The following is Part 1 of a dialogue between Eckhart Tolle and Mary O’Malley which took place in 1995. She first met him when she attended a small gathering in Vacouver, BC, before “The Power of Now” was published, and recognizing that he was “the real thing,” she invited him to give a talk in Kirkland, Washington. This dialogue ensued that week-end while he was staying in her home.
Mary: 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.
Eckhart: 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.
Mary: 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 where I had to see and let go of the conditioned mind.
Eckhart: 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 t6hought. “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 go. But the undercurrent of peace has never left me since then.
Mary: What do you see as the major obstacle to knowing the unconditioned consciousness?
Eckhart: 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.
Mary: 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.
Eckhart: 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 or to want 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 it.
Mary: In my book I go into passionate detail about the senses for to me they are a doorway back into Being. On my retreats, as people let go of the busyness of life and cultivate their senses, I watch as they awaken again to the pure joy that is contained within the Now.
Eckhart: 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 we can consciously choose to enter that state.
Mary: In my awakening, one of the most difficult things I had to deal with was the opening and closing – the remembering and the forgetting. To experience the state of Being and then watch the conditioned mind turn it all into a problem again, I knew grief.
Eckhart: 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.
Mary: 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 I was safe.
(to be continued next week)