Eckhart Tolle was a research scholar at Cambridge University, when at age 29, a spiritual transformation changed the course of his life, marking the start of an intense inward journey that led him first to become a counselor and spiritual teacher and, later, the author of a remarkable book, "The Power of Now". In a world that desperately needs freedom from suffering and violence, Eckhart Tolle has brought forth a powerful, healing message: Accept the now moment fully. Herein lies the path to peace.
Science of Mind: A deep yearning is felt for that which is true, enduring, and trustworthy. Is it discoverable?
Eckhart Tolle: It's perhaps more attainable now than at any other time in the history of humanity. Transformational consciousness until recently has been a luxury on the planet. A few individuals here and there underwent transformation but never on a large scale. It wasn't necessary for the planet. Neither the survival of humanity nor of the planet was threatened before now, although there already existed the madness or insanity inherent in the human mind, by which I mean the thinking mind, not the deeper consciousness. This madness has been going on for a long time, but it has never threatened the survival of humanity.
It's only when science and technology arrived that this threat began. The tools of science and technology amplified the effects of the madness of the egoic mind. So the survival of the planet began to be threatened, and with it the survival of humanity. The planet will not survive another hundred years of the same state of consciousness that produced the external effects of recent history. Imagine the twenty-first century being a continuation of the destruction and violence we've seen. It's no longer a question of the luxury of a few individuals here and there becoming liberated. It has become a necessity. Humanity as a species must change dramatically and radically or our survival is at stake..
SM: Are you hopeful about an awakening of consciousness?
ET: Things are both getting better and getting worse. The madness is accelerating but an acceleration of the new consciousness is also coming in. However, this latter development is less apparent when you listen to the media. The media still mostly reflects what is happening in the sphere of the old consciousness.
SM: In your book you suggest that despair and the intensification of suffering can sometimes catalyze enlightenment.
ET: Many people know this from their own lives, especially if they have gone through intense suffering or great loss, or faced death in one way or another, either their own physical death, a psychological death, or the death of somebody very close to them. Some form of suffering often brings about a readiness. One can say it cracks open the shell of the egoic mind with which many people identify as "me." Life cracks open that shell, and once that crack is there, then we are reached more easily by spiritual teaching. We're suddenly open to it, because it reaches the deeper levels of our being. Something from within, not from our conditioned mind, but from the deeper level of unconditioned consciousness responds immediately. Often all that is needed to evoke this response is to listen to one statement of Truth and immediately there's a response. Because we all carry the Truth within us as our essence, we recognize it immediately.
SM: Do you see the recent events, as terrible as they've been, as having the potential of bringing greater enlightenment?
ET: Yes, I do. Especially for those of us living in the Western culture, death to a large extent is still a taboo subject. It's considered something dreadful that shouldn't be happening. It's usually denied. The fact of death is not faced. What we don't realize in Western culture is that death has a redemptive dimension. There is another side to death. Whether death happens through an act of violence to a large number of people or to an individual, whether death comes prematurely through illness or accident, or whether death comes through old age, death is always an opening. So a great opportunity comes whenever we face death.
SM: Why is death an opportunity?
ET: Death means that a form of life dissolves or that the imminent possibility of dissolution exists, whether through our own death or through illness or old age. When someone dies to old ideas, there's a psychological death. Thought-forms with which one had identified as "me", an egoic identity, suddenly collapse. In the face of death, especially violent death, things don't make sense anymore. So death is the dissolution of either physical form or psychological form. And when a form dissolves, always something shines through that had been obscured by the form. This is the formless One Life, the formless One Consciousness. Death is the moment of form dissolving. When that dissolving is not resisted, an opening appears into the dimension of the sacred, into the One formless, unmanifested Life. This is why death is such an incredible opportunity. There is no transformation of human consciousness without the dissolving that death brings.
SM: How did your own experience of death happen?
ET: I was deeply identified with a very unhappy, egoic entity I believed was "me." For years I lived in depression and continuous anxiety. One night I couldn't stand it anymore. The thought came into my mind, "I cannot live with myself any longer." Then I saw that my thought contained a subject and an object: I and myself. I stood back from the thought and asked, "Who is the self that I cannot live with? There must be two here.
Who am I, and who is the self that is impossible to live with?" In that moment, that mind-based sense of self collapsed. What remained was I, not the form "I", not the story-based "I" - the mental story of me but a deeper sense of being, of presence. I died that night psychologically. The mind-made entity died. I knew myself as pure consciousness, prior to form before it becomes something, before it becomes a thought, before it becomes a life-form: the One Life, the One Consciousness that is prior to egoic identity. Then came enormous peace.
This is the redemptive nature of death. Through death you find yourself, because you no longer identify with form. You realize you are not the form with which you had identified neither the physical nor the psychological form of "me". That form goes. It dissolves and who you are beyond form emerges through the opening where that form was. One could almost say that every form of life obscures God.
SM: How is it possible to have an awareness of pure essence while still in physical form?
ET: You do so by relating to outer forms no longer through the labeling mind but through an inner sense of stillness. Your sense perceptions happen within that field of stillness, which is pure consciousness. Suddenly the whole world is perceived as very peaceful, because when you perceive other life forms from that deeper level when they're not being immediately labeled by the mind then you see shining through each life form the formless essence. It's a wonderful thing to perceive the world and to interact with it and with other people and nature from that deep place of utter stillness, where the compulsion to immediately label and interpret whatever arises around you is no longer there.
You can relate on a much deeper level to presence. You look on each form with the recognition that its essence is one with your essence. The form is seen but also you look through that and what you find at the core of each form, whether it's a flower or a human being, is the One Life essence, the One Consciousness, the Self. That is the deeper meaning of love. It's the recognition of all forms that you meet as yourself, and that liberates you from being trapped in illusory identity with some form.
