By: Aisling Cronin / Interviewer: Paul Congdon
Eckhart Tolle is a well-known writer and spiritual teacher, whose books ‘The Power of Now’ and ‘A New Earth’ have become seminal works within the field of self-development. Ahead of his planned appearance in Dublin in September, we heard about his thoughts on Jesus, his love of dogs, and his experiment with LSD.
Last time we spoke, you mentioned that you were writing a book on Jesus. How has that evolved and what are you currently working on?
I can’t say exactly when my writings are going to evolve into a book. There are many aspects of Jesus that are very important to understand: the actual person, the mythological figure, and the spiritual teacher, for example. However, I can say that Jesus’ teachings have more depth than, perhaps, many regular churchgoers realise. The essence of Jesus’ teachings is the transformation of human consciousness, and a recognition that there is a dysfunction within it. ‘Salvation’, in the terminology that he uses, is transcending the dysfunction that we inherit, which is sometimes referred to in Christianity as ‘Original Sin’. You can see that dysfunction clearly when you read history or watch the news tonight.
A lot has happened since we last spoke in 2015, and we have seen an increase in fear based politics in the USA and Britain. How can we navigate times like these?
The main thing is not to be drawn too much into reactivity, believing that the problem lies within individual people or groups. What we see on the news are movements of underlying unconsciousness that have to come to the surface to play themselves out. Unconsciousness always has to come to the surface. If it is not recognised within oneself, it is experienced as an outer event. The external world becomes a reflection of your inner world. This applies both to the individual and the collective. These events can definitely seem negative from one perspective, but seen from a higher spiritual perspective, they are necessary for the awakening of humanity.
Many people felt that the world was a kinder place at the time of Barack Obama’s inauguration, and that we have moved backwards since then. During the 1960s, a similar feeling of positivity and upward movement existed: a sense that peace really was coming. What is your feeling on this?
The evolution of consciousness is not a straight upward movement. It is cyclical, and always involves a regressive period. After a regressive period, you move forward again – further than you had done before. I believe that we are now experiencing a regressive movement, but not every individual alive now will be drawn into that movement. Those humans who are completely unconscious will have to go through that experience of suffering most strongly. Simply be as conscious as you can, and do not make any human being or group of human beings into ‘the enemy’. On social media, for example, you can see an enormous amount of reactivity and anger, so it is particularly important to bring the bright light of consciousness into all of your online interactions.
When you see someone close to you – perhaps a friend or family member – behave unconsciously, how best can you call that person out for their behaviour?
It is vital that when you do that, you yourself are free of reactivity or aggressiveness, and that you are not demonising the other person or making them ‘wrong’. You must communicate with the person while they are relatively conscious. All humans exhibit various degrees of unconsciousness at different times and in different ways, and it is a very delicate thing to point out to somebody that they have been behaving unconsciously. The most important thing is that you need to be totally present and conscious when you point it out … otherwise, you will be drawn into a fight.
When you had your spiritual awakening, you said that you had experienced an ’80% reduction’ in your thoughts. Has that level been maintained?
Oh yes. The most wonderful thing about that shift in consciousness – the transformation that I continue to experience every day – is that I am no longer tortured by my mind. For example, when I go to bed and I close my eyes, I can immediately dismiss all thought and simply be present in my body. There are also many times during the day when there is nothing much to think about, and I simply enjoy sensory experiences like looking out at the sky and the trees.
Do you spend a lot of time in nature?
Yes, I do. Here in Vancouver, I live in an apartment building right next to a nature spot. When I look out of the window right now, I see huge, wonderful trees, snowcapped mountains in the background, and a clear blue sky. It’s wonderful just to sit here and contemplate. I often go for walks in the forest or on the beach.
We’ve heard that you are a huge fan of dogs. Do you have a dog who accompanies you on those nature walks?
At the moment, I do not have a dog, but sometimes I look after other people’s dogs. I do love their wonderful rootedness – how they are so firmly centred in the present moment – and the joy they exhibit. A dog does not constantly ask themselves, “Do I love myself? Do I hate myself? Do I have a complicated relationship with myself?” A dog just is. Animals are conscious, but do not have a stream of conceptual thought running through their heads all the time. They haven’t arrived at thinking yet, and they are still more rooted in being. Once humans transcend the level of thought, we return to that state, but with an added dimension of awareness that the dog does not have. However, it is true to say that for many people, their cat or dog keeps them sane, as they simply accept them the way they are, without interference from the conceptual, judgemental mind.
Recently in the spiritual community, there has been a lot of talk about plant medicine. Do you see it as a road to enlightenment?
I don’t see it as a road to true and lasting awakening, but it can give people a glimpse of freedom from the prison of their conceptual mind. Years ago, I was asked a lot of questions about LSD and acid, so I tried acid because I couldn’t really answer the questions if I didn’t! I’ve never felt the desire to repeat that experience, but I could see that for some people, the enormous amplification of sensory experience – as if somebody had ‘turned up the volume’, not only on hearing but also on smell and colour – would give them very little room for compulsive thought. The use of plant medicine can be an opening for some people, but ultimately, from there, you have to go to ‘presence practice’ in your daily life, and not be dependent on any substance.
What is your advice for people who want to bring themselves into the present moment?
Don’t wait for some imagined future state of liberation or awakening that you want to achieve. Simply accept what is, in the present moment. Accept each moment as if you had chosen it, and then you will already be liberated. You will already be awakened. There is nothing to look for anymore.
What advice would you give to parents on how to help their children?
The most important thing is to give them attention. Much of the time, when parents think they are giving attention to their children, they are doing so through the medium of ‘do this’ or ‘don’t do that’. Giving attention means to look at a child and to listen: to truly be present and communicate with that child. Give your child the gift of your presence. In that way, your essence will reach the child’s essence, and they will feel truly recognised.
Eckhart Tolle will be speaking in Dublin on September 9th in the RDS, Ballsbridge, Dublin. For more information about the talk, go to: seminars.ie