So I just finished, “Stillness Speaks”, one of the best books I have come across in a very long time…and I won’t even beat around the bush: I highly, highly recommend it to all human beings. Written by contemporary spiritual teacher, Eckhart Tolle (author of NY Times best-seller, “The Power of Now“), the essence of the book is explained simply and written beautifully. The main concept discussed in the book is that of our eternal spiritual nature, the One universal energy that exists in all living beings, and the passing nature of the temporary formation we assign to our outer selves. Eckhart explains this using the concept of “silent stillness” in “The Now” to create conscious awareness of the present moment and acceptance as the key to end all suffering and attain the deepest peace in any situation.
Your mind thinks thoughts that cause you to feel emotions in your heart, which lead to actions and reactions in an endless cycle that most people never take the time to notice…but this is not who you are. All sadness exists in the past, and all fears exist in the future- in The Now, there is is only you, the True You, the I am.
“The stream of thinking has enormous momentum that can easily drag you along with it. Every thought pretends that it matters so much. Here is a new spiritual practice for you: Don’t take your thoughts too seriously…there is an aliveness in you that you can feel with your entire Being, not just in the head. Every cell is alive in that presence in which you don’t need to think.”
The point Eckhart is trying to make is that you are not your thoughts, you are the deeper “I” that is aware of having a thought. He points out that life always comes to an end in the form of death, and when this happens, all that will be left of all the thinking and suffering and problems that we put so much effort into will be the dash between the date of birth and death on your gravestone. Initially, his directness may seem blunt and morbid, but with sitting with the idea and accepting it completely comes a peace beyond the comprehension of the mind.
“The division of life into past, present, and future is mind-made and ultimately illusory, (and) the only thing that is real, is the Now. This one moment is the only thing you can never escape from…When you make friends with the present moment, you feel at home no matter where you are.”
He goes into explaining that the reason we are so focused on the past or the future, is to feed our Ego, and our physical sense of self.
“Desire is the need to add something to yourself in to be yourself more fully. All fear is the fear of losing something and thereby becoming diminished and being less…These two movements obscure the fact that Being cannot be given or taken away. Being is already within you, Now.”
Eckhart reminds us that there is no point in trying so hard to be a certain way in our outer form, because that resistance is what causes most suffering. Our thoughts, feelings, circumstances and external conditions are just that- external conditions separate from who we really are. There is no need to see any thing or person or situation as good or bad or form an opinion on matters that are not of great importance to you. In his example, he compares the opinion, “It is such a miserable day” to the statement, “It is raining”. He challenges, can you go about life in mere acceptance, rather than forming your own opinions about everything?
“Surrender becomes so much easier when you realize the fleeting nature of all experiences and the the world cannot give you anything of lasting value…(then) you no longer demand that a situation, person, place, or event should satisfy you or make you happy. Its passing and imperfect nature is allowed to be.”
His next chapters then discuss nature and meditation and practicing just Being. We are not separate from nature; we are all part of the same Power that presents itself in various forms throughout the universe. Paying attention to breathing, the natural process that requires no added effort, or noticing the nature of a tree, or flower, or plant and its ability to just Be, is a simple practice that can help increase awareness of our true selves and serve as the first step to finding comfort in the Now.
“The playfulness and joy of a dog, in its unconditional love and readiness to celebrate life at any moment, often contrast sharply with the inner state of the dog’s owner- depressed, anxious, burdened by problems, lost in thought…One wonders, living with this person, how does the dog manage to remain so sane, so joyous?”
My favorite parts came towards the end, when Eckhart goes beyond the ideas of just Being, in the Now, and discusses applying these concepts in daily life in the real world. His chapter on relationships speaks of the difference between knowing someone, and knowing about someone. The truth is, if you take away all the judgments and beliefs about a person, and give them your present attention, you can see their Being. Their Being, that is exactly the same as yours, and then you are able to interact without egoist concepts:
“How wonderful to go beyond (desire) and fear in your relationships. Love does not want or fear anything.”
Eckhart concludes by mentioning death, suffering, and the end of suffering.
“Death is not the opposite of life. Life has no opposite. The opposite of death is birth. Life is eternal.”
Feeding our egoic identity is our greatest desire. Losing that in death is our greatest fear. To simply Be, in The Now, requires no desires or fears. When we let go of ego, we no longer have a need to build our worldly identity. When we let go of the strong desire to build our worldly identity, we no longer have fear of losing that identity- we no longer have fear of death. Acceptance of everything exactly as it is is total freedom and the end of all suffering. And applying this philosophy to daily life and interactions with others, according to Eckhart, is what will provide the peace we are all looking for.