Tuesday, April 04, 2006

The Power of Now (Eckhart Tolle)

Since ancient times, spiritual masters of all traditions have pointed to the Now as the key to the spiritual dimension. It is evident that Eckhart has a deep realization of this dimension, and the state of being that lies beyond the discursive mind. Virtually everything Eckhart says revolves around a single idea—the importance of being in the present moment. Briefly, this is a call to be present with the totality of one's being. This means refraining from living in past memories, or in future dreams and fantasies. It means bringing the mind to where the body is, and inhabiting this present moment where you are fully. This simple but profound teaching gradually effects an important change in the individual who applies it: the stilling of the discursive mind. One cannot be here totally and simultaneously relive some past experience or project into some fantasized future. And with this stillness, all energy that previously went into discursive thought becomes available to perceive more deeply the world around us without labels and judgements. The effect is a dramatic expansion in consciousness and therefore the ability to see, hear, smell, taste, touch, feel and understand things that would otherwise escape our notice. We begin to penetrate more deeply into persons, situations, ideas, things, and our insight into anything we point our attention to deepens.

According to Eckhart, the single greatest obstacle to a deeper, fuller experience of reality is identification with one's mind. Since we've identified with our discursive minds, we think the cessation of thought implies the cessation or death of our 'selves'. However, this is the great illusion, one that can be dispelled by removing ones identification with thought. One solution Eckhart says, is simply to observe the mind—that is, watch the thinker. Another powerful way is directing the focus of ones attention into the Now, becoming intensely conscious of the present moment. When one does so, thinking stops briefly—it is not possible to be present and at the same time be in the past or future. As one goes more deeply into this realm of no-thought, one realizes the state of pure consciousness.

Another important aspect of the teaching has to do with application of attention/consciousness towards one's pain-body. Eckhart defines the pain-body as the accumulated emotional pain that is lodged in the mind and body of every human being. The idea is to bring attention into the pain-body when it becomes active, by observing it directly, feeling it, experiencing it, allowing it—this breaks identification with it. The key is not to analyse it, but just to experience it fully as a passing phenomenon. As before with the mind, you are the witness or watcher—enter into the present moment and give attention to what is. As we practice this, pain is transmuted into consciousness, and gradually dissolves.

The key then in moving deeply into the Now is ending the delusion of time. Eckhart states that time and mind are inseparable. Time in this context is psychological time which is identification with the past and continuous projection into the future. We must learn to return to present moment awareness and make this our primary state of being. This means we enter into the practical aspects of life such as planning and scheduling, etc. only as required—but we don't live there. "To be free of time is to be free of the psychological need of past for your identity and future for your fulfillment." Eckhart indicates that there may be some oscillation between time and presence, unconsciousness and consciousness for a while, until one is firmly established in presence. "With increasing frequency, you choose to have the focus of your consciousness in the present moment rather than in the past or future, and whenever you realize that you had lost the Now, you are able to stay in it [...] for longer periods as perceived from the external perspective of clock time."

Another important aspect of the teaching is on what Eckhart calls the inner body. Eckhart talks of the inner body as a portal into presence. In other words, bringing our attention into the inner body takes it out of discursive thought. But what is the inner body? In brief it is a sense of vitality and aliveness within the body itself. Eckhart describes the inner body in the form of a kind of meditation:

"Direct your attention into the body. Feel it from within. Is it alive? Is there life in your hands, arms, legs, and feet--in your abdomen, your chest? Can you feel the subtle energy field that pervades the entire body and gives vibrant life to every organ and every cell? Can you feel it simultaneously in all parts of the body as a single field of energy? Keep focusing on the feeling of your inner body for a few moments. Do not start thinking about it. Feel it. The more attention you give it, the clearer and stronger this feeling will become. It will feel as if every cell is becoming more alive [...]"

One of the underlying objectives of the book is to provide ways or 'portals' into what Eckhart calls the Unmanifest. As we have seen, the Now is the main portal--the portal to which all other portals are connected, as they all occur in presence. However each portal is a kind of focusing or tuning of presence into one of several subareas. And so we have seven primary portals: the Now, the pain-body, the inner-body, space, silence, surrender, and dreamless sleep.

Space refers to using the space that appears to separate things as a non-object of attention. The idea is to focus one's attention predominantly on the space instead of the objects within space. Similarly with silence: focus one's attention primarily on the silence out of which sounds manifest. Interestingly, this type of attention creates space and silence in the mind: as above so below.

The portal of surrender refers quite simply to the powerful practice of surrendering to what is. Other ways of putting this is allowing, accepting, or yielding to what is instead of opposing the flow of life--to relinquish inner resistance to what is. The action one takes in a surrendered inner state is much more effective than anything that comes out of a non-surrendered inner state. The action comes out of presence, is spontaneous, intuitive, and powerful.

And finally we have the portal of dreamless sleep, which is a portal we all enter into unconsciously when we fall into deep sleep. We draw from it the vital energy that sustains us for a while when we return to the manifest. In this state 'you' no longer exist.

Eckhart also speaks of the role of spirituality within the context of relationships. The key to practice in relationships is acceptance of your partner as he or she is. That unconditional acceptance serves to remove all resistance and conflict. In the case of difficult relationships, after acceptance one can then consciously choose whether to remain in the relationship, end the relationship (in love), or talk about the ways the relationship is creating pain, as a means for bringing into awareness the underlying dysfunctional patterns of the relationship. "The greatest catalyst for change in a relationship is complete acceptance of your partner as he or she is, without needing to judge or change them in any way."

There is an amusing quote of Carl Jung who tells of a conversation he had with a Native American chief who pointed out to him that most white people have tense faces, staring eyes, and a cruel demeanor. He said, "They are always seeking something. What are they seeking? The whites always want something. They are always uneasy and restless. We don't know what they want. We think they are mad."

A timeless message in an uneasy and restless era gone mad over time. Time to lose my madness. Catch you in the Now.

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