Picture this: the majestic Royal Festival Hall is packed with inquisitive faces, all eagerly gazing towards the stage. There’s a disproportionate number of people with dangly earrings, floaty cardigans and tie dye canvas bags. I am one of them.
A lady walks onto the stage, simply furnished with a small tatty rug, a floral bouquet and an old school chair. It’s the kind of sparse that has been intentionally engineered to look unintentional.
The woman raises a microphone to her mouth and a reverent hush spreads through the auditorium.
“This man is in my opinion far and above any other spiritual teacher.”
I’m getting excited.
“He’s had a profound influence on my life over the years.”
I’m literally squirming in my seat…
“The gathering will end at 9:30 or 10pm, depending on how his stream of consciousness is.”
She’s lost me.
The Power Of Now
Now call me a control freak, but when an event is advertised as running from 8pm until 9.30pm I expect to walk out of the event at 9.30pm. Even if you’re about to offer me freedom from my mortal suffering and a path to enlightenment, I expect it to happen within the allotted time and not a minute over. Me and my enlightened self have places to be.
I tell myself to calm down, take some deep yogic breaths and think about what Eckhart might say…
Of course he hits the nail on the head every time… or every Now.
Eckhart Tolle To The Stage
An unassuming man shuffles on towards the staged chair, welcomed by respectfully rapturous applause and, once seated, the room again descends into an expectant lull. When he does speak I am transported back to the summer months I spent last year listening to his audio books.
There is a sweet, comforting and almost nostalgic feeling to hearing that voice live, accompanied by that odd feeling you get when you meet someone famous; that feeling where you think you know them quite well, when in reality you only really know their public image. I have no idea what his favourite colour is or how he takes his tea, and he is completely unaware of my existence despite playing a pivotal role in my life.
In his books, Tolle teaches about stepping away from the analytical mind and becoming a witness to the voice in our head rather than being driven by it. He has come to understand the importance of living in the present moment and all of his books essentially draw back to this concept.
Realize deeply that the present moment is all you have. Make the NOW the primary focus of your life.
― Eckhart Tolle,
However, for the time being we will have to leave the present moment, and return to the events leading up to one my many yoga crimes… walking out on Eckhart Tolle.
Living With A Mask
It quickly became apparent that Eckhart Tolle had always been his own guide from the beginning. As we all experience at some point in our lives, he found himself going in a downward spiral, but unlike most of us he had a sudden realisation that turned his life around. No-one told him how to find this change of direction, he simply changed. He woke up.
He wasn’t given a set of exercises to complete, he didn’t sit in meditation for hours, he didn’t read books on authentic living like the ones he would go on to write. He didn’t sit in a crowded theatre and get spoon fed a transcendental experience.
Every morning we put on a mask that conveys ‘who we are’, made up by a set of concepts and experiences that we have come to use to form ourselves an identity. For most of us, this mask is invisible, unconscious and ingrained.
What Eckhart found is the ability to live, for the most part, without this mask.
The most common ego identifications have to do with possessions, the work you do, social status and recognition, knowledge and education, physical appearance, special abilities, relationships, person and family history, belief systems, and often nationalistic, racial, religious, and other collective identifications. None of these is you.
― Eckhart Tolle
I looked around the theatre at all of these people who had come here to learn, absorb, experience. What were they all seeking?
…And Then I Woke Up
I suddenly felt that by spending £75 on a ticket to be in that room, to listen to someone else’s story was in direct contrast with what we were all hoping to achieve.
I don’t need to look to Eckhart for answers. Isn’t one of the lessons of yoga that inner peace and happiness is always available within us? Instead of looking outside for these things I need to look inside. Or better yet, not look at all, simply let things be, accept them and live each moment as it comes.
Don’t seek happiness. If you seek it, you won’t find it, because seeking is the antithesis of happiness.
― Eckhart Tolle,
A Breath Of Fresh Air
I gathered up my tie-dye bag and floaty cardigan, and as Eckhart talked on I quietly made my way to the exit and wandered onto the fifth floor balcony overlooking the Thames. The bridges to my left and right were bustling with cars going who knows where, lights glittered across the city skyscape and boats chugged lazily along the dark river.
I breathed out a deep sigh of relief at the glorious anonymity of it all.
On my way back to my bicycle I checked my phone and saw that it was 9.25pm. I told you it was possible to achieve enlightenment on time.