personal problem and suffering. Loss of now is loss of being. To be free of time is to be free of psychological need of past for your identity and future for your fulfillment. It represents the most profound transformation of consciousness that you can imagine. In some rare cases, this shift in consciousness happens automatically and dramatically once and for all. When it does, it usually comes about through total surrender in the midst of intense suffering. Most people however have to work at it. When you've had your first glimpses of the timeless state of consciousness, you begin to move back and forth between the dimensions of time and presence. First you become aware of just how rarely your attention is truly in the now. But to know that you are not present is a great success. That knowing is presence. Even if initially it only lasts for a couple of seconds of clock time before it is lost again. Then with increasing frequency, you choose to have the focus of your consciousness in the present moment rather than in past or future. And whenever you realize you have lost the now, you are able stay in it not only for a couple of seconds but for longer periods as perceived from the external perspective of clock time. So before you are firmly established in this state of presence which is to say before you are fully conscious, you shift back and forth for a while between consciousness and unconsciousness, between the state of presence and the state of mind identification. You lose the now and you return to it again and again. Eventually, presence becomes your predominant state. For most people, presence is experienced either never at all or only accidentally and briefly on rare occasions without being recognized for what it is. Most humans alternate not between consciousness and unconsciousness, but only between different levels of unconsciousness.
Question: What do you mean by different levels of unconsciousness?
Eckhart Tolle: As you probably know, in sleep you constantly move between the phases of dreamless sleep and the dream state. What I call ordinary unconsciousness means being identified with your thought processes and emotions, your reactions, desires and aversions. It is most people's normal state. In that state, you are runned by the egoic mind and you are unaware of being. It is a state not of acute pain or unhappiness but often a continuous low level of unease, discontent, boredom or nervousness, a kind of background static. You may not realize this because it is so much part of normal living. Just as you are not aware of the continuous normal background noise such as the hum of the air conditioner until it stops. When it suddenly does stop, there is a sense of relief. Many people use drugs, alcohol, sex, food, work, television or even shopping as anesthetics in an unconscious attempt to move the basic unease. When this happens, an activity that might be very enjoyable if used in moderation becomes embued with a compulsive or addictive quality. And all that is ever achieved through it is extremely short-lived symptom relief. The unease of ordinary unconsciousness turns into the pain of deep unconsciousness. The state of more acute and more obvious suffering or unhappiness when things go wrong, when the ego is threatened or there is a major challenge, threat, or loss, real or imagined or conflict in your life situation. It is an intensified version of ordinary unconsciousness. Different from it, not in kind but in degree.
In ordinary unconsciousness, habitual resistance to or denial of what is creates the unease and discontent that most people accept as normal living. When this resistance becomes intensified through some challenge or threat to the ego, it brings up intense negativity such as anger, acute fear, aggression, depression and so on. Deep unconsciousness often means that the pain body has been triggered and that you have identified with it. Physical violence would be impossible without deep unconsciousness. It can also occur easily wherever and whenever a crowd of people or even an entire nation generates a negative collective energy field. The best indicator of your level of consciousness is how you deal with life's challenges when they come. Through those challenges, an already unconscious person tends to become more deeply unconscious. And a conscious person more intensely conscious. You can use a challenge to awaken you or you can allow it to pull you into even deeper sleep. The dream of ordinary unconsciousness then turns into a nightmare. If you cannot be present even in normal circumstances such as when you are sitting alone in a room, walking in the woods, or listening to someone, then you certainly won't be able to stay conscious when something goes wrong, or you're faced with difficult situations, with loss, or the threat of loss. You will be taken over by a reaction which ultimately is always some form of fear and pulled into deep unconsciousness. Those challengs are your tests. Only the way in which you deal with them will show you and others where you are at as far as your state of consciousness is concerned, not how long you can sit with your eyes closed or what visions you see. So it is essential to bring more consciousness into your life in ordinary situations when things are going relatively smoothly. In this way, you grow in presence power. It generates an energy field in you and around you of a higher vibrational frequency. No unconsciousness, no negativity, no discord or violence can enter that field and survive. Just as darkness cannot survive in the presence of light. When you learn to be the witness of your thoughts and emotions which is an essential part of being present. You may be surprised when you first become aware of the background static of ordinary unconsciousness and realize how rarely if ever you are truly at ease within yourself. On the level of your thinking, you will find a great deal of resistance in the form of judgment, discontent and mental projection away from the now. On