An Interview with Eckhart Tolle by Michael Bertrand


How are things for you these days? Are you very busy? How are you handling all the attention thatís coming your way?

Well, the book came out two and a half years ago now and certainly my external life has changed dramatically with a lot of traveling and talking. I used to live a very sheltered life and now it seems to be the opposite of that. Iím out there in the world all the time. Iím actually quite enjoying it, but I am perhaps at heart a hermit so I love to take time off where I donít travel or see people and Iím just alone in stillness.

Iím amazed how many people responded to the book. I never expected that many people to respond to it. I knew the book would be around for a long time. I thought it might grow very slowly but itís growing very quickly now.

What people reading this might be most interested in is what is the teaching that you describe in the book and in your talks?

The essence, the very foundation, of the teaching is that a different state of consciousness is possible for humans. The state of consciousness that is considered normal and that has been running human history for thousands of years is not the only possible state of consciousness. Itís also not the most advanced state possible for humans.

Itís nothing new. All the great teachings and teachers have pointed to the fact, since the normal state of consciousness is a state that is extremely deficient, a state that in the ancient teachings has been called suffering. The Buddha called it suffering, Jesus called it a state of sin and illusion, and the Hindus call it a state of illusion.

So, all ancient teachings agree that the normal human state of consciousness is, as I call it, a state of insanity. Anybody can verify this for themselves if they look at human history, 90 percent of whichóreally, if you look at it objectivelyówould be called the history of collective insanity, with the enormous amount of suffering inflicted by humans on other humans and on themselves and other species.

The second part of the teaching is that itís possible to enter that state now. Not only is it possible to enter it now, but the only time when you can enter that state of consciousness is in the Now; not needing the future in order to arrive at a projected state of consciousness, but realizing that new state of consciousness one that is free of time.

The main characteristic of the old state of consciousness is that it is dominated by past and future, in other words by time. If you observe the workings of your mind you will see that youíre almost never in the present moment. The mind is always engaged in projecting a future, thinking about the future, trying to get to the future or reviving the past.

All ancient teachings agree that the normal human state of consciousness is, as I call it, a state of insanity.

The old state of consciousness is also a state of identification with thought processes. Now what does that mean? To be identified means to derive your sense of self, of who you are from thought movements, to be completely trapped in the mental noise, to have your identity in the mental noise.

Then your whole sense of self is derived from thought, which means an image forms in the head of "who I am," of "thatís me," and that image is always ill at ease, even in the people who look very confident. The self image of the Little Me as I call it, a mind-made sense of self or ego, is always ill at ease. This sense of self needs conflict in order to feel that it exists. It cannot tolerate a prolonged period of non-conflict because the Little Me depends for its continuous existence on the feeling of separateness.

It defines itself as "me" and "other," which is not me. So, the more I can be in conflict with the not me the stronger myóultimately illusoryósense of self becomes. The ego tells you continuously that it wants to get out of conflict. Itís looking for happiness, but the ego is constructed in such a way that the state of happiness it says it looks for it cannot afford to find when its very survival depends on conflict.

So one could come right to the edge of, say, moving into a selfless, non-egoic state and then pull back. You could get very far and then the ego just marshals all its forces. How does one get through that?

First of all, itís true that you can get to the edge and then pull back because peace is too threatening for the mind-made ego self. The first thing is to realize that unhappiness, dissatisfaction and discontent always seem to be caused by external factors but thatís an illusion. They are built into the very structure of the egoic mind and that is the essence of the old consciousness.

It is an amazing realization that no matter where you go those structures will go with you. You could go into the most paradisiacal island or to a planet that is heaven, but you would still be carrying with you the structures of the egoic mind and it will transform heaven into hell. Itís an enormous step forward to realize for oneself that all the unhappiness, discontent and conflict in most peopleís lives originate within the structures of our minds rather than being externally caused.

