On Being with Krista Tippett

Eckhart Tolle

The Power of Now

Last Updated

October 8, 2009

Original Air Date

August 14, 2008

One of today’s most influential spiritual teachers shares his youthful experience of depression and despair — suffering that led him to his own spiritual breakthrough, and ultimately, freedom and peace of mind. He also explicates his view of what he calls “the pain body” — the accumulated emotional pain that may influence us and our relationships in negative ways. And Tolle talks about spirit and God, and what those concepts mean to him.

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Eckhart Tolle is a spiritual teacher and the best-selling author of A New Earth and The Power of Now.


October 8, 2009

KRISTA TIPPETT, HOST: I’m Krista Tippett. Today, “The Power of Eckhart Tolle’s Now.”

Millions of people of every age and walk of life are being affected by his teachings and philosophy. We’ll probe the core ideas that have generated so much excitement and get a close-up sense of the man behind the books. His philosophy fundamentally challenges the notion that Descartes captured in a sentence: “I think, therefore I am.”

ECKHART TOLLE: What we are talking about here is a state of alert attention to what is where compulsive thinking no longer operates. This means you rise above thinking to a large extent in your life. Where you can face life without the interference of the mind, still being able to use the mind when it’s needed but not being used by it.

MS. TIPPETT: This is Speaking of Faith. Stay with us.


MS. TIPPETT: I’m Krista Tippett. This hour, my 2008 interview with Eckhart Tolle, one of the most influential spiritual teachers in the world today. Long a reclusive figure with a quietly expanding following, Tolle has recently become a household name and a global best-selling author. He believes that a planetary shift in consciousness is underway. And his vision fundamentally challenges the notion that Descartes captured in a sentence: “I think, therefore I am.”

From American Public Media, this is Speaking of Faith — public radio’s conversation about religion, meaning, ethics, and ideas. Today, “The Power of Eckhart Tolle’s Now.”

Eckhart Tolle began to gain attention as a spiritual teacher with his 1997 book, The Power of Now. Then in 2008, Oprah Winfrey chose his follow-up work, A New Earth, for her book club. She conducted a 10-week online seminar with Tolle that has been downloaded 27 million times. The philosophy that Eckhart Tolle brings to readers and live audiences draws on and synthesizes core teachings of many religious and spiritual traditions, including Christianity, Taoism, Hinduism, and especially Buddhism. Tolle echoes the Buddhist analysis of the mind as a primary source of human suffering. That is, the notion that we confuse reality with the racing thoughts in our heads, the stories we’ve internalized from our families and culture, and the emotions that animate us as a result. Becoming aware of this, Tolle says, is the only way we can truly ever direct our experience of the world and our presence within it. And he prescribes a direct route to this new way of being — the shift in awareness to what he calls “the power of now.” Tolle emphasizes that in our firsthand experience of life, now is all there ever is. Human beings have a tendency to obsess over the past and the future. But we only know the past through the lens of the present moment, and when the future is actually upon us, it will also be another now.

MR. TOLLE: When people value the next moment more than they value what is, they are dissatisfied with what is but they are hoping some other future moment is going to free them from this dissatisfaction. But the other moment never actually comes because when the so-called future comes, it appears again as the unsatisfying present. [Laugh] And so when you realize, OK, where is my life? Essentially, it’s here and now, and it will never not be here and now. And suddenly you pay more attention to this.

MS. TIPPETT: Now in his 60s, Eckhart Tolle himself was a deeply private person for most of his life. He spent decades as a semi-nomadic teacher, leading something of a hermit’s existence. Today he lives in Canada with Kim Eng, his partner in business and life for over a decade. I wanted to probe his ideas to understand the powerful reach he has acquired. I also wanted to understand how his own life gave rise to his insights and how they continue to develop through his experiences now. Eckhart Tolle was raised in a Catholic family in Germany and moved to Spain at the age of 13, to live with his father, after his parents separated. He dropped out of school and did not pursue a formal education again until he went to England to study at the universities of London and Cambridge. There, at the age of 29, Eckhart Tolle experienced a catharsis that led to the teachings for which he is now known.

MS. TIPPETT: You really — you kind of schooled yourself, didn’t you? And then you pursued your studies as an adult in graduate studies. It seems that your life was very cerebral. I mean, you were kind of an embodiment of this Western notion that “I think, therefore I am.”