the emotional level, there will be an undercurrent of unease, tension, boredom, or nervousness. Both are aspects of the mind in its habitual resistance mode. Carl Jung tells in one of his books of a conversation he had with a native american chief who pointed out to him that in his perception most white people have tense faces, staring eyes, and a cruel demeanor. He said, "They are always seeking somethng, what are they seeking. The whites always want something. They're always uneasy and restless. We don't know what they want. We think they are mad." The undercurrent of constant unease started long before the rise of western industrial civilization of course. But in western civilization, which now covers almost the entire globe, including most of the east. It manifests in an unprecedentedly acute form. It was already there at the time of Jesus and it was there 600 years before that at the time of buddha and long before that. Why are you always anxious?, Jesus asked his disciples. Can anxious thought add a single day to your life? And the buddha taught that the root of all suffering is to be found in our constant wanting and craving. Resistance to the now as a collective dysfunction is intrinsically connected to the loss of awareness of being and forms the basis of our dehumanized industrial civilization. Freud, by the way, also recognized the existence of this undercurrent of unease and wrote about it in his book, "Civilization and its Discontent". But he did not recognize the true root of the unease and failed to realize that freedom from it is possible. This collective dysfunction has created a very uhappy and extraordinarily violent civilization that has become a threat not only to itself but also to all life on the planet.
Question: So how can we be free of this affliction?
Eckhart Tolle: Make it conscious. Observe the many ways in which unease, discontent and tension arise within you through unnecessary judgment, resistance to what is and denial of the now.``Anything unconscious dissolves when you shine the light of consciousness on it. Once you know how to dissolve ordinary unconsciousness, the light of your presence will shine brightly and it will be much easier to deal with the deep unconsciousness whenever you feel its gravitational pull. However, ordinary unconsciousness may not be easy to detect initially because it is so normal. Make it a habit to monitor your mental emotional state through self observation. Am I at ease at this moment is a good question to ask yourself frequently. Or you can ask what's going on inside me at this moment. Be at least as interested in what's going on inside you as what happens outside. If you get the inside right, the outside will fall into place. Primary reality is within. Secondary reality without. But don't answer these questions immediately. Direct your attention inward. Look inside yourself. What kind of thoughts is your mind producing? What do you feel? Direct your attention into the body. Is there any tension? Once you detect that there is a low level of unease, the background static, see in what way, you're avoiding, resisting or denying life by denying the now. There are many ways in which people unconsciously resist the present moment. I will give you a few examples. With practice, your power of self observation, of monitoring your inner state will become sharpened. Do you resent doing what you are doing? It may be your job. Or you may have agreed to do something and are doing it but part of you resent and resist it. Are you carrying unspoken resentment towards a person close to you? Do you realize that the energy you thus emanate is so harmful in its effects that you are in fact contaminating yourself as well as those around you. Have a good look inside. Is there even the slightest trace of resentment, unwillingness? If there is, observe it on both the mental and the emotional levels. What thoughts is your mind creating around this situation? Then look at the emotion which is the body's reaction to the thoughts. Feel the emotion. Does it feel pleasant or unpleasant? Is it an energy that you would actually choose to have inside you? Do you have a choice? Maybe you are being taken advantage of. Maybe the activity you are engaged in is tedious. Maybe someone close to you is dishonest, irritating, or unconscious. But all this irrelevant. Whether your thoughts and emotions about this situation are justified or not makes no difference. The fact is that you are resisting what is. You are making the present moment into an enemy. You are creating unhappiness: conflict between the inner and the outer. Your unhappiness is polluting not only your own inner being and those around you, but also in the collective human psyche of which you are an inseparable part. The pollution of the planet is only an outward reflection of an inner psychic pollution. Millions of unconscious individuals not taking responsibility for their inner space. Either stop doing what you are doing. Speak to the person concerned and express fully what you feel, or drop the negativity that your mind has created around this situation and that serves no purpose whatsoever except to strengthen the false sense of self. Recognizing its futility is important. Negativity is never the optimum way of dealing with any situation. In fact, in most cases, it keeps you stuck in it blocking real change. Anything that is done with negative energy will become contaminated by it. And in time give rise to more pain, more unhappiness. Furthermore, any negative inner state is contagious. Unhappiness spreads more eaily than a physical disease. Through the law of resonance, it triggers and feeds latent negativity in others. Unless they are immune that is, highly conscious. Are you polluting the world or cleaning up the mess? You are responsible for your inner space, nobody else is just as you are responsible for the planet. As within so without. If humans cease to create inner pollution, then they will also cease to create outer pollution.