When you see very clearly what the origin of the state of non-freedom is, that is the beginning of liberation. Itís actually already the beginning of the new state of consciousness. One could say that as soon as you begin to be able to witness the workings of your mind instead of being totally identified with them (and I include emotions in that because they are the reflections in the body of what the mind is doing), this is already the arising of the new state of consciousness.

Then you watch how discontent arises, how unhappiness arises and then you look more deeply and you see the very root cause: It denies or resists or fights against the present moment. The very root cause which keeps the structures of unhappiness going is the refusal to accept life totally and say "yes" to this moment.

The moment you say yes to what is, youíre no longer resisting life, because life is always now. The non-acceptance of what is lies at the basis of the egoic sense of self because it grows stronger through fighting and resisting and saying, "No, no, no." Then the illusory sense of who I am get stronger. So, the illusion gets stronger, the ego gets stronger, the suffering gets stronger. They all go together. The ego loves that.

So, itís not surprising that if you look at human history you see how mad it is and you can see that it all originates in the structures of the human mind. It created that hell on a planet that is basically paradise.

In order to feel the present moment, I have to find a way to feel what I havenít been feeling. I have to get beyond the pretense or the shield thatís over my heart, to somehow get through that to even get to the place of thinking about it.

Yes. Very often there is denial of what is happening in the present moment, not wanting it to happen, which includes whatís happening inside you at that moment, to completely say "yes" to whatever emotion may be there or whatever your inner state may be at this moment or to completely say "yes" to whatever the external situation may be at this moment. Itís too late to fight it because it is. You canít fight what is.

You can take action on the basis of your acceptance of what is. Action that arises out of that acceptance is very empowered. Action that arises out of a negative state of resistance and denial and saying Ďno.í can also sometimes contain a lot of energy, but it is contaminated with heavy negativity. It comes out of the saying Ďnoí and itís there to strengthen or defend the egoic sense of self. So, whatever action arises out of that would, in Eastern terms, be called "karmic" which produces further karma and further suffering.

The moment you say yes to what is, youíre no longer resisting life, because life is always now.

A very radical shift in human consciousness is possible, but when I say that, the egoic mind will immediately come in and say, "Okay, just tell me how to get there and I will draw up a plan and weíll get there at some point in the future." The ego will project a state of perfection that "I can reach at some future time" and it will strive towards that. That means it has taken the message of liberation and incorporated it into its old structures of "at some point in the future I will be okay and complete and fulfilled and whole. I just need to get there. In the meantime, Iím unhappy because Iím not there yet."

So, how can one drop into the Now?

Very good question. Whenever you are observing what your mind emotions are doing, witnessing what is going on inside you, the state of presence is already arising. You can watch all of this, how noisy your mind is. When youíre suddenly aware of it, that ability to watch means youíve dropped out of the time-bound state. Something has arisen that is very different. I call it the state of presence.

So, again, one could almost say there is no how. That state of consciousness, which I call the state of presence, being fully present in the Now, is the state of high alertness. Some people have experienced it in certain situations of great danger accidentally. That can be good if one remembers being in a state of intense aliveness where there was also absence of thinking and of mental noise, just a state of intense alert presence.

People who climb mountains or engage in other dangerous activities love that state. Itís the only time when they can be in that state. If they were in past or future climbing a steep wall they wouldnít survive for very long. So, in some situations youíre forced into a state of presence and itís so alive and fulfilling that the old state becomes very unsatisfying.

People keep wanting to go back and have more experiences so they can be in that state.

Yes, but itís very limiting if the only place where you can be in that state is where you engage in dangerous activities. Ultimately the risk is very high that something will happen and you will drop off the mountain.

That state of consciousness that I call presence, the good news is that state is actually arising now almost by itself in many humans. So itís not so much that we need to bring it about, "How can I make it happen?" We canít. Rather itís being open for it so it can happen with greater ease.

So hardly any of us are going to have some flashing moment of realization.

