21. ECKHART TOLLE: THE POWER OF NOW
Eckhart Tolle (/ˈɛkɑːrt ˈtɒlə/ EK-art TOL-ə; German pronunciation: [ˈɛkhaʁt ˈtɔlə], born Ulrich Leonard Tölle, February 16, 1948) is a spiritual teacher. He is a German-born resident of Canada best known as the author of The Power of Now and A New Earth: Awakening to Your Life's Purpose. In 2008, The New York Times called Tolle "the most popular spiritual author in the United States". In 2011, he was listed by Watkins Review as the most spiritually influential person in the world. Tolle is not identified with any particular religion, but he has been influenced by a wide range of spiritual works.
Tolle said he was depressed for much of his life until age 29, when he underwent an "inner transformation". He then spent several years wandering "in a state of deep bliss" before becoming a spiritual teacher. He moved to Vancouver, British Columbia in 1995 and currently divides his time between Canada and California. He began writing his first book, The Power of Now, in 1997 and it reached The New York Times Best Seller list in 2000.
The Power of Now and A New Earth sold an estimated three million and five million copies respectively in North America by 2009. In 2008, approximately 35 million people participated in a series of 10 live webinars with Tolle and television talk show host Oprah Winfrey. In 2016, Tolle was named in Oprah's SuperSoul 100 list of visionaries and influential leaders.
Early life and education
Born Ulrich Leonard Tölle in Lünen, a small town located north of Dortmund in the Ruhr Valley, Germany in 1948, Tolle describes his childhood as unhappy, particularly his early childhood in Germany. His parents fought and eventually separated, and he felt alienated from a hostile school environment. He also experienced considerable fear and anxiety growing up in post-war Germany, where he would play in bombed-out buildings. He later stated that pain "was in the energy field of the country". At the age of 13, he moved to Spain to live with his father. His father did not insist that he attend high school, so Tolle elected to study literature, astronomy and various languages at home.
At the age of 15, he read several books written by the German mystic Joseph Anton Schneiderfranken, also known as Bô Yin Râ. Tolle has said he responded "very deeply" to those books.
At the age of 19, he moved to England and for three years taught German and Spanish at a London school for language studies. Troubled by "depression, anxiety and fear", he began "searching for answers" in his life.
In his early twenties, he decided to pursue his search by studying philosophy, psychology, and literature, and enrolled in the University of London. After graduating, he was offered a scholarship to do postgraduate research at Cambridge University, which he entered in 1977 but dropped out soon after.
One night in 1977, at the age of 29, after having suffered from long periods of depression, Tolle says he experienced an "inner transformation". That night he awakened from his sleep, suffering from feelings of depression that were "almost unbearable," but then experienced a life-changing epiphany. Recounting the experience, he says,
I couldn’t live with myself any longer. And in this a question arose without an answer: who is the ‘I’ that cannot live with the self? What is the self? I felt drawn into a void! I didn’t know at the time that what really happened was the mind-made self, with its heaviness, its problems, that lives between the unsatisfying past and the fearful future, collapsed. It dissolved. The next morning I woke up and everything was so peaceful. The peace was there because there was no self. Just a sense of presence or "beingness," just observing and watching.
Tolle recalls going out for a walk in London the next morning, and finding that "everything was miraculous, deeply peaceful. Even the traffic." The feeling continued, and he began to feel a strong underlying sense of peace in any situation. He stopped studying for his doctorate, and for a period of about two years after this he spent much of his time sitting, "in a state of deep bliss," on park benches in Russell Square, Central London, "watching the world go by." He stayed with friends, in a Buddhist monastery, or otherwise slept rough on Hampstead Heath. His family thought him "irresponsible, even insane." He changed his first name from Ulrich to Eckhart; by some reports this was in homage to the German philosopher and mystic, Meister Eckhart. A 2012 interview article states that he saw the name Eckhart on one of a pile of books in a dream, and knew he had written the book; soon after in real life he ran into a psychic friend who called him Eckhart out of nowhere, so he changed his name.
Earlier this year, I attended a talk by a man who I have followed for many years.
A man who has enlightened the world through his books and talks. A man known to the world as a spiritual guru. This man is called Eckhart Tolle, and if you are familiar with his work, then you may have read his first book, The Power of Now.
If you have not heard of Eckhart Tolle, let me introduce you:
Born in Germany, Eckhart Tolle, whose real name is Ulrich, is a man who lived in a state of almost continuous anxiety his whole life. His thoughts were mainly negative, as was his own sense of identity. He worked hard academically and tried to prove his success to the world, but there was always a dark cloud hanging above him.