Question: How can we drop negativity as you suggest?
Eckhart Tolle: By dropping it. How do you drop a piece of hot coal that you are holding in your hand? How do you drop some heavy and useless baggage that you are carrying? By recognizing that you do not want to suffer the pain or carry the burden anymore and then letting go of it. Deep unconsciousness such as the pain body or other deep pain such as the loss of a loved one usually needs to be transmuted through acceptance combined with the light of your presence, your sustained attention. Many patterns in ordinary unconsciousness on the other hand can simply be dropped when you know you don't want them and don't need them anymore. Once you realize you have a choice. That you are not a bundle of conditioned reflexes. All this implies that you are able to access the power of now. Without it, you have no choice.
Question: If you call some emotions negative, aren't you creating a mental polarity of good and bad as you explained earlier?
Eckhart Tolle: No, the polarity was created at an earlier stage when your mind judged the present moment as bad. This judgment then created the negative emotion.
Question: But if you call some emotions negative, aren't you really saying that they shouldn't be there? That it's not okay to have those emotions? My understanding is that we should give ourselves permission to have whatever feelings come up rather than judge them as bad or say that we shouldn't have them. It's okay to feel resentful. It's okay to be angry, irritated, moody, or whatever. Otherwise, we get into repression, inner conflict or denial. Everything is okay as it is.
Eckhart Tolle: Of course, once a mind pattern, am emotion or an reaction is there, accept it. You are not conscious enough to have a choice in the matter. That's not a judgment; just a fact. If you had a choice or realized that you do have a choice, would you choose suffering or joy, ease or unease, ease or conflict? Would you choose a thought or feeling that cuts you off from your natural state of well being, the joy of life within. Any such feeling I call negative which simply means bad, not in the sense that you shouldn't have done that but just factual bad like feeling sick in the stomach. How is it possible that humans killed in excess of one hundred million fellow humans in the twentieth century alone. Humans inflicting pain of such pain on one another is beyond anything you can imagine and that is not taking into account the mental, emotional and physical violence of torture, pain and cruelty that continues to inflict on each other as well as on other sentient beings on a daily basis. Do they act in this way because they are in touch with their natural state, the joy of life within? Of course not, only people who are in a deeply negative state, who feel very bad indeed, would create such a reality as a reflection of how they feel. Now they are engaged in destroying nature and the planet that sustains them. Unbelievable but true. Humans are a dangerously insane and very sick species. That's not a judgment; it's a fact. It is also a fact that sanity is there underneath the madness. Healing and redemption are available right now. Coming back specifically to what you said, it is certainly true that when you accept your resentment, moodiness, anger and so on, you are no longer forced to act them out blindly and you are less likely to project them onto others. But I wonder if you are not deceiving yourself. When you have been practicing acceptance for a while as you have, there comes a point when you need to go on to the next stage where those negative emotions are not created anymore. If you don't your acceptance just becomes a mental label which allows the ego in you to indulge in unhappiness and so strengthen its sense of separation from other people, your surroundings, your here and now. As you know, separation is the basis for the ego's sense of identity. True acceptance would transmute those feelings at once. And if you really knew deeply that everything is okay as you put it, and which of course is true, then would you have those negative feelings in the first place, without judgment, without resistance to what is, they would not arise. You have an idea in your mind that everything is okay but deep down, you don't really believe it so the old mental emotional patterns of resistance are still in place. That's what makes you feel bad.
Questioner: That's okay too.
Eckhart Tolle: Are you defending your right to be unconscious, your right to suffer? Don't worry. Nobody's going to take that away from you. Once you realize that a certain kind of food makes you sick, would you carry on eating that food and assert that it is okay to be sick?
Question: Can you give some more examples of ordinary unconsciousness?
