Awakening Eckhart Tolle
The Awakening of Eckhart Tolle
An Extract from The Power of Now
I have little use for the past and rarely think about it; however, I would briefly like to tell you how I came to be a spiritual teacher and how ‘The Power of Now’ came into existence.
Until my thirtieth year, I lived in a state of almost continuous anxiety interspersed with periods of suicidal depression. It feels now as if I am talking about some past lifetime or somebody else's life.
One night not long after my twenty-ninth birthday, I woke up in the early hours with a feeling of absolute dread. I had woken up with such a feeling many times before, but this time it was more intense than it had ever been. The silence of the night, the vague outlines of the furniture in the dark room, the distant noise of a passing train – everything felt so alien, so hostile, and so utterly meaningless that it created in me a deep loathing of the world. The most loathsome thing of all, however, was my own existence. What was the point in continuing to live with this burden of misery? Why carry on with this continuous struggle? I could feel that a deep longing for annihilation, for nonexistence, was now becoming much stronger than the instinctive desire to continue to live.
‘I cannot live with myself any longer.’ This was the thought that kept repeating itself in my mind. Then suddenly I became aware of what a peculiar thought it was. ‘Am I one or two? If I cannot live with myself, there must be two of me: the ‘I’ and the ‘self’ that ‘I’ cannot live with.’ ‘Maybe,’ I thought, ‘only one of them is real.’
I was so stunned by this strange realization that my mind stopped. I was fully conscious, but there were no more thoughts. Then I felt drawn into what seemed like a vortex of energy. It was a slow movement at first and then accelerated. I was gripped by an intense fear, and my body started to shake. I heard the words ‘resist nothing,’ as if spoken inside my chest. I could feel myself being sucked into a void. It felt as if the void was inside myself rather than outside. Suddenly, there was no more fear, and I let myself fall into that void. I have no recollection of what happened after that.
I was awakened by the chirping of a bird outside the window. I had never heard such a sound before. My eyes were still closed, and I saw the image of a precious diamond. Yes, if a diamond could make a sound, this is what it would be like. I opened my eyes. The first light of dawn was filtering through the curtains. Without any thought, I felt, I knew, that there is infinitely more to light than we realize. That soft luminosity filtering through the curtains was love itself. Tears came into my eyes. I got up and walked around the room. I recognized the room, and yet I knew that I had never truly seen it before. Everything was fresh and pristine, as if it had just come into existence. I picked up things, a pencil, an empty bottle, marvelling at the beauty and aliveness of it all. That day I walked around the city in utter amazement at the miracle of life on earth, as if I had just been born into this world.
For the next five months, I lived in a state of uninterrupted deep peace and bliss. After that, it diminished somewhat in intensity, or perhaps it just seemed to because it became my natural state. I could still function in the world, although I realized that nothing I ever did could possibly add anything to what I already had.
I knew, of course, that something profoundly significant had happened to me, but I didn't understand it at all. It wasn't until several years later, after I had read spiritual texts and spent time with spiritual teachers, that I realized that what everybody was looking for had already happened to me. I understood that the intense pressure of suffering that night must have forced my consciousness to withdraw from its identification with the unhappy and deeply fearful self, which is ultimately a fiction of the mind. This withdrawal must have been so complete that this false, suffering self immediately collapsed, just as if a plug had been pulled out of an inflatable toy. What was left then was my true nature as the ever-present I am: consciousness in its pure state prior to identification with form. Later I also learned to go into that inner timeless and deathless realm that I had originally perceived as a void and remain fully conscious. I dwelt in states of such indescribable bliss and sacredness that even the original experience I just described pales in comparison. A time came when, for a while, I was left with nothing on the physical plane. I had no relationships, no job, no home, no socially defined identity. I spent almost two years sitting on park benches in a state of the most intense joy.
But even the most beautiful experiences come and go. More fundamental, perhaps, than any experience is the undercurrent of peace that has never left me since then. Sometimes it is very strong, almost palpable, and others can feel it too. At other times, it is somewhere in the background, like a distant melody.