Then, one night, he had a horrible dream filled with many negative thoughts and emotions. When he awoke, there was a sense of disidentification. He started thinking—if his mind had been dreaming and thinking all those negative thoughts, then who was observing it? He couldn’t be his mind and the observer. That meant there must be two of him. The mind (or the ego) and his own sense of self.
That one thought completely changed his life.
After that night, Eckhart Tolle lived each day in a total state of bliss.
Every single day, for two years, he would sit on a park bench. No phone, no book, just his own presence: totally at peace and in the moment. Eventually, curiosity got the better of people, and they started to ask questions: Why does he come here every day? How is he so peaceful? What is his secret?
His behaviour went viral, and it wasn’t long before a new spiritual leader was born.
In 1997, his first book about enlightenment, The Power of Now, hit the shelves. I first read it in 2008, way before I even knew what enlightenment was. The second time I picked up that book again was in 2016, after I’d faced challenges of my own, disguised as my own awakening.
This time, I could not put it down.
I understood almost every word and would pause between chapters to really let the wisdom sink in.
Consciousness and unconsciousness:
Eckhart Tolle believes there are two types of people in this world today.
There are the conscious beings—the awakened souls, who are aware of their thoughts and surroundings and less identified with their minds or egos. Then, there are the ones who are not conscious, nor awakened. Eckhart refers to this as unconsciousness. Unconscious people are identified with their thought processes and emotions and tend to come from the egoic mind rather than from the heart.
“Become conscious of being conscious.” ~ Eckhart Tolle
The egoic mind:
In Eckhart Tolle’s second book, A New Earth, he talks mostly about an ego-based state of consciousness and how it operates, referring to it as an ID (identification with the ego, or egoic mind). The egoic mind likes to interpret events and experiences as a personal, and likes to judge and criticise ourselves and others. Though we have evolved from prehistoric times when our ancestors were living in caves, our egoic mind still likes to try and keep us safe…just in case that saber tooth tiger is still hiding around the corner.
“Ego takes everything personally.” ~ Eckhart Tolle
Busy is just an illusion:
Eckhart Tolle strongly believes that all of life is right now, the present moment. When we start to think about tomorrow, we miss the beauty that is in front of us today. When we think about the next moment, we spoil the one we are in. Our minds are full of clutter every day telling us we have to be busy, that we can’t be present because we have too much to do. This is just an illusion, as time is all we have. It doesn’t take much to stop what you are doing, look up, and appreciate all that is around you.
“In today’s rush, we all think too much, seek too much, want too much, and forget about the joy of just being.” ~ Eckhart Tolle
The pain body:
When we feel pain, it is generally because we have identified with a thought, emotion, or feeling of a past wound. Eckhart Tolle believes the pain body is a negative energy field that occupies our mind and body. He refers to it as the emotional pain body and describes it as a “psychic parasite” that feeds on any experience that relates to its own negative energy, anything that creates further anger, grief, destruction, illness, and even violence.
The only way you can dissolve the pain body is to accept that it is there. Don’t judge yourself out of it; stay present, take deep breaths, and continue to observe what is happening to you.
“Understanding your pain body dissolves your pain.” ~ Eckhart Tolle
Animals never judge:
Do you ever wonder why you feel such enormous love for your pet when you’re around them? This is because an animal does not judge. Just looking at a dog makes its tail wag. It simply thinks life is good. There is no story of why life is good, it just is.
When a dog or cat looks at you, it’s not wondering what kind of person you are; there is no judgement at all. In fact, our pets can teach us many things about staying aware and in the now, which is why Eckhart Tolle strongly believes that pets can help their owners stay in in the present moment.
“It’s so wonderful to watch an animal, because an animal has no opinion about itself.” ~ Eckhart Tolle
Laughter breaks through the ego:
Did you know that laughter breaks the ego? Laughter has been shown to reduce stress hormones, such as cortisol and epinephrine, and add a boost of serotonin, the feel good hormone. It is the best antidote, helps bring us back to the present, and lets us step away from any thinking and doing, even for a minute. I know after a fit of giggles, I feel happy, warm, and enormous joy for the moment I am in, which is why they say that laughter is the best medicine.
“Life isn’t as serious as your mind makes it out to be.” ~ Eckhart Tolle
Eckhart’s teachings have been spread all over the world.
He has become an influential leader, attracting the likes of Jim Carrey, Russell Brand, and even Oprah, who became his number one supporter. There was something about this man’s work that resonated with many other people, including myself—and after seeing him speak live earlier this year, I want to share his wisdom with others.
Author: Naomi Wengier
Image: Author’s Own; Surian Soosay/Flickr
Editor: Catherine Monkman