“It’s an honour to be here …” began Eckhart, “… and now.”
It was the first joke of many in the surprisingly hilarious event that was Eckhart Tolle live in Sydney, April 27, 2017.
I’m not sure why I was surprised at Echkart’s sense of humour. Humour is one of the qualities that enlightened humans consider to be essential to harmonious living, along with Eckhart’s signature move – mindfulness or presence. So when the world-famous author of The Power of Now and A New Earth honours the here and now, you know that he’s for real.
The spiritual teacher and mindfulness guru has been deemed a “prophet” by Oprah Winfrey and has changed the lives on millions through his teachings on consciousness, compassion and the earth-healing capacity of humans. His tiny figure was swamped by the expansive stage but his presence filled the enormous auditorium at Darling Harbour Convention Centre like water fills its container.
“Isn’t it strange that you have come here to watch a man sitting in a chair, speaking for two hours. This isn’t a very good movie,” he said, and promptly made a little show of all the whizzing and banging that would need to be happening on a cinema screen in order to lock in an audience’s attention.
He’s right, I thought, suddenly wary of what I’d signed up for. I was among the keen beans who lined up at the door to enter promptly at 5:30pm, leaving me 2 hours with nothing to do but sit and wait (and hit social media). I made some attempt to use this time as a mindfulness practice (as Eckhart would say about the task of waiting for something, I’m just sitting here in joy in myself) but mostly ended up people-watching as the crowds filled the hundreds of seats. So after having sat for two hours I was wondering how I’d be feeling after two more hours of just watching a man on a chair speaking with no cinematic flourishes to speak of.
I needn’t have worried. Two hours practically sped by without me noticing the time. And that is the beauty of sharing the same space with the spiritual legend that is Eckhart Tolle. Time becomes molten, fluid. Remarkable things happen.
Before I tell you about the remarkable thing that happened to me, let me share some of the moments that made me giggle. Although I’ve watched countless videos of Mr Tolle speaking and read his books, for some reason his mischievousness doesn’t translate as well as seeing him in the flesh. But his sense of humour shone through, his animated face and wonderful cheekiness taking centre stage alongside his wise words.
(The words below are paraphrased, these aren’t direct quotes.)
The Dude With The Muscles
“Ego – what most people think of as the ego, as in Oh he or she has a big ego, is an illusion. When you emphasise one or more of your qualities in order to feel superior to others, this is sadly an illusion. There was a man this morning walking around Darling Harbour. I was there enjoying the water, and he came along, wonderful physique, and I knew this because he had his shirt off! It wasn’t very warm! [I can confirm that this day was especially wintry in Sydney.] He had his shirt off because he had this wonderful physique and he wanted others to see it. And others did see it. We all turned our heads to take a look.
He may even be here tonight. In which case I congratulate you on your wonderful physique. Why not enjoy that. But then time comes in and ages you. And one day you look in the mirror and you say, Oh, the mirror is broken. And that illusion is no longer there. And so when used in the service of the ego, the things that allow you to feel superior are not real.”
Only Eckhart could say all this and not sound even a tiny bit sarcastic. It doesn’t come through in the text above, but he said all this with a heart-warming undercurrent of affection, and a detachment that can only come from one who has mastered the practice of being “the watcher”, observing thought and yet separating from it.
The Human Need to Identify as a Victim
“When we are no longer able to feel superior to others through the egoic illusions we have constructed, we begin to instead identify with our suffering. We are so hard done by, so badly treated by those around us, that we start to moan and groan so that we are the MOST badly hurt, the MOST mistreated, our suffering is the GREATEST. We are superior in our victimhood! I am a bigger victim than you are! And the ego will grab hold of that and feed off that.
Sometimes entire countries identify themselves by how much they have suffered. North Korea would not have a concept of itself were it not for its enemies. Oh look, we are surrounded by enemies, isn’t that wonderful. Now we know who we are.”
Having a Neutral View of the World
“Sometimes we might wake up and look out the window and feel instantly miserable. Well not so much here in Australia – the weather here is quite nice. But if you live for a while in London and you wake up and yet again there are grey clouds, it’s raining, you can quite easily look out the window and think, Oh FUCK. [Yep, he dropped an F-bomb.]
But in another mindset, you look out the window and you see water streaming from the sky. You see droplets on the glass of the window. You hear the sounds of the day. You look at your hands, there they are, they are skin and flesh. You start to notice that you are breathing in. And then, almost invariably, you are breathing out again. How curious. And none of this is good or bad, it just is. This moment is alive. This moment is now. There is only now.”
The Sublime Presence of Eckhart Tolle Live
That was when the remarkable thing happened. While Eckhart was describing this scenario of presence, looking up at his imagined sky at imagined rain, looking down at his hands, closing his eyes as a breath came into his lungs and slowly released, I went there with him.
I fell present. And falling present is not an easy thing to do.
I often have little moments of mindfulness. They are usually deliberate – I am reminding myself to be present, to use the senses as a “portal to the Now”, to detach from the “monkey mind” and just be. Very seldom do I experience it at length as I did in that audience.
It was as if my whole self had zoomed inward and condensed into a tiny speck at my third eye. I have tried to describe the feeling, and it is difficult, probably because being in the moment is something Eckhart would describe as “no thing”. It is not elation or euphoria, though there is a profound peace, and it is not emotional, more neutral – a feeling of being calm, rooted to the centre of the earth and at the same time quite connected to the nothingness around us that is space.
I felt the hum of life in my body, heard Eckhart’s voice speaking, heard the drone of the expansive room’s air conditioning, saw the dim lights as they carried out their task of illumination. And I stayed this way, quite happy, for a good few minutes, watching Eckhart inhabit his space with his full presence.
And then I understood an important part of his message, something I’ve heard him say many times but never thought too deeply about it: when you become present, you draw others into the present too. Being still and mindful, simply being, frees others up to simply be there too, and the effect is profoundly healing.
I recall something Eckhart either wrote about or said on one of his videos about his stepmother, who was gravely affected by mental illness and it manifested as intense paranoia. When he went to visit her she would spend a great deal of energy telling him about who was out to get her and the grave danger she was in. Eckhart merely listened mindfully, allowing her to be as she was, to say what she wanted, and eventually her hysteria calmed. The next morning she would return to her tense state, and he would begin the process of healing her again with his calm acceptance of the moment as it was.
Watching Eckhart Tolle live, I saw for myself The Power of Now, and all of his fell into place. I get it now. I get why he believes that as we “wake up” one by one and inspire others to do the same, we heal each other and heal ourselves. Therein lies A New Earth, the destiny of humans, where we are no longer identified with ego and suffering and illusion, we simply move through life, moment by moment, in serene acceptance of what is. This not only heals humanity, it heals the earth.
Pretty cool huh?
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