MR. TOLLE: Yes. I only read what I enjoyed reading, so it wasn’t an academic kind of upbringing. And at that time, I was not particularly interested in intellectual things. That started in my early 20s, when after I had moved to England …


MR. TOLLE: … where I got a job. And then I became suddenly very interested in intellectual things. I also started to suffer from depression.


MR. TOLLE: And the intellectual quest was an attempt to find some kind of meaning also for my life because I believed that the meaning was to be found there somewhere through the intellect. And it took me quite a few years to realize it wasn’t there. You couldn’t find it that way. [Laugh]

MS. TIPPETT: You know, you told a story in A New Earth about an experience you had, which was actually a few years before you really had kind of a breakthrough and came out of that, where you experienced a woman talking to herself on the train, right? On the tube train.


MS. TIPPETT: Tell that story. Kind of caught in her thoughts, and then you came to understand that you had some of the same problems.

MR. TOLLE: Yes. So she would — I would sometimes see her on the train. I call it the tube, the subway, in the morning. And she would continuously talk to herself or, rather, to an imaginary person in a very angry voice. Continuously complaining, “And then he did this to me. Then he said, and I said — then how dare he tell me this,” and I watched in amazement how can anybody be so insane and still apparently have a job? Because she would catch the subway every morning.

MS. TIPPETT: [Laugh] She was going somewhere, right?

MR. TOLLE: And one day I was sitting opposite her on the subway, and she got off at the same station that I needed to get off to go the university library. I followed her, and we got closer and closer and finally I realized, oh, my God, she’s going to the university.


MR. TOLLE: Because at that time, I still thought the university was the great temple of knowledge, and all the answers — the professors and so on, they had all the answers and I would eventually find them too. I was washing my hands in the bathroom and I thought, “My God. Her voice. She never stops talking.” And I suddenly realized, well, I do that too, except that I don’t do it out loud. And then I thought, “I hope I don’t end up like her,” and somebody next to me looked at me and I suddenly realized in shock that I had actually said these words aloud just like her. I said, “I hope I don’t end up like her.” [Laugh] So I realized my mind was as incessantly active as hers. Our only difference was that my thought was mostly based on feeling sorry for myself. It was kind of depressed kind of thinking. Her patterns were fueled by anger. But that was only a very brief …


MR. TOLLE: … flash of realization. But I always remember it because that was — it took years before I finally was able to really step out of the stream of thinking and realize there is a place inside me that is far more powerful than the continuous mental noise with which for many, many years I had been completely identified, just like that woman.

MS. TIPPETT: So what happened to you when you were 29 to finally really jolt you out of that?

MR. TOLLE: Well, I was in the depth of depression, and I lived in anxiety about my life and my problems and my future. And one night I woke up in the middle of the night again feeling this sense of dread, and a phrase came into my head, which said, “I can’t live with myself any longer. I can’t live with myself any longer.” And that phrase went around and around in my head a few times and suddenly, I was able to stand back and look at that phrase: “I can’t live with myself any longer.” And I thought, “Oh, that is strange. I cannot live with myself. Who am I and who is the self that I cannot live with? Because there must be two of me here, if that phrase is correct.”



MS. TIPPETT: Interesting.

MR. TOLLE: There are two of me.


MR. TOLLE: The “I” was there, and the “me” that I couldn’t live with actually was the continuous mental noise, the stream of thinking that considered life and that considered myself as a problem.

MS. TIPPETT: Right. Right.

MR. TOLLE: So that was the answer to that question, “Who am I and who is the self that I cannot live with?” The answer came experientially. Not that I stopped it through an act of will. It subsided by itself.

MS. TIPPETT: What do you mean when you say the answer came experientially? How? How did that unfold experientially?

MR. TOLLE: Well, after that night, I woke up in the morning and the first thing I noticed as I opened my eyes and listened that everything seemed much more alive than I was used to, that the room that I was in, the light coming through the window, objects on the table. And I looked. It was — everything was precious and alive, almost as if I was looking at it and listening to it for the first time. So I was in a state of kind of amazement. “Wow, this is all very beautiful.” And I picked up a pen, held it. Looked out of the window at the beautiful tree that had always been there but I’d never really seen it. Then I was in London at the time when I had to take a bus and go into town. And even there, sitting on top of the double-decker bus, everything seemed so peaceful, even the traffic. Later, I saw that phrase in the Bible somewhere, “The peace that passes all understanding.”