Eckhart Tolle: See if you can catch yourself complaining in either speech or thought about a situation you find yourself in, what other people do or say, your surroundings, your life situation, even the weather. To complain is always non-acceptance of what is. It invariably carries an unconscious negative charge. When you complain, you make yourself into a victim. When you speak out, you are in your power. So change your situation by taking action or by speaking out if necessary or possible. Leave the situation or accept it. All else is madness. Ordinary unconsciousness is always linked in some way with denial of the now. The now of course also implies the here. Are you resisting your here and now?
Some people would always rather be somewhere else. Their here is never good enough. Through self observation, find out if that is the case in your life. Wherever you are, be there totally. If you find your here and now intolerable and it makes you unhappy, you have 3 options: Remove yourself from the situation; change it; or accept it totally, If you want to take responsibility for your life, you must choose one of those 3 options and you must choose now. Then accept the consequences, no excuses, no negativity, no psychic pollution. Keep your inner space clear. If you take any action, leaving or changing a situation, drop the negativity first if at all possible. Action arising out of insight into what is required is more effective than action arising out of negativity. Any action is often better than no action especially if you've been stuck in an unhappy situation for a long time. If it is a mistake, at least you learn something in which case, it's no longer a mistake. If you remain stuck, you learn nothing. Is fear preventing you from taking action? Acknowledge the fear. Watch it. Take your attention into it. Be fully present with it. Doing so cuts the link between the fear and your thinking. Don't let the fear rise up into your mind. Use the power of the now. Fear cannot prevail against it. If there is truly nothing that you can do to change your here and now and you can't remove yourself from the situation, then accept your here and now totally by dropping all inner resistance. The false unhappy self that loves feeling miserable, resentful or sorry for itself can then no longer survive. This is called surrender. Surrender is not weakness. There is great strength in it. Only a surrendered person has spiritual power. Through surrender, you will be free internally of the situation. You may then find that the situation changes without any effort on your part. In any case, you are free. Or is there something that you should be doing but are not doing it. Get up and do it now. Alternativly, completely accept your inactivity, laziness or passivity at this moment if that is your choice. Go into it fully. Enjoy it. Be as lazy or inactive as you can. If you go into it fully and consciously, you will soon come out of it. Or maybe you won't. Either way there is no inner conflict, no resistance, no negativity. Are you stressed? Are you so busy getting to the future that the present is reduced to a means of getting there? Stress is being caused by being here but wanting to be there. Or being in the present but wanting to be in the future. It's a split that tears you apart inside. To create and live with such an inner split is insane. The fact that everyone else is doing it doesn't make it any less insane. If you have to, you can move fast, work fast or even run without projecting yourself into the future and without resisting the present. As you move, work, run, do it totally. Enjoy the flow of energy. The high energy of that moment. Now you are no longer stressed. No longer splitting yourself in two. Just moving, working, running and enjoying it. Or you can drop the whole thing and sit on a park bench. But when you do watch your mind. It may say you should be working. You are wasting time. Observe the mind. Smile at it. Does the past take up a great deal of your attention? Do you frequently talk and think about i t either positively or negatively. The great things that you have achieved. Your adventures or experiences or your victim story and the dreadful things that were done to you. Or maybe what you did to someone else. Are your thought processes creating guilt, pride, resentment, anger, regret or self pity, then you are not only reinforcing a false sense of self, but are also helping to accelerate your body's aging process by creating an accumulation of past in your psyche. Verify this for yourself by observing those around you who have a strong tendency to hold onto the past. Die to the past every moment. You don't need it. Only refer to it when it is absolutely relevant to the present. Feel the power of this moment and the fullness of being. Feel your presence.