Some do, but thatís not necessary. Gradually a state arising that is inner stillness rather than noise, a state when mind activity becomes secondary. All the mental noise no longer has the power to grab you and to draw your attention in so completely that youíre totally identified with it. You begin to be able to see thinking as just thinking, not such a big deal, and you realize that all the problems that you and most humans are burdened with are mental noise.

Thereís no reality to any problem. Iím not saying that challenges donít exist in life. Challenges come, but the only way they can exist is in the Now and thatís the only place where you can face the challenge by taking action in the Now or surrendering to what is. In either case itís not a problem.

You can verify this for yourself by asking, "What problem do I have at this moment?" When you ask that question the mind becomes still and you realize this moment is actually fine, because most moments are fine. Even when they donít look fine on the surface, if you become still enough the present moment always has a deep goodness to it underneath the external appearance of whatís happening in it because the very power of your being is inseparable from what I call the Now.
Ultimately the Now is the power of your consciousness prior to thought, prior to forms arising out of it.

What youíre saying would sound quite familiar to someone studying Buddhist Vippasana meditation techniques, using the practice of watching the breath and just noticing what arises. Are you bringing a message thatís akin to that or is it different from what one would experience in practicing that technique?

The essence of the Buddhaís message was that, also. Meditation methods are aimed also at bringing about the state of presence, although he never used those words. The drawback with any technique, although they may work occasionally but only ultimately when you drop the technique, is that it gives you time.

Thereís a chapter in the book that is called The Inner Body. Some people say itís a wonderful technique, but what I call the inner body is to feel all the time the energy field that permeates the physical body. The invisible energy field, the animating presence, is in every cell of the body. To consciously be in and inhabit the body, even when engaged in activities or talking or listening, is to have some attention in the inner energy field of the body.

I wouldnít call it a technique because itís too simple. The oak tree when it feels its roots deep in the earth isnít practicing any technique. Itís a state of being. And not to be drawn back continuously into identification with the mental noise is simply to have attention in the inner energy field of the body.

To sense, to feel the body from within keeps you present. That keeps you present and itís really all you need. If you want to call it a technique thatís fine, but itís so simple there isnít much to it. If you inhabit the body, youíre open to the state of presence and it becomes a whole body state.

You become present with every cell of the body. You feel that state of alert and alive presence in your feet, your arms, your chest, your head. Itís an entire body state. There you are in the Now in that state of still alertness and whatever needs to happen comes out of that state. In other words, the higher consciousness is already operating, no longer the limited conditioned noisy human mind but a far greater intelligence. The intelligence that runs the body is far greater than that of the conscious mind. So you connect with that.

The whole of nature, the beauty of the flower, unfolds in complete silence.

Then your whole life can be an expression of no longer being Little Me trying to make it, trying to survive or succeed, always trying, trying, trying. Instead you become an expression of that consciousness, the very intelligence that runs the universe, realizing that youíre far greater than you could every have imagined coming from the Little Me trying to become a Big Me.

Thatís the state of just inhabiting the body. That becomes an anchor for staying present. Itís also the entry point into that state of beautiful inner stillness where the mental noise subsides and youíre then highly conscious without noise. The amazing thing then is that intelligence operates noiselessly.

Humans think that intelligence is associated with thinking. Thinking is just a tiny aspect of intelligence, but most intelligence, the whole of nature, the trees, grow in complete silence. The embryo in the womb grows silently. It doesnít make a noise. The whole of nature, the beauty of the flower, unfolds in complete silence.

The galaxies exist in total silence and stillness and yet thereís incredible activity there, so theyíre all expressions of intelligence that is at work silently. Itís only in humans that intelligence, in its limited expression as the human mind, is very noisy. The far greater intelligence that is at work within yourself operates in silence. That is the state of presence which is inseparable from inner stillness.

That becomes your dwelling place, your home. You can still think when itís needed. Thought will arise, but it will be in the service of that deeper field of stillness, of being, no longer self-serving thought. Thereís no effort, no trying to make it happen. That would be the opposite of it. Itís simply being open for it to happen because it wants to happen.