MR. TOLLE: That’s what happened because I didn’t understand why I was at peace because externally nothing had changed. Internally, everything had changed.

MS. TIPPETT: So, you know, here’s something that’s striking to me about your story, because I think many people have had these breakthroughs. I mean, like the moment you described a few years earlier where you had this kind of cathartic experience and you saw something momentarily and you were momentarily changed. But you had this transformation. I mean, it sounds like, from the story you tell, you were never the same after that day. What was it that happened to you that was so complete?

MR. TOLLE: I don’t have an answer to that. I know that for most people it does not happen in that way. For most people, it’s a gradual process. Perhaps because the suffering was so dreadful, the psychological suffering, that it was a dark night of the soul, as I realized later, that many people — before this shift in consciousness happens — they go into the depths of depression or despair. And there is a permanent change that happens when you let it go that low.

MS. TIPPETT: That far. Mm-hmm.

MR. TOLLE: Yes. Most people don’t actually have to go into the depths of despair. They have their ordinary daily suffering, and that’s also enough to eventually bring about a transformation of consciousness.

MS. TIPPETT: Mm-hmm.

MR. TOLLE: But I have no ultimate answer, really, why in my case it was a very dramatic permanent shift, and for most people it’s a gradual transition. I realized that later.

MS. TIPPETT: Spiritual teacher and author Eckhart Tolle.

[Sound bite of music]

MR. TOLLE: Historically, we’re reaching a very critical point on this planet, and so many people are realizing that something fundamental needs to change. And the fundamental dimension is not outside; it’s within each human being. And so if there is a great readiness now on the part of many, many people for this inner shift in consciousness, and that’s why so many people read these books. I was amazed when The Power of Nowcame out 10 years ago …

MS. TIPPETT: Mm-hmm.

MR. TOLLE: When I wrote the book I thought, “OK. This will appeal to a few people who have already gone deeply into meditation or whatever.” That’s what I thought. And then I thought — I suddenly realized many people who have never read a spiritual book in their lives, they looked it and said, “I understand now. I understand the structure of my unhappiness.”


MR. TOLLE: And I understand that it is not necessary. [Laugh]

MS. TIPPETT: Right. And you’ve now had what, 26 million people watch the 10-week …


MS. TIPPETT: … Webinar with Oprah Winfrey and millions of copies of A New Earth. And not just your book. I mean, there’s an explosion.


MS. TIPPETT: And you speak about, and I think we can all see many, many indications of that, this spiritual energy. You know, and you are actually saying — you are writing about a profound shift in planetary consciousness that is destined to take place in the human species. Now, I mean, I hear many people say these days, these last years, you know, something is changing. There’s a shift in consciousness. We’re understanding more. We’re learning more. And yet I worry that this is a Western — a luxurious phenomenon that’s only available to those of us who don’t have to think about survival. Because there are many places in the world right now, and this is also part of what’s happening on our planet now, I mean, some of the basic elements of survival — food — are scarce. And …


MS. TIPPETT: Yeah. So how do you think about that? That disjunction?

MR. TOLLE: Well, as long as survival occupies your mind then there’s very little room for anything else and even for unhappiness. The strange thing is as long as you’re struggling to survive, you don’t even have the energy — the mind doesn’t have enough energy …

MS. TIPPETT: To have what we call unhappiness.

MR. TOLLE: … for an unhappy me.


MR. TOLLE: An unhappy self. You wouldn’t even know what somebody’s talking about when they talk about unhappiness because you’re struggling to survive. But once there is sufficient, then a different thing comes in. The mind suddenly begins to work in a different way and becomes very problematic. So the fact that now there are still many humans who don’t have enough food and so on.

MS. TIPPETT: And water. Yeah.

MR. TOLLE: There’s a great im — and water. There’s a great imbalance on the planet, again, largely created by the greed of the human mind. So, yes, that is there, but the transformation of consciousness has to start somewhere on the planet. And then it will affect the rest of the planet. The collective and the individual are really very much the same.

MS. TIPPETT: Mm-hmm.

MR. TOLLE: So it doesn’t work if you say, OK, I need to have a good income and a really peaceful place where I can meditate every day, and then I can really tune in and be at peace and go very deep. It’s not going to work.


