Eckhart Tolle is a spiritual teacher and author of the New York Times bestsellers The Power of Now and A New Earth. In this interview about Living a Life of Presence, he answers some of the most common questions from his readers and live audiences related to intuition, gratitude, and teaching young people mindfulness.
LA YOGA: Eckhart, how do we find balance between our individual will and the natural flow of life?
Eckhart Tolle: By living aligned with the present moment, you also align your will with the universal will.
As long as you are in resistance to the present, you will be trapped in the egoic will. The egoic will needs to surrender to the present so you can align yourself with “what is.” This looks at first like a position of weakness, and it can be misinterpreted as something that prevents you from taking effective action. But in truth, the acceptance of “what is” allows you to better respond to whatever the present moment requires.
If you are stuck in the mud somewhere, you don’t say, “Okay, I am in the mud, I have to accept it, and here I amI’m not taking any action because I have to accept what is.” This moment is already always as it is, and there’s nothing you can do about that. That is what you accept.
With the simple act of surrender to the present moment, another energy comes. You could call that universal will, you could call that intelligence, you could call that the creative solution to whatever the so-called “problem” is. You and the Universe become one, and as such the Universe creates through you. That’s the beauty of it.
LA YOGA: Can you tell us more about this “creating with the universe?”
ET: When the unmanifested flows into this world, it assumes form. Most thoughts that people have in the unawakened state are repetitive and familiar. All you can rely on, then, is what you have accumulated in the past. You deal with things through conditioned thinking. But when the simple act of surrender opens your mind, the mind can be used as an instrument. The Universe uses you as a channel through which to create.
The most essential thing to remember is this idea of “awakened doing” as I sometimes call it. The world is full of people who are doing, but it’s mostly unawakened doing. This comes out of unhappy states, and creates more unhappy states. Our first task is to bring the dimension of awakened doing into this world.
With your normal everyday life, see if presence can flow into the smallest things—listening to another person, walking from here to there. Notice the still awareness this brings. Then after a little while, you will notice that there is another aspect to presence—a dynamic aspect. This is where “awakened doing” comes in.
First, it changes the way in which you deal with others. Something wants to be done, and suddenly you know what you need to do. Then, “awakened doing” begins to happen. Not the egoic doing, where whatever you do is a means to an end. There is deep enjoyment in “awakened doing.” As presence moves through you, doing is not based on achievement or desire anymore—it’s based on enjoyment. It’s not based on wanting or needing anything, because you’re coming from fullness. The action is not designed to add something to you—it is coming out of the fullness in which you already dwell.
LA YOGA: What if we find ourselves in a situation that seems impossible, where there seems to be no effective action to take?
ET: There are many situations where action at this moment isn’t possible. Sometimes there’s nothing you can do; however, you can continue to be present.
Holding that space of simple presence often activates other factors that then come in, seemingly from the outside, to change the situation. That is why people speak of synchronicity. Suddenly the right person appears, the right thing happens. It seems like a miracle, because most of us don’t realize that this is natural.
When something drastic happens, if you can learn to accept it, a little bit of spaciousness comes into your life. You say, “This is what is.” A little bit of space may open, and you’re no longer just a resisting entity. You find peace. This is how something seemingly bad becomes an opening for the realization of who you truly are.
LA YOGA: Could you tell us your thoughts on the phenomenon of “intuition?”
ET: You could say that intuition is a kind of knowing where you don’t know how you got there. It’s a sudden arising of knowledge.
Intuition is not arrived at by thinking or by logic. It’s arrived at in a way that we cannot explain. It is closely related to creativity and inspiration. It is given to you. It is given to all great artists, musicians, writers, and even great scientists who made deep discoveries that were revolutionary. It’s vital for every human being to contact that place within, where intuition arises because, otherwise, you are confined to the limitations of your conceptual mind.
Without intuition, your life is just repetitive, and no new ideas can come. If it’s a fresh and new idea, it comes from a place where all creativity arises—the stillness within. If you can be still even for a moment, then there’s a possibility that intuition will arise, and you’ve surprised yourself. Suddenly a deeper intelligence comes and uses your mind.
LA YOGA: Is it possible to develop our intuition?
ET: I think so. The easiest way to develop it is to develop the ability to be still. Rather than “trying” to develop intuition, go to the place where all intuition arises. You don’t need to worry about becoming more intuitive if you focus more on being still. Not necessarily for long periods of time, but just a little so that every day is interspersed with moments of stillness.
Wherever you are, there are always opportunities for a moment of stillness. And that is vital, because otherwise your life will be unbalanced. If you don’t find stillness, all you have is activity—one thing after another. This covers up your potential intuitive faculty continuously. Seek out moments of stillness. There are so many opportunities for stillness. Even the busiest person can do it. Stillness is where intuition arises.
LA YOGA: How does gratitude relate to stillness and presence?