Are you worried? Do you have many what if thoughts. You are identified with your mind which is projecting itself into an imaginary future situation and creating fear. There is no way that you can cope with such a situation because it does not exist. It's a mental phantom. You can stop this self and life corroding insanity simply by acknowledging the present moment. Become aware of your breathing. Feel the air flowing in and out of your body. Feel your inner energy field. All that you ever have to deal with, cope with in real life, as opposed to imaginary mind projections is this moment. Ask yourself what problem you have right now. Not next year, tomorrow or five minutes from now. What is wrong with this moment? You can always cope with the now. But you can never cope with the future. Nor do you have to. The answer, the strength, the right action, or the resource will be there when you need it. Not before, not after. One day, I'll make it. Is your goal taking up so much of your attention that you reduce the present moment to a means to an end? Is it taking the joy out of your doing. Are you waiting just to start living? If you develop such a mindset and pattern, no matter what you achieve or get, the present will never be good enough. The future will always seem better. A perfect recipe for permanent dissatisfaction and nonfulfillment, don't you agree? Are you a habitual waiter? How much of your life do you spend waiting? What I call small scale waiting is waiting in line at the post office or traffic jam, at the airport, or waiting for someone to arrive, to finish work and so on. Large scale waiting is waiting for the next vacation, for a better job, for the children to grow up, for a truly meaningful relationship. For success, to make money, to be important, to become enlightened. It is not uncommon for people to spend their whole life waiting to start living. Waiting is a state of mind. Basically, it means that you want the future. You don't want the present. You don't want what you've got and you want what you haven't got. With every kind of waiting, you unconsciously create conflict between your here and now where you don't want to be and the projected future, where you want to be. This greatly reduces the quality of your life by making you lose the present. There's nothing wrong with striving to improve your life situation. You can improve your life situation, but you cannot improve your life. Life is primary. Life is your deepest inner being. It is already whole, complete, perfect. Your life situation consists of your circumstances and your experiences. There is nothing wrong with setting goals and striving to achieve things. The mistake lies in using it as a substitute for the feeling of life, for being. The only point of access of that is the now. You are then like an architect who pays no attention to the foundation of a building but spends alot of time working on the superstructure. For example, many people are waiting for prosperity. It cannot come in the future. When you honor, acknowledge and fully accept your present reality, where you are, who you are, and what you are doing right now, when you fully accept what you have got you are grateful for what you have got. Grateful for what is. Grateful for being. Gratitutde for the present moment and the fullness of life now is true prosperity. It cannot come in the future. Then, in time, that prosperity manifests for you in various ways. If you are dissatisfied with what you've got or even frustrated or angry about your present lack, that may motivate you to become rich. But even if you do make millions, you will continue to experience the inner condition of lack and deep down, you will continue to feel unfulfilled. You may have many exciting experiences that money can buy, but they will come and go and always leave you with an empty feeling and the need for further physical or psychological gratification. You won't abide in being and so feel the fullness of life now that alone is true prosperity. So give up waiting as a state of mind. When you catch yourself slipping into waiting, snap out of it. Come into the present moment. Just be and enjoy being. If you are present, there is never any need for you to wait for anything. So next time somebody says: "sorry to have kept you waiting", you can reply "that's alright. I wasn't waiting. I was just standing here enjoying myself. In joy in myself." These are just a few of the habitual mind strategies for denying the present moment that are part of ordinary unconsciousness. They are easy to overlook because they are so much a part of normal living. The background static of perpetual discontent. But the more you practice monitoring your inner mental emotional state, the easier it will be to know when you've been trapped in past or future which is to say unconscious and to awaken out of the dream of time into the present. But beware. The false unhappy self based on mind identification lives on time. It knows the present moment is its own death so it feels very threatened by it. It will do all that it can to take you out of it. It will try to keep you trapped in time.
Question: I can see the truth of what you are saying but I still think we must have purpose in our life's journey otherwise we just drift. And purpose means future doesn't it? How do we reconcile all that with living in the present?
Eckhart Tolle: When you are on a journey, it is certainly helpful to know where you are going or at least the general direction in which you are moving. But don't forget the only thing that is ultimately real about your journey is the step you are taking at this moment. That's all there ever is. Your life's journey has an outer purpose and an innner purpose. The outer purpose is to arrive at your goal or destination, to accomplish what you set to do. To achieve this or that which of course implies future. But if your destination or the steps you are going to take in the future take up so much of your attention that they become more important to you than the step you are taking now, then you completely miss the journey's inner purpose which has nothing to do with where you are going or what you are doing but everything to do with how. It has nothing to do with future but everything to do with the quality of your consciousness this moment. The outer purpose belongs to the horizontal dimension of space and time. The inner purpose concerns a deepening of your being and the vertical dimension of the timeless now. Your outer journey may contain a million steps. Your inner journey only has one: the step you are taking right now. As you become more deeply aware of this one step, you realize that it already contains within itself all the other steps as well as the destination. This one step then becomes transformed into an expression of perfection. An act of great beauty and quality. It will have taken you into being. And the light of being will shine through it. This is both the purpose and the fulfillment of your inner journey, the journey into your Self.