SM: If this perception becomes possible only after the death of the form, how is that death accomplished?
ET: There are two ways. One way is through suffering. Suffering arises through resistance to the "suchness" of what is. That is the core of human suffering to resist internally the "isness" of this moment. Loss comes into your life a loss that involves death in one form or another. Someone close to you dies, or illness occurs and you don't have long to live, or you're part of some collective disaster. You lose your home, your sense of belonging and identity. Loss in some form comes into your life, and you resist what is because your situation seems unacceptable. That increases the suffering, which then becomes so acute that you can't stand it.
Then something happens within you. Suddenly inner resistance to what is, is relinquished. We've had accounts of people in the worst possible situations - concentration camps, prison camps, waiting for execution, or fatal illness with only a few more days to live. In the face of such enormous suffering, suddenly all resistance to the suchness of this moment was relinquished, and with it, the egoic identity, which lives in and through resistance. Suddenly reactivity is relinquished. You don't react; you accept. You surrender. Through suffering life drives you to a point of surrender, and when surrender happens, it brings the psychological death of the "me", which cannot live in surrender.
The "me" depends for its survival on nonsurrender. So life pushes you into surrender through suffering, through facing death in one form or another, and with surrender comes a deep inner peace. That happened to me, and I've read and heard many accounts from other people for whom a similar shift occurred. Suffering, especially acute suffering, is always a great opportunity. It contains the potential for liberation.
SM: What is the other way?
ET: Many humans now are choosing nonresistance to what is rather than being pushed into it by life. These people are often receptive to spiritual teaching not that they need a lot. They only need to hear the statement "Say yes to whatever arises in the field of now," and they recognize its truth right away. They see the wisdom of welcoming whatever arises in this world instead of internally resisting or denying it. Most humans live in the mindset that this moment is only important because it's getting them to the next one.
They are missing the fullness of life, which can only be now, because that's all there is. But the way of nonresistance is coming in more now because humanity has been through enormous suffering already, most of it produced through the madness of the egoic mind evident in the twentieth-century history and recent events are just another chapter in that insane history. So there are two ways to surrender. One is to be entirely driven to surrender through extreme suffering, and the other is to choose surrender rather than having to be pushed into surrender through dreadful suffering.
SM: Do you believe then that suffering can be eliminated?
ET: The message of all spiritual teaching is you don't need to suffer anymore. You've suffered enough to take you to this point where you hear the words, "You don't need to suffer anymore," and you understand them. You recognize their truth and you then see that you do have a choice that you can surrender to the suchness of now, which means every moment to relinquish resistance and if it still arises, to recognize it. The recognition is already the beginning of freedom. When you recognize the "no" to what is and the emotional or physical contraction that goes with that "no" and you observe the mental judgments that are part of the "no" - then you're free to say "yes" to what is.
People believe that when they say "yes" to this moment, things won't change anymore. They're afraid that if they accept what is, whatever form this moment takes, they're going to be stuck forever in this moment that they don't like: this job or relationship or whatever situation they're in that they don't like. But this is not true. It's resistance that keeps you stuck. Surrender immediately opens you to the greater intelligence that is vaster than the human mind, and it can then express itself through you. So through surrender often you find circumstances changing.
SM: Does surrender include forgiveness of actions that have hurt others?
ET: Yes. You may have done things to someone in the past that today you wouldn't do, because there's greater consciousness today in you than there was then. As you grow in consciousness you grow out of unconscious conditioning and identification with the conditioned mind, which is human unconsciousness. You can then see how much suffering has been inflicted by humans on other humans because they were run by the egoic identity. To make an identity for yourself out of having caused suffering is another attempt by the ego to hang on to a sense of self. The ego doesn't mind whether its sense of self is pleasant or unpleasant as long as it has a sense of self. So guilt is a favorite thing for the ego to hang on to. What guilt says is "I did bad that was me, my mistake."
The truth is, it was a manifestation of human unconsciousness. To make a self out of that manifestation of human unconsciousness is the ego, and is also unconsciousness. Once you've made a self for others you've trapped yourself again. This idea is contained in the words of Jesus, beautifully, on the Cross when he said, "Forgive them, for they know not what they do". They are only manifestations of human unconsciousness. They haven't woken up yet. But they will suffer. Because they are manifestations of human unconsciousness, those entities will suffer.
SM: Is healing the past needed in order to awaken?
ET: The only thing that can free you from the past is "presence". If you carry, as every human does, conditioning from the past, either personal or collective, as more presence arises, you're able to observe what your mind is doing. You're able to observe and witness your reactions in various situations. These reactions are the past in you. As you continue to stay in the present moment and witness your reactions, the challenges become easier. They resolve very quickly. They don't turn into problems. For it's when you do not face something fully and completely in the now that a challenge turns into a problem. The ego needs enemies, and the favorite enemy of the egoic entity is the present moment.
How to Stay in the Present Moment.
1. Inhabit the body. Sense the aliveness that is in the body. This takes your attention away from thought. The practice of physical movements such as Tai Chi helps. Sensing the body becomes an anchor for staying present in the now.
2. Make it your practice to welcome this moment, no matter what form it takes. Say yes to whatever is "now". There is only one moment, but different forms of it. The secret is not to resist these forms. Surrendering to the forms that arise takes you to the formless in yourself. You then sense a spaciousness around whatever happens in your life. People, events, situations, objects come and go. Being in the now moment liberates you from form, from the world. With that liberation comes enormous peace.