ET: When people say, “Oh I really should be grateful, because look at this person—they are worse off than I am, so I should be grateful.” This is a superficial form of gratitude, arrived at through thinking. But there are deeper forms of gratitude, not arrived at through some conceptual process. More fundamental is the deep sense of appreciation. It’s not what you are telling yourself in your head. It’s what you sense in the present moment. It’s an appreciation of this moment.
When I say “appreciation,” I mean you feel that the world around you is alive and share in this aliveness. You sense the aliveness of what’s around you through your own aliveness. And with that comes the feeling, “It’s good to be alive.” There is no longer a separation created by excessive conceptual thinking. Through that appreciation, you sense a Oneness with what’s outside and what’s inside.
LA YOGA: How can we be grateful when faced with difficult circumstances?
ET: With gratitude, there is a sense of allowing the present moment to be as it is. There is no longer a denial or a rejection of “what is.” The greatest form of suffering and frustration and non-fulfillment is the clash between the mental story of what “should” be and “what is.” That’s the root of the madness. There cannot be gratitude when that operates in your life.
When something seemingly negative happens, people may find it very hard to say, “Okay, I should be grateful, even for this.” I’m not saying you should do that because even that is an idea in your head. It’s better to forget about trying to be grateful when something seemingly negative happens. Simply let go of the mental judgment of it and say, “This is what is, this is what happened, and this is the situation now.” If you can be free of mental judgment, denial, and projection, then something deeper emerges.
So when something seemingly bad happens, say “This is.” If you’re open to the “is-ness,” something within you, which we could call “peace,” arises. Then you’re not grateful for the seemingly bad thing, but you’re grateful that you can still be at peace, even in this situation. And what is that peace? It’s an inner sense of aliveness and presence. It’s the source of all gratitude.
LA YOGA: As parents or educators, can we help children to be more conscious and present, or is it necessary for them to go through it on their own?
ET: The most powerful teaching is not what you say to children or even what you do, but your state of consciousness. Hold the space of presence as you interact with them. As a parent, ”handhold” presence as much as possible as you interact with your spouse. The most vital thing is, before even thinking of doing anything, be conscious.
LA YOGA: What are your recommendations for helping children stay in touch with the present moment and their sensory experience?
First, don’t let them lose touch with nature. So many children these days are so involved in technological games, they don’t experience the natural environment anymore. It’s a great loss, to be deprived of the immediate experience of nature, which puts us in touch with deeper levels of our own being. Also, animals at home are a great help. A dog, for example, offers a non-conceptual relationship. You can touch the dog, look after the dog.
Watching television is a state of semi-comatose hypnosis. You don’t have to eliminate it completely, but discourage your children from spending 100% of their free time with technology. Take them into nature, without the gadgets. Encourage them to have direct sensory experience—to touch, to feel, to look at things.
When children are learning language, encourage them not to equate concepts with reality. When you teach them what something is, have them really experience it with their senses. Otherwise, all they have is a mental label.
LA YOGA: Children label themselves, as well. They’ll come home from school and say, “I’m stupid” because of this or that.
ET: That’s a good time to encourage them not to identify with their thoughts. You can point out that “I’m stupid” is just a thought, and we don’t have to believe in every thought that comes.
When a child is upset, that’s the painbody that most of us have. After the event, say to them, “What was it that took you over yesterday? What did that feel like?” Then, “Let’s wait for next time it comes and see how it feels.” The key is to show the possibility of being aware, rather than always being identified with what arises in their mind.
LA YOGA: Most spiritual traditions have an emphasis on morality. What role does morality play in your teachings?
ET: Morality is important in many traditional teachings because those teachings have not gone beyond ego, so they still function within the framework of the ego. If you live in a society that is inhabited by egos, you need certain external rules of behavior and regulations so that there is not absolute chaos.
When you transcend the ego, a different state of consciousness and morality arise from within. You are no longer trapped in illusion, so you know that ultimately, whatever you are doing to another, you are doing to yourself.
The emphasis of this teaching is not on morality because morality comes as the effect of inner transformation. The emphasis of this teaching is not on morality, but on something deeper, out of which true morality flows.
For more information about Eckhart Tolle and his teachings, visit EckhartTolle.com.
Felicia Tomasko has spent more of her life practicing Yoga and Ayurveda than not. She first became introduced to the teachings through the writings of the Transcendentalists, through meditation, and using asana to cross-train for her practice of cross-country running. Between beginning her commitment to Yoga and Ayurveda and today, she earned degrees in environmental biology and anthropology and nursing, and certifications in the practice and teaching of yoga, yoga therapy, and Ayurveda while working in fields including cognitive neuroscience and plant biochemistry. Her commitment to writing is at least as long as her commitment to yoga. Working on everything related to the written word from newspapers to magazines to websites to books, Felicia has been writing and editing professionally since college. In order to feel like a teenager again, Felicia has pulled out her running shoes for regular interval sessions throughout Southern California. Since the very first issue of LA YOGA, Felicia has been part of the team and the growth and development of the Bliss Network.