Full text of author Eckhart Tolle’s talk: There Is Another Way.
In this talk, Eckhart shares an important practice for this challenging time that allows us to rise above our thoughts about external circumstances and access a deeper dimension of ourselves.
There’s a line in Shakespeare; I don’t remember which play. It says:
“Nothing is either good or bad, but thinking makes it so.”
There’s a very important lesson here: an essential part of spiritual awakening or we could call it ‘The Awakening of Consciousness’ — is to learn, to become aware of the difference between the situation that you find yourself in, and what your mind says about the situation that you find yourself in, particularly challenging situations.
Many of you at this time are perhaps confined to a small space, perhaps a small apartment. Not allowed to go out, except to buy groceries or other essentials.
Perhaps you have to share that space with several people, or there’s nobody else and you’re feeling lonely. Or you may be experiencing that money is becoming scarce, because you’ve been laid off. No more income.
Or you’re feeling sick and there’s a fever, there’s cough.
Now all these things that many of you are experiencing now would conventionally, normally be called bad. And yes, I suppose at the conventional level they are not pleasant — particularly if you’re sick.
So what does it mean? What does Shakespeare mean when he says ‘Nothing is either good or bad but thinking makes it so!’?
So your very essential spiritual lesson is to be able to differentiate between a situation that you are experiencing and your mental commentary about the situation that you’re experiencing — the thoughts that you have concerning the situation that you’re experiencing.
Now for most people, anybody who’s not sufficiently aware, for most people, whatever they experience and the mental commentary that they have about their experience are a single phenomenon. They cannot separate them.
So let’s say you are cooped up in a small space, have been there for already a week or two weeks. And you’re thinking about how much longer? And you can’t stand it anymore. This is just too awful and the self-talk continues… It’s telling you how awful and unacceptable this situation is.
This self-talk may generate self-pity, it may generate anger, it may generate depression and/or certainly will generate fear. Because a lot of the self-talk is about how bad it is. It’s not just how bad it is now but how bad it’s going to be. It’s going to be worse. That’s what the mind is often saying.
And then when the mind is saying that it’s going to get worse, then basically for you it is already worse and it gets worse and worse.
So since many of you have spare time these days, I suggest experimenting a little bit and becoming aware of the difference between the situation you find yourself in, and the mental commentary about the situation.
So when you feel unhappy, basically suffering where you are and you’re saying like: ‘I can’t take much more of this’… Whatever the mind is saying or the mind is saying ‘It’s going to get worse; I can’t take another three weeks of this… How could I? What am I going to live on?’ And so on…
So the commentary concerns certain things that are happening now, it may concern some things in the so-called future. So you become aware of the self-talk. Basically most humans talk to themselves a lot; or you may also be talking to others. If you share space with other people, then this self-talk becomes your dialogue that you have with others.
And as an experiment I will suggest that you ask yourself: How would I experience the situation if I did not add any unnecessary thought to it?
How would I experience this moment, the situation that I’m finding myself in, without the addition of an interpretation of the mind?
In most cases this addition, this interpretation, in many many cases it’s negative. It’s usually not that much that the mind can comment on a very pleasant experience; it just experiences it. But the mind can love it when there’s a difficult situation. Then the mind can really get going and has a long story about it.
Question: ‘How would I experience this moment without the addition of unnecessary thought?’
That’s a strange question.
I sometimes say that this addition of thought is excess baggage in your life. And many humans don’t realize that they are making themselves unhappy for years and years and sometimes a whole lifetime. Because they never learn to differentiate between situations they find themselves in and that which the mind adds to the situation. So they experience the situation through the narrative of the mind.
They cannot say ‘Here is a situation’ and ‘Here is the narrative!’ But this is what I’m asking you to experiment with now because you have plenty of time, or many of you have.
Question: ‘How would I experience this moment if I refrained from interpreting it, calling it either good or bad?’
This question doesn’t have an answer at a conceptual level; this question directs your attention into the present moment – the aliveness of the present moment. And if you don’t add any thought to it but just as an experiment you can…. If the experiment fails, if you don’t like it, then you can continue with adding, continuously adding narratives to the situation, and continue to experience the situation through the veil of the narrative, that comments, ‘How awful it all is – that your life is falling apart, the world is falling apart! It’s also dreadful!’ That’s a narrative.
Question: So how would I experience this moment if I did not add?
Okay. Let’s do it, let’s all, let’s refrain. It’s not a doing, it’s a refrain from doing something that is normally an unconscious mind process.
Okay. What am I left with?
‘Here I am, I’m sitting here, looking around, breathing.’ Whatever is here in this room? Look out of the window. See a bit of sky, tree… light coming through the window, on furniture in the room. Whatever else is happening here – sensory perceptions.
And you’re breathing. And you are alive presumably, or you may not actually experience being alive but you can experience it by feeling the inner energy field of the body which is alive. It’s all part of the experience of this moment.
And there you are, sitting there. And you have dropped the narrative. And all you’re left with is the bare – isness, beingness or isness of this moment. That’s interesting.
And you may suddenly feel the kind of weight lifting off your shoulders — the weight that you habitually, probably carry — which is the weight of… this is why I call it excess baggage — it is a weight of unconscious thinking, reactive thinking — the mind creating unhappy narratives.
And then what you then experience is the body is reflecting back to you, the unhappy narrative in the form of an unhappy emotion. That’s called normal living. That’s what when you watch a movie or everybody’s doing it. That’s just normal. Not very few people question it.
But there is another way and it’s a way of awareness or presence.
So this is perhaps one of the most, or the most fundamental spiritual practice is to be able to separate the narrative from the situation. And if possible, as much as possible, let go of the narrative and just be present with this moment as it is. And of course, the amazing fact is, this moment is all there ever is. Your entire life unfolds in and as this moment.