MR. TOLLE: The spirituality has come into the so-called unsatisfying reality. It has to — this is the moment to enter it, rather than waiting for your life to improve. It will never really improve unless the spiritual dimension comes in.

MS. TIPPETT: Let me ask you this. I think a criticism some people have, or a wariness, of what’s been called New Age spirituality, and I actually think we’re in a different era now even, that what might have been called New Age is evolving into something different.

MS. TIPPETT: Your work is sometimes associated with that sphere. And I think that there is a concern that, you know, it is engaged in a spiritual quest and yet it’s very individualistic, that it is inward looking. And in that way would diverge from some of the impulses, you know, in the great traditions — Christianity, Judaism — this impulse that comes also from that consciousness or from faith to repair the world. You know, a kind of active compassion, the agape love of the New Testament.

MR. TOLLE: Yes. Yes.

MS. TIPPETT: Is there a disconnect?

MR. TOLLE: No. I believe that really it’s for every individual to realize within themselves that there is the old consciousness working in them, the structures of their own mind, and there is the possibility of stepping out of that. The shifting consciousness, it’s for you to experience. You realize that in essence you are not whatever is in your mind but the awareness behind your mind. Then a much greater depth is suddenly active in you. And when you touch that, when you have access to that, when you are that, then the way in which you interact with other human beings and with the world at large changes. You become a force for good in this world. It’s only there where really true compassion and true love, which ultimately is not what the ego thinks love is, which is “Don’t you ever leave me. Don’t you dare leave me. I need you,” or whatever, some kind of — it’s not that, but true compassion, true love, and real — the joy of being alive. They all arise on that level. And it’s only then — anybody who embodies this shift in consciousness and many people are going through it now on the planet — not the majority yet, it’s still a minority, but they are — they cannot not have an influence on the world around them. They influence not by wanting to influence; it just happens. And then many people will be called upon to do things in this world, to be active. But it comes from a much more peaceful place within, not from an angry conflict-ridden state of consciousness. And very great power comes through you then. But the primary thing is not changing the outer world; the primary is going through the change within. And then you cannot not change the outer once that has happened.

MS. TIPPETT: Wasn’t it Gandhi who said, “I can’t change the world but I can change myself”?

MR. TOLLE: Yes. And ultimately, you see, that’s where true change happens. So it sometimes looks from an external viewpoint as if you were preoccupied with yourself. But, no, the normal state of consciousness, you are continuously preoccupied with yourself. [Laugh]

MS. TIPPETT: Right. I mean, I think what you’re saying also, and certainly those experiences could be confused. I mean, someone might imagine that they were very spiritual and yet still very preoccupied with themselves, right? I mean, I think what I hear you saying is that for you a sign and a symptom of a true shift in consciousness would be that one was having a good effect on, a different effect on the world around them.

MR. TOLLE: Yes. A very good yardstick or criterion is, for example, your relationship with other human beings. Do they become more peaceful? Do they become free of conflict? Are you still contributing to the conflict or does conflict dissolve in your presence?

MS. TIPPETT: Spiritual teacher Eckhart Tolle.

[Sound bite of music]

MS. TIPPETT: You have a really interesting analysis of, or just an observation about humility — and real humility that can arise when people have a true passion for their calling. I mean, humility is one of these words really hard to talk about. It’s hard to talk about in American culture. But to me it’s very hopeful because you also name the fact that true humility is out there. And I think when you say that, we all know we’ve known people like that.

MR. TOLLE: Yes. And basically one could say true humility is no longer living through a concept, a mental concept, of who you are.

MS. TIPPETT: Just being that, right?

MR. TOLLE: Just being that.

MS. TIPPETT: Fully being that.

MR. TOLLE: Yes. Yes. And so it’s not something one can actually cultivate because anything that you cultivate really is a mental concept.

MS. TIPPETT: And it’s also not a sacrifice in that sense, right?


MS. TIPPETT: Because I think that in Western culture, humility is like debasing yourself.


MS. TIPPETT: And that’s not what you’re talking about. It’s really about being fully alive.

MR. TOLLE: Being fully alive and fully engaging with life in the present moment, which is where life happens. Fully responding to the needs of this moment, not rejecting this moment, not arguing with this moment, but being open to it.