Later, people would occasionally come up to me and say: ‘I want what you have. Can you give it to me, or show me how to get it?’ And I would say: ‘You have it already. You just can’t feel it because your mind is making too much noise.’ That answer later grew into my book, ‘The Power of Now’.
From The Power of Now, copyright 1999 by Eckhart Tolle.
The Awakening of Eckhart Tolle: interview
Could you briefly share with us the main experiences you bad that led you to become a spiritual teacher? You have a recently published book titled. The Power of Now: a Guide to Spiritual Enlightenment. In your book, you mentioned a very profound experience, or a "shift" that took place.
Yes. I was about twenty-nine, and had gone through years of depression and anxiety. I had even achieved some successes, like graduating with the highest mark at London University. Then an offer came for a Cambridge scholarship to do research. But the whole motivating power behind my academic success was fear and unhappiness.
It all changed one night when I woke up in the middle of the night. The fear, anxiety and heaviness of depression were becoming so intense, it was almost unbearable. And it is hard to describe that "state" where the world is felt to be so alien, just looking at a physical environment like a room. Everything was totally alien and almost hostile. I later saw a book written by Jean-Paul Sartre called Nausea. That was the state that I was in, nausea of the world. [Chuckle] And the thought came into my head, "I can't live with myself any longer." That thought kept repeating itself again and again.
And (then suddenly there was a "standing back" from the thought and Looking at that thought, at the structure of that thought," If I cannot live with myself, who is that self that I cannot live with? Who am I? Am I one—or two?" And I saw that I was "two." There was an "I," and (here was a self. And the self was deeply unhappy, the miserable self. And the burden of that I could not live with. At that moment, a dis-identification happened. "I" consciousness withdrew from its identification with the self, the mind-made fictitious entity, the unhappy "little me" and its story. And the fictitious entity collapsed completely in that moment, just as if a plug had been pulled out of an inflatable toy. What remained was a single sense of presence or "Beingness" which is pure consciousness prior to identification with form—the eternal I AM. I didn't know all of that at the time, of course. It just happened, and for a long time there was no understanding of what had happened.
As the self collapsed, there was still a moment of intense fear—after all, it was the death of "me." I felt like being sucked into a hole. But a voice from within said, "Resist nothing." So I let go. It was almost like I was being sucked into a void, not an external void, but a void within. And then fear disappeared and there was nothing that I remember after that except waking up in the morning in a state of total and complete "newness."
I woke up in a state of incredible inner peace, bliss in fact. With my eyes still closed, I heard the sound of a bird and realized how precious that was. And then I opened my eyes and saw the sunlight coming through the curtains and felt: There is far more to that than we realize. It felt like love coming through the curtains. And then as I walked around the old familiar objects in the room I realized I had never really seen them before. It was as if I had just been born into this world; a state of wonder. And then I went for a walk in the city. I was still in London. Everything was miraculous, deeply peaceful. Even the traffic. [Chuckle]
I knew something incredible had happened, although I didn't understand it. I even started writing down in a diary, "Something incredible has happened. I just want to write this down," I said, "in case it leaves me again or I lose it." And only later did I realize (that my thought processes after waking up that morning had been reduced by about eighty to ninety percent. So a lot of the time I was walking around in a state of inner stillness, and perceiving the world through inner stillness.
And that is the peace, the deep peace that comes when there is no longer anybody commenting on sense perceptions or anything that happens. No labeling, no need to interpret what is happening, it just is as it is and it is fine. [Laughter] There was no longer a "me" entity.
After that transformation happened, I could not have said anything about it. "Something happened. I am totally at peace. I don't know what it means." That is all I could have said. And it took years before there was some "understanding." And it took more years before it evolved into a "spiritual teaching ."That took time. The basic state is the same as then, but the external manifestation of the state as a teaching and the power of a teaching, that took time. It had to mature. So when I talk about it now to some extent, I add something to it. When I talk about the "original experience" something is added to it that I didn't know then.
Original interview here