Question: Does it matter whether we achieve our outer purpose? Whether we succeed or fail in the world?
Eckhart Tolle; It will matter to you as long as you haven't realized your inner purpose. After that, the outer purpose is just a game you may continue to play simply because you enjoy it. It is also possible to fail completely in your outer purpose and at the same time totally succeed in your inner purpose or the other way around which is actually more common: outer riches, inner poverty or to gain the world to lose your soul as Jesus puts it. Ultimately, of course, every outer purpose is doomed to fail sooner or later simply because it is subject to the law impermanence of all things. The sooner you realize that your outer purpose cannot give you lasting fulfillment, the better. When you have seen the limitations of your outer purpose, you give up your unrealistic expectation that it should make you happy and you make it subserviant to your inner purpose.
Question: You mentioned that thinking or talking about the past unnecessarily is one of the ways we avoid the present. But apart from the past that we remember, and perhaps identify with, isn't there another level of past in us that is much more deep seated. I'm talking about the unconscious past that conditions our lives especially through early childhood experiences. Perhaps even past life experiences. And then there's our cultural conditioning which has to do with where we live geographically, and historic time period in which we live, all these things determine how we see the world, how we react, how we think, what kind of relationships we have, how we live our lives. How can we ever become conscious of all that or get rid of it? How long would that take? And even if we did, what would there be left?
Eckhart Tolle: What is left when illusion ends? There's no need to investigate the unconscious past in you except as it manifests in you at this moment as a thought, an emotion, a desire, a reaction, or an external event that happens to you. Whatever you need to know about the unconscious past in you, the challenges of the present will bring it out. If you delve into the past, it will become a bottomless pit. There is always more. You may think you need more time to understand the past or become free of it. In other words, that the future will eventually free you of the past. This is a delusion. Only the present can free you of the past. More time cannot free you of time. Access the power of now. That is the key.
Question: What is the power of now?
Eckhart Tolle: None other than the power of presence. Your consciousness liberated from thought forms. So deal with the past on the level of the present. The more attention you give the past, the more you energize it and the more likely you are to make a self out of it. Don't misunderstand. Attention is essential but not to the past as the past. Give attention to the present. Give attention to your behaviour, to your reactions, moods, thoughts, emotions, fears, desires as they occur in the present. There's the past in you. If you can be present enough to watch all those things, not critically or analytically, but non-judgmentally, then you are dealing with the past and dissolving it through the power of your presence. You cannot find yourself by going into the past. You find yourself by coming into the present.
Question: Isn't it helpful to understand the past and so understand why we do certain things, react in certain ways, or why we subconsciously create our particular kind of drama, patterns in relationships, and so on?
Eckhart Tolle: As you become more conscious of your present reality, you may suddenly get certain insights as to why your conditioning functions in those particular ways. For example, why your relationships follow certain patterns. And you may remember things that happened in the past or see them more clearly. That is fine and can be helpful, but it is not essential. What is essential is your conscious presence. That dissolves the past. That is the transformative agent. So don't seek to understand the past, but be as present as you can. The past cannot survive in your presence. It can only survive in your absence.
Chapter Five - The State of Presence.
Question: You keep talking about the state of presence as the key. I think I understand it intellectually. But I don't know if I have ever truly experienced it. I wonder is it what I think it is or is it something entirely different.
Eckhart Tolle: It's not what you think it is. You can't think about presence. And the mind can't understand it. Understanding presence is being present. Try a little experiment. Close your eyes and say to yourself "I wonder what my next thought is going to be." Then become very alert and wait for the next thought. Be like a cat watching a mouse hole. What thought is going to come out of the mouse hole? Try it now.
Response: I had to wait a long time before a thought came in.
Eckhart Tolle: Exactly. As long as you are in a state of intense presence, you are free of thought. You're still, yet highly alert. The instant your conscious attention sinks below a certain level, thought rushes in, the mental noise returns. The stillness is lost. You are back in time. To test that degree of presence, some zen masters have been known to creep up on their students and suddenly hit them with a stick. Quite a shock. If the student had been fully present and in a state of alertness, if he had kept his loin guarded and his lamp burning which is one of the analogies that Jesus uses for presence, he would have noticed the master coming up from behind and stopped him or stepped aside. But if he were hit, that would mean he was immersed in thought which is to say absent, unconscious. To stay present in every day life, it helps to be deeply rooted within yourself otherwise the mind which has incredible momentum will drag you along like a wild river.
Question: What do you mean by rooted within yourself?
Eckhart Tolle: It means to inhabit your body fully. To always have some of your attention on the inner energy field of your body. To feel the body from within so to speak. body awareness keeps you present. It anchors you in the now. In a sense, the state of presence could be compared to waiting. Jesus used the analogy of waiting in some of his parables. This is not the usual bored or restless kind of waiting which is a denial of the present and that I spoke about already. It is not a waiting in which your attention is focused on some point in the future and the present is perceived as an undesirable obstacle which prevents you from having what you want. There is a qualitatively different kind of waiting, one that requires your total alertness. Something that could happen at any moment and if you not absolutely awake, absolutely still, you will miss it. This is the kind of waiitng Jesus is talking about. In that state, all your attention is in the now. There's none left for daydreaming, thinking, or anticipating. There's no tension in it, no fear, just alert presence. You are present with your whole being. With every cell of your body. In that state, the you that has a past and a future, the personality, if you like, is hardly there anymore. And yet nothing of value is lost. You are still essentially yourself. In fact, you are more fully yourself than you ever were before. Or rather, it is now that you are truly yourself. "Be like a servant waiting for the return of the master.", says Jesus. The servant does not know at what hour the master is going to come. So he stays awake, alert, poised, still lest he miss the master's arrival. In another parable, Jesus speaks of the five careless unconscious women who do not have enough oil (consciousness) to keep their lamps burning (stay present) and so miss the bridegroom (the now) and don't get to the wedding feast (enlightenment). These five stand in contrast to the five wise women who have enough oil, that is stay conscious. Even the men who wrote the gospels did not understand the meaning of these parables, so the first misinterpretations and distortions crept in as they were written down. In subsequent erroneous interpretations, the real meaning were completely lost. These were parables not about the end of the world but about the end of psychological time. They point to the transcendence of the egoic mind and the possibility of living in an entirely new state of consciousness.
Question: What you described is something that I occasionally experience for brief moments when I am alone and surrounded by nature.
Eckhart Tolle: Yes. Zen masters use the word satori to describe a flash of insight, a moment of no mind and total presence. Although satori is not a lasting transformation, be grateful when it comes for it gives you a taste of enlightenment. You may indeed have experienced it many times without knowing what it is and realizing its importance. Presence is needed to become aware of the beauty, the majesty, the sacredness of nature. Have you ever gazed up into the infiinity of space on a clear night, awestruck at the absolute stillness, and the inconceivable vastness of it. Have you listened, truly listened, to the sound of a mountain stream in the forest or the song of a blackbird at dusk on a quiet summer evening. To become aware of such things, the mind needs to be still. You have to put down for a moment your own personal baggage of problems, of past and future as well as all your knowledge. Otherwise, you will see but not see, hear but not hear. Your total presence is required. Beyond the beauty of external forms, there's more here, something that cannot be named. Something ineffable, some deep inner holy essence. Whenever and wherever there is beauty, this inner essence shines through somehow. It only reveals itself to you when you are present. Could it be that this nameless essence and your presence are one and the same. Would it be there without your presence? Go deeply into it. Find out for yourself.
When you experience those moments of presence, you likely didn't realize that you were briefly in a state of no mind. This is because the gap between that state and the influx of thought was too narrow. Your satori may only have lasted a few seconds before the mind came in, but it was there. Otherwise, you would not have experienced the beauty. Mind can neither recognize or create beauty. Only for a few seconds, while you were completely present, was that beauty or that sacredness there. Because of the narrowness of that gap and the lack of vigilance and alertness on your part, you were probably unable to see the fundamental difference between the perception, the thoughtless awareness of beauty and the naming and interpreting it as thought. The time gap was so small that it seemed to be a single process. The truth is, however, that the moment thought came in, all you had was a memory of it. The wider the time gap between perception and thought, the more there is to you as a human being, which is to say, the more conscious you are. Many people are so imprisoned in their minds that the beauty of nature does not really exist for them. They might say, "what a pretty flower", but that's just a mechanical mental labeling. Because they are not still, not present, they don't truly see the flower, don't feel its essence, it holiness, because, they don't know themselves, don't feel their own essence, their own holiness. Because we live in such a mind dominated culture, most modern architecture, music, and literature are devoid of beauty, of inner essence, with very few exceptions. The reason is that the people who create those things, cannot even for a moment free themselves from their minds, so they are never in touch with that place within where true creativity and beauty arise. The mind left to itself creates monstrosities and not only in art galleries. Look at our urban landscapes and industrial wastelands. No civilization has ever produced such ugliness.
