An Interview with Eckhart Tolle by Mary O'Malley
We are living in a most incredible time, a time where more and
more people are reawakening to life, to the field of Being that is
available in the present moment. In this reawakening, we are ready
to let go of defining ourselves from the content of thought and
discover ourselves as something much bigger and grander than that.
Yes. For many thousands of years, we have lived identified
with the conditioned mind, deriving from it a narrow and ultimately
illusory sense of self, a "little me" - always struggling, fearful,
uneasy, in conflict with itself and others. We are now opening into
our natural state of "self," oneness with Being - the vast realm of
consciousness or universal intelligence itself, of which the
thinking mind is only a tiny aspect. This is the realm of inner
stillness from where all the things arise that make life worth
living: creativity, peace, aliveness, joy, love.
We each awakened to the unconditioned in different ways. Your
experience was a spontaneous awakening. Mine was an initial
awakening and then a many-year journey in which I had to see and let
go of the conditioned mind.
For most people, it is a gradual process, such as you
experienced. This dimension emerges within them. It wants to emerge.
For me, it happened suddenly, in my 29th year. I was in the middle
of a suicidal depression, contemplating killing myself. The thought
"I cannot live with myself any longer" kept repeating itself in my
mind. Then, suddenly, I became aware of the strangeness of that
thought. "If 'I' cannot live with 'myself,' there must be two of me:
the 'I' and the 'self' I cannot live with." In that moment, my
consciousness withdrew its identification from the unhappy, deeply
conditioned and very fearful self. The withdrawal must have been so
complete that this false, suffering self collapsed completely, much
like a plug had been pulled out of an inflatable toy. What was left
was my true nature as the ever-present I AM: consciousness in its
pure state prior to identification with form. I woke up the next day
in bliss, which comes and goes. But the undercurrent of peace has
never left me since then.
What do you see as the major obstacle to knowing the
To not be able to stop thinking. This is a dreadful
affliction, but we don't realize this because almost everybody is
suffering from it. So it is considered normal. This incessant mental
noise prevents you from finding that realm of inner stillness that
is inseparable from Being. It also creates a false mind-made self
that casts a shadow of fear and suffering.
For me, the conditioned mind was full of fear. I truly tried
to fix it and get rid of it. This only made me more contracted and
cut off from life. It was only when I began to be able to see
thought that I could become still and open again to life.
Opening to life implies you are no longer interpreting the
present moment in any way. That is the state of freedom. When you
can allow this moment to be as it is without needing to label it
wanting it to be different than what it is, you open to the vast
power that is concealed in the present moment. It was always there,
but it was covered up. This connection has nothing to do with the
circumstances of your life at that moment. In fact, for many people
it happens when the outer circumstances are so-called "bad." It is
the simple fact that you have allowed this moment to be that does
In my book, I go into passionate detail about the senses, for
to me they are a doorway back into Being. As people let go of the
busyness of life and cultivate their senses, they awaken again to
the pure joy that is contained within the now.
To be aware of your senses is a doorway into the present
moment, into the state of presence. What that implies is that in
that moment of acute awareness, the mind has become still. That is
the state of consciousness that is free of thought, and that is the
most precious thing that could ever happen to you. Some people
experience it accidentally in a moment of danger, beauty, physical
exhaustion. We now realize that we can consciously choose to enter
In my awakening, one of the most difficult things I had to
deal with was the opening and closing, the remembering and the
forgetting. Experiencing the state of Being and then watching the
conditioned mind turn it all into a problem again, I knew grief.
Problems are embedded in the very structure of the
conditioned mind. To survive and stay in control, the mind needs
problems. It will never say that openly. It will say, "I want to be
free of problems," but it always recreates problems. A quick way,
when you observe problems arising, is to ask, "What is the problem
in this moment?" Then become very alert to the reality of this
moment and see if the problem has any reality right now.
And it usually doesn't! I can now watch my struggling mind
with great tenderness. I think the reason why I can see it so
clearly is that my heart is open to it. I have such mercy for this
mind that has desperately tried to keep me "safe" until I became
conscious enough to discover that I am safe.
Recognizing that there never is a problem in the present
moment is a very revolutionary realization. Sometimes, that is
misinterpreted by the mind. It says that you are denying reality by
not focusing on these problems. Of course, it is not that at all.
There will always be challenges in life. The ability to deal with
challenges is far greater when the attention is fully in the now
rather than in the state of resistance. You can then ask, "In this
moment, is there anything I can do?" If so, then doing happens;
action is taken. Or maybe there is nothing you can do in the moment,
and this moment is accepted the way it is. It enormously simplifies
life. Challenges no longer turn into problems, and the heaviness
goes out of life.
Another thing that helped immensely in my awakening is to not
resist what is happening.
To welcome whatever arises in this moment is the ultimate
spiritual practice. If you practice just this one thing, you won't
need to read any more books or learn any other meditation
techniques. Welcoming whatever arises in this moment, outside or
inside of you, brings freedom. The conditioned mind will tell you
not to do this, for it believes that by resisting, it will become
free. The opposite is true. By resisting, you become even more
stuck. When you no longer believe what the mind is saying, you
realize that the quickest way for transformation to happen is to
welcome what is. In that moment, life is free to move through you.
The conditioned mind is no longer obstructing life.
When speaking about cultivating the now, it is easy to think
that we are "putting down" the mind and its belief in the past and
the future. It is not that at all. It is an exquisite tool that is
needed to maneuver through life, but for most of us it has taken
over our life.
It is just self-identification with the mind that causes
suffering. When this happens, the mind has a compulsive quality.
When that goes, then the mind is a wonderful tool that can give
expression to what arises from the deeper levels. In daily life, you
need the past and the future, but your identity does not need to
come from them. The illusion is to seek identity in the past, to
identify with the past as "me." The other illusion is seeking
fulfillment in the future: I need to become something; become more
complete; one day I will get there. Even enlightenment can become an
illusion, if you seek it as some future state. When cultivating the
now, you still remember things from the past, but the self-seeking
has gone out of this remembering. And you still use the future for
practical matters. The grasping and clinging, which is a recipe for
non-fulfillment, isn't there anymore.
The more I cultivate the now, the more joy I feel. My whole
body experiences radiance as I soften and open back into life.
I call what you are experiencing the "inner body." Some
people call it the light body. It is a general sense of aliveness
throughout every cell of the body. The state of presence is not a
head state; your entire being participates in it.
When I heard you speak last summer, I let go of listening to
your words and opened to this light body.
When one speaks from stillness, the words carry an energy
transmission, a vibration. It is as if the words are secondary. It
is the energy that comes with the words - or rather the stillness
beneath the words - that is the greatest teaching.
Would you like to leave us with a last thought?
People say that living in the now is hard. The opposite is
true. The normal way is hard, not living in the now. To welcome the
now is to welcome life itself, for the now is inseparable from life.
So don't make the now into an enemy. Make friends with it. In other
words, accept each moment and whatever it contains as if you had
chosen it. Immediately, life will begin to work for you, rather than
against you. Then watch the miracle of life unfold.
Mary O'Malley is a counselor and spiritual teacher from
Kirkland, Washington, and the author of Belonging to Life: The
Journey of A wakening. http://www.maryomalley.com