Some people read the book and it happens. They experience inner transformation because thereís an energy that comes with the words that triggers the state. Itís like saying, "Donít you remember?" Or people read the book and realize itís already arisen in them before but they didnít have a name for it.

Some people also come to your lectures and experience or hope to experience it.

Yes. It can be very helpful to be in the energy field of presence in a group. Itís not the words. Some people come to all my talks. They must have listened many times. I basically always talk about the same things. So, after a while they donít come for the information or the words any more. They come for the energy field of presence and may hardly listen to the words.

Is that something you see as coming from you?

It depends what you mean by "you." It doesnít come from me. It comes through me. Itís deeper. Itís a movement of consciousness. I mean that the form that I am is like the window frame for it and then the light comes through the window.

Some people arrive for talks an hour early because they want to sit close to me, not to be near the form of me but to be with the light. It has nothing much to do with the window.

One way of putting it is that itís not me and that it happens through me. But, it would be more true to say that the consciousness which operates through me is ultimately who I am, not the me that is the physical form that people see. That consciousness is also who you are. So, when people come, sometimes from halfway around the world, to a talk they donít really come to see or hear me. They come to be with themselves, for the first time to be completely themselves, getting out of the conditioning and the identification with mental noise and emotions and simply be who you are.

If I forget that ultimately Iím nobody, then that would be the return of the ego.

Itís strange that they need to travel a long way to be with themselves, but it works. Then, after a while, you donít need to travel anymore to be with yourself.

So, youíre hoping that people donít feel they have to come and sit with you to get this experience.

No. For a while itís useful, but after that it needs to happen from within. Itís fine as long as they feel itís helpful to have the external reflection of it, but not become dependent on it. I occasionally tell people to go away for a while so they donít become dependent. Now, with the talks getting bigger I canít do that so I must just trust that it will be fine and people wonít become dependent.

Words are useful here, because I do point out that this needs to be lived rather than coming once a month or every two weeks to a talk. That state of consciousness needs to arise every moment, no matter what activities youíre engaged in and particularly when life challenges you. Thatís always the test of where youíre at as far as your state of consciousness is concerned. How you deal with the challenges and whether the old reactive mind comes in or whether the challenge makes you more present.

More and more people are able to become more present with every challenge. In other words, something happens that the mind would in the past have judged as bad or negative and want to get away from or become angry about and resist and fight and deny, suddenly the same challenge brings about a state of greater inner stillness and alertness. Then action arises that is just right for that moment and that situation, no longer the reactive mind operating out of its old conditioning.

Challenges are wonderful things. With everything challenge comes the opportunity of being intensely present and then action happens if itís needed.

You see teachers struggling with how to handle the adulation and appreciation that comes to them without getting bound up into it or torn apart by it.

Thatís a challenge every spiritual teacher will be faced with at some point. In some the ego comes back because theyíre bombarded with projections of specialness. The ego always thinks of itself as special either in greatness or misery. My problems, my achievements, my failures, my sufferings are special. The danger is that at some point he or she begins to believe that the form, me, is special. Of course, thatís the beginning of the end of the spiritual teacher.

So, I led a very secluded existence for many years being nobody in the eyes of the world. A few people came, sometimes for spiritual teaching, but not many. I was happy being nobody and Iím still nobody, but in the eyes of the world now Iím somebody. If I forget that ultimately Iím nobody then that would be the return of the ego.

Itís a challenge, but so far it seems to be fine. I donít believe that now I have become somebody. The power that comes through can sometimes be very intense and wonderful. Thatís fine if thereís no me that identifies with it as my power. Itís beautiful.

So thatís your job. To be nobody.

Yes, thatís right.

Thatís a lovely paradox.

Yes. I donít feel any different inside from the way I felt a few years ago when I was a hermit. It still feels exactly the same inside. And, I donít have a mental image of myself as a spiritual teacher. When people go and Iím alone there really isnít anybody there. Itís just a state of stillness. I donít carry around inside me the image of me as a spiritual teacher. That would be the beginning of suffering.

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