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An Afternoon with Eckhart Tolle

Recently, I had the experience of a lifetime. My friend and I met with several others this past Monday in a charming little theater in Mill Valley, California. It was a cozy setting with great personality. There were all sorts of interesting artistic odds and ends abound, some spiraling upward into the balcony – all of which created the perfect ambiance for an afternoon with Eckhart Tolle.

It was no surprise that Eckhart wanted to be welcomed onto the stage in silence. As a contemporary spiritualist who teaches presence and ego-less being, this made perfect sense.

I was so very excited but in the same breath, expectation-free. We found ourselves nicely surprised with the unique sense of humor Eckhart carried throughout the day. He even spoke of his human ways. I imagine, as an acclaimed spiritualist and best seller, he is made to be iconic with no imperfections. Yet Eckhart too was born naked and he appeared to be no stranger to this reality. In fun and humor, he shared with the audience his penchant for coffee, occasional wine, and at times a messy home – not what one would expect of a man who has been likened to a Zen master.

Eckhart spoke to the audience from a small, quaint stage. Very simplistic and all black. A short, square table sat to his right. It was big enough though to hold a flower and vase, water to sip on and mediation bells which we had the pleasure to hear the wonderful chime of at the closing of the day. In a unique juxtaposition, Eckhart was surrounded by three giant television cameras (each strategically placed) a plethora of electrical cords traveling every which way, a crew staff and several incredibly large and brilliant lights. It was quite dynamic I thought. Yet all the while Eckhart continued to exude an innate level of stillness, calm and presence. Then again, he did author Power of Now so in hindsight there really was little room for surprise.

As Eckhart opened with the day’s agenda he said, “I may sit up here first and talk to you for three minutes, thirty minutes or three days. I just don’t know yet.” The audience roared in laughter. Clearly, he had little to nothing prepared (at least not in the strictest sense) and was going to speak his teachings impromptu and for however long it felt natural. I recall thinking that was the perfect place to be – just being, teaching and guiding with nothing in tow save for intrinsic spiritual wisdom void of any preconceived expectations, notions or plans. It embodied raw truth.

And he wasn’t done yet. At one point, Eckhart spoke about Star Trek and his sense of the deeper relevance of this wonderfully popular series to human kind. A fellow Trekky in the audience took the opportunity to offer the Vulcan salute to Eckhart on stage. Seeing this, Eckhart quickly attempted to return the Vulcan salute. Normally, this salute is done with a raised hand, palm forward with the fingers parted between the middle and ring finger, and the thumb extended. Often, the famous phrase “live long and prosper” is said after it. Unfortunately, Eckhart had some difficulty in forming this sign with his hands and instead accidentally provided the kind man with the middle finger! The audience laughed hysterically.

Eckhart talked of the ripple and the ocean analogy. He expressed his belief that our lives are like the ocean…the ripples on top of the ocean he likened to our thoughts and daily life but the depth of the sea was where our deeper, all-encompassing spirit-self resides. Eckhart expressed that there is only one thing that matters: the ocean, and knowing who you are beyond the mere conceptual level of the ripples.

“The source of enjoying is in the being,” commented Eckhart at one juncture. I liked this statement a lot as it was a good reminder to me to stay present and enjoy and trust in the process of life. It’s not so much about the tangible things in life or the achievement of the goals we set (though those do have relevance). Rather, it’s about the process of getting there that counts most and finding joy in that process.

I found this quote by Eckhart very moving: “What you have not chosen may be exactly what you needed to find your way.” So often, when the hardships or the seeming contrasts in life present we view them as adverse and we long for their quick departure. I loved hearing these words from Eckhart because it tells us to ponder the idea that we do indeed find clarity in the contrast even if we have not chosen that contrast.

Throughout the afternoon, audience members came forward with their unique personal life questions seeking guidance from Eckhart. They each spoke into a microphone waiting for them on top of a raised platform carved out in the center of the audience. There was a question from a mother who was raising two children. She wanted to know how to find balance in the chaos-feeling times of parenthood. Another audience member asked how to stay present when planning for the future. Someone else queried Eckhart on anxiety…she explained she had a good life but was admittedly defensive and had low self-esteem and suffered great anxiety. With care, Eckhart responded insightfully to each. One man stood up to share the deep sorrow he felt having lost his pet of 15 years. He struggled even a year later to release the grief. Eckhart spoke at length consoling the man and at one point explained that with animals “there is less in the way” and so we often find it easier to love them. We “love the inherent goodness in animals” and while we also love this in our human relationships, our ego minds get in the way.

It was such an enriching day of awareness. While I did not have the opportunity to present my own question, I related so closely to all of those that were asked. Many of the issues were those that I, my friends or family members had experienced. A unique reminder to me of how much alike we all really are.

If you have not read Eckhart’s books, Power of Now or A New Earth, you might consider it. They are truly remarkable reads that I found life-altering.

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