MS. TIPPETT: And I wonder if it’s also — some aspect of that is that when you are fully alive and fully present, even if in a very powerful way, right, I mean even if your presence is powerful, there’s something about knowing your place in the scheme of things. I mean, being aware of how complex and large everything around you is.

MR. TOLLE: Yes. The vastness of it all and the compulsion to continuously interpret whatever you are experiencing at any given moment, that is no longer there. And there’s great freedom in not compulsively interpreting other people, situations, and so on. Not imposing all these judgments. That’s another word for it. Imposing thinking, thinking continuously on the world, which is so alive and so fresh and new at every moment. It’s all when we impose the continuously compulsive thinking on it then we deaden it, and we become dead to the aliveness of the world. We become dead to the aliveness in others. And so we can no longer have empathy for others when we are behind a screen of conceptualization through which we judge others. And so, yes, the mind is beautiful. The ability to think is a great thing. And it does not mean that you fall below thinking when you are open to the present moment in the state of …

MS. TIPPETT: Or that you turn your mind off, right? It doesn’t …

MR. TOLLE: Yes. It doesn’t mean you become semiconscious or it doesn’t mean it’s a thing that happens to you when you have a few drinks.

MS. TIPPETT: Right. Right.

MR. TOLLE: What we are talking about here is a state of alert attention to what is where compulsive thinking no longer operates. This means you rise above thinking to a large extent in your life. The whole thing of Zen is really about that. Zen is a very practical way of taking you beyond compulsive thinking where you can face life without the interference of the mind. Still being able to use the mind when it’s needed, but not being used by it.

MS. TIPPETT: Zen is very much a practical discipline, a commitment.


MS. TIPPETT: And so what is available to someone who’s not a practitioner of Zen? We’ll just start there. Because what you’re talking about is so simple …


MS. TIPPETT`: … and it’s the hardest thing, to transcend our thoughts.

MR. TOLLE: Yes. The simplest thing looks like the hardest thing. [Laugh]

MS. TIPPETT: Right. Right.

MR. TOLLE: But so it’s for everybody really to experience that, sometimes in just very small ways in their daily life. I use little, I call them little signposts. These are just little pointers. For example, a little phrase like, “Ask yourself throughout the day, ‘What kind of a relationship am I having with the present moment?'”

MS. TIPPETT: Mm-hmm.

MR. TOLLE: And then that takes your attention into your inner space, into your emotional field, and into your mind. Is my mind denying the present moment? Am I in a state of stress? What is stress? Stress is normal in our civilization but really basically what it means is you would rather be somewhere else. [Laugh] Stress means you want to be in the next moment or you want already to be finished with what you’re doing while you’re still doing it. You would rather be finished with it. Or while you’re traveling towards someplace you’d rather already be there.


MR. TOLLE: But you’re not. And stress is so normal that everybody accepts that, OK, if you’re successful in life then you must be under stress.

MS. TIPPETT: Right. But I think counterintuitively I think you’re saying you lean in rather than wishing it away.

MR. TOLLE: Right. But I think counterintuitively I think you’re saying you lean in rather than wishing it away.

MS. TIPPETT: And you’re saying that we do have the power. Whatever is enclosed in that moment, we have the power not to define it as an obstacle. And that’s going to change the way we approach it.

MR. TOLLE: Yes. The first thing is the realization of what you’re doing. In other words, one could say see the madness in yourself. And that’s not a bad thing; it’s a great thing, because that is not something to be depressed about. That means that you are awakening. And that which is awakening is the awareness behind the thinking.

MS. TIPPETT: Eckhart Tolle’s current high profile in popular culture and the impact of his teachings intrigued my production team. It also led to some dynamic editorial discussions among us. On our staff blog, SOF Observed, get a glimpse into how this program was created, watch video of one of our editorial sessions, and learn more about the inner workings of the production process. And you can download an MP3 of this program for free through our e-mail newsletter, podcast, and Web site. Our home page at speakingoffaith.org has links to all this and more.

After a short break, we’ll explore Eckhart Tolle’s notion of the “pain body”; also how his spiritual practices are being tested and developed by his new experience of fame. I’m Krista Tippett. Stay with us. Speaking of Faith comes to you from American Public Media.


MS. TIPPETT: Welcome back to Speaking of Faith, public radio’s conversation