Question: Is presence the same as being?
Eckhart Tolle: When you become conscious of being, what is really happening is that being conscious of itself. When being becomes conscious of itself, that's presence. Since being, consciousness, and life are synonymous, we could say that consciousness means consciousness becoming conscious of itself, or life attaining self consciousness. But don't get attached to the words, and don't make an effort to understand this. There's nothing that you need to understand before you become present.
Question: I do understand what you just staid, but it seems to imply that being, the ultimate transcendental reality is not yet complete, that it is undergoing a process of development. Does God need time for personal growth.
Eckhart Tolle: Yes. But only seen from the limited perspective of the manifested universe. In the bible, God declares "I am the alpha and the omega and I am the Living One." In the timeless realm where God dwells which is also your home, the beginning and the end, the alpha and the omega are one. And the essence of everything that has been or ever will be is eternally present in an unmanifested state of oneness and perfection, totally beyond anything the human mind can ever imagine or comprehend. In our world of seemingly separate forms, however, timeless perfection is an inconceivable concept. Here, even consciousness which is the light emanating from the eternal source seems to be subject to a process of development. But this is due to our limited perception. It is not so in absolute terms. Nevertheless, let me continue to speak for a moment about the evolution of consciousness in this world. Everything that exists has being, has God essence, has some degree of consciousness. Even a stone has some degree of consciousness. Otherwise, it would not be and its atoms and molecules would disperse. Everything is alive, the sun, the earth, plants, animals, humans. All are expressions of consciousness in varying degrees. Consciousness manifesting as form. The world arises when consciousness takes on shapes and forms. Thought forms and material forms. Look at the millions of life forms on this planet alone. In the sea, on the land, in air. And then each life form is replicated millions of times. To what end, is something or someone playing a game. A game with form. This is what the ancient seers of India asks themselves. They saw the world as Leela, a kind of divine game that God is playing. The individual life forms are obviously not important in this game. In the sea, most life forms don't survive for more than a few minutes after being born. The human form turns to dust pretty quickly too. And when it is gone, it is as if it had never been. Is that tragic or cruel? Only if you create a separate identity for each form. If you forget that each consciousness is God's essence expressing itself in form. But you don't truly know that until you realize your own God essence as pure consciousness. If your fish is born in your aquarium, and you cal it john, write out a birth certificate, tell him of his family history and two minutes later, he gets eaten by another fisth, that's tragic. But it's only tragic because you projected a separate self where there was none. You got hold of a fraction of a dynamic process, a molecular dance, and made a separate entity out of it. Consciousness takes on the disguise of forms until they've reached such complexity that it completely loses itself in them. In present day humans, consciousness is completely identified with its disguise. It only knows itself as form and therefore lives in fear of the annihilation of its physical or psychological form. This is the egoic mind and this is where considerable dysfunction sets in. It now looks as if something had gone very wrong somewhere along the line of evolution. But even this is part of Leela, the divine game. Finally, the pressure of suffering created by this apparent dysfunction forces consciousness to disidentify from form and awakens it from its dream of form. It regains self consciousness but it is at a far deeper level than when it lost it. This process is explained by Jesus in his parable of the lost son who leaves his father's home, squanders his wealth, becomes destitute, and is then forced by his suffering to return home. When he does, his father loves him more than before. The son's state is the same as it was before yet not the same. It has an added dimension of depth. The parable describes a journey from unconscious perfection to apparent imperfection and evil to conscious perfection. Can you now see the deeper and wider significance of becoming presence as the watcher of the mind. Whenever you watch the mind, you withdraw consciousness from mind forms which then becomes what we call the watcher or the witness. Consequently, the watcher, pure consciousness becomes stronger and the mental formations become weaker. When we talk about watching the mind, we are personalizing an event that is truly of cosmic significance. Through you, consciously is awakening out of its dream of identification with form and withdrawing from form. This foreshadows what is already part of an event which is probably still in the distant future as far as chronological time is concerned. The event is called the end of the world.