By Maria Wirth July 2002 Is the key to a fulfilled life and to enlightenment simply this: not to run away from the present moment, but to be deeply rooted in it? The answer is yes, reiterated Eckhart Tolle, a modern master, at a retreat in Rishikesh (India) recently Tolle tips · Stay fully present in the now—your whole life unfolds here. In the now there is joy of Being and deep peace. · Be present as the watcher of the mind. · Just observe and feel—do not judge anything. · Do not wish the present moment to be different from what it is. · Make it a habit to feel your body from inside as often as possible. The body is always in the present. · Don’t believe this, try it! Being a seasoned spiritual master, Eckhart Tolle began the Rishikesh retreat by narrating an anecdote from the life of the Dalai Lama when he fled from Tibet and came to India. In the first audience that the Dalai Lama gave to westerners in India, a curious gentleman among the audience sought help to overcome his lack of self-esteem. ‘From what do you suffer?’ the Dalai Lama had asked. The gentleman tried to explain, but the Dalai Lama couldn’t understand and was more bewildered. Finally he went around to each person in the gathering and asked whether they had heard of what this feeling was. To the Dalai Lama’s surprise, almost everyone nodded in affirmation. To drive home the point, Tolle then remarked with a smile: ‘Even the ugliest cat has no problems with self-esteem. Why then we human beings? And especially we the so-called modern human beings who live almost entirely in our mind?’ The reason for this sorry state of affairs is that we live almost entirely in our mind. We don’t identify with our being, which would be natural, but with thinking and feeling. We create, as it were, right from childhood, a mental image of us-of what we think, feel and do-and then believe that we are this image. The result is the generation of a false self that doesn’t have much worth. It makes us forget our true being and forces us to think incessantly, because this phantom self or ego, as Tolle calls it, thrives on thoughts. It is a product of thoughts. And it loves conflicts, drama and enemies, even when it claims it wants peace. Conflicts and enemies strengthen the ego with its sense of separateness and the ego loves to grow stronger. Further, the ego lives almost entirely in the past or in the future, because it defines itself from the past and hopes for fulfillment in the future. It considers the present moment as an unwanted hindrance on its way to the future. Tolle exhorts people to live in the present moment. He himself came to this realization the hard way. Now in his fifties, Tolle was born in Germany. He graduated from the University of London and worked at Cambridge University. When he was 29, a profound spiritual transformation took place. For 20 years after that, he lived a quiet life devoted to understanding, deepening and integrating this transformation. Occasionally he would guide individuals and groups. Tolle, too, had been identified with a phantom self once which made him suffer a lot. He was depressive and occasionally even showed suicidal tendencies. One night, when he was 29, one thought kept repeating itself in his mind: ‘I can’t live with myself any longer.’ Suddenly he realised what a peculiar thought it was. ‘I with myself? Am I one or two?’ He was stunned by this strange realization, and his mind stopped though he was fully conscious. He felt drawn into what seemed like a vortex of energy and then into a void. He let himself fall into that void without resistance. When he woke up the next morning, his world had changed. Everything was fresh and pristine, as if it had just come into existence. He felt connected with something immeasurable, and deep peace and bliss. He went around the city in utter amazement at the miracle of life on earth. The connection with the depressive and anxious Tolle was cut off. He was now only one. The course of his worldly life changed when his book The Power of Now was published in 1997 in Vancouver, where he had, due to an inspiration, moved one year earlier. Since then Tolle is in great demand as a spiritual teacher and travels all over the world. In February this year, he came for the first time to India and gave programmes in a few cities. In Rishikesh he led a week-long retreat for people from all over the world in which the author participated. Tolle said that most people live with a mind-created self, with which-would it be another person?-they wouldn’t live for a single day. They even address it as ‘you’. For example: ‘What a fool you have been!’ Some try to improve themselves and pin up on their board’s affirmations like ‘I am okay’. It won’t help much, believes Tolle. Yet there is a solution. Stay present in the now, advises Tolle. The now, the present moment, holds the key to liberation. The now is the most precious thing there is, because in the now the whole life unfolds. Life is now. When you are fully present in the now, all problems are gone, as well as the phantom self, which needs past and future for its survival. Only now you can feel who you truly are: something immeasurable, indestructible. Tolle prefers to call it Being, because it is difficult to form a mental image of it. And he asks us not to form a mental image, because Being can’t be understood by the mind. Yet it can be felt as one’s own presence. And enlightenment is, says Tolle, to regain awareness of Being and to abide in this state. It is our natural state in which there is joy of Being and deep peace, but also great vitality and alertness. Tolle mentions the ancient Indian analogy of the wave and the ocean. ‘Right now, we probably experience ourselves as a wave and because of so many other waves around us, we don’t see the ocean at all. We struggle to survive and we are afraid, because the danger that the wave disappears is real. Every moment trillions of waves appear and disappear. They are forms on the surface of the ocean and basically nothing else but the one ocean. As soon as a wave dives deeply into itself, it realises that it is indestructible, one with the immeasurable ocean.’ Even when the wave felt alone and weak, when it was afraid of dying and didn’t see the ocean, it was one with it. So the connection can be made directly, not sometime in the future, because the wave is the ocean. We are Being-now. Tolle doesn’t say anything new. Why then so many people all over the world throng to his talks-so many that almost always the venue cannot hold them? His retreats are fully booked in no time in spite of the relatively high cost. And his book The Power of Now is on the bestseller list even in India, which teems with spiritual masters. I believe there are several reasons for that. One, rarely has a teacher so clearly and forcefully put across the immense power and importance of the now, of the present moment and how enormously liberating it is to be fully present in the now. Two, Tolle is one of the few teachers who speak from presence. This can be felt in the room. Even his book has power-the power of presence, as many readers confirm. Three, Tolle balances skillfully on the fine line, which separates two camps in spirituality. One is of spiritual teachers who believe in predetermination or fixed destiny. Their followers lean back and try to enjoy life as far as possible. The second camp is of teachers who point out all the obstacles on the path to the goal which have to be overcome. Their followers try hard and finally feel frustrated, as they obviously haven’t tried hard enough. Tolle says that it is a ‘helpful perspective’ to think that one can choose presence. That’s enough. It is enough to be present as the watcher of the mind and not to be lost in thoughts, feelings and reactions. In this way a higher level of consciousness becomes activated and the mind loses its power. The identification with the mind is broken. Yet one thing is important: just observe and feel-do not judge or analyze what you observe and feel. Tolle proceeds gently. The ego, he says, is the unobserved mind. It runs our life completely as long as we are not present as the witnessing consciousness. Then, we are basically ‘not there’ and react unconsciously according to the strategies of the ego. Its most important strategy is to avoid the present and to look for fulfillment in the future. ‘Please, Now, don’t hole me up. I am on my way to the future,’ the ego says to the present moment. Fulfillment in the future is of course never possible, because the future is, as is the ego, a thought product and not real. The future comes as now. Only the now is real. And the continuous fixation on the future, which is typical for most people, is the perfect recipe for permanent dissatisfaction in one’s life. An enlightened person has the main focus of his attention always in the present moment. He is only peripherally aware of past and future-only in as much as it is necessary to function in daily life. Allow the present moment to be and do not wish it to be different, pleads Tolle. Say yes to it, because it is already, and then do whatever you feel appropriate to do without any negativity. That will transform your whole life miraculously. Then, life will work for you rather than against you. But don’t believe this, says Tolle. Try it out! As long as we learn to be present in the now, tips are helpful. Tolle has an extremely valuable tip: make it a habit to feel your body from inside as often as possible. The body is always in the present. Only thinking moves to the future or past. Check often how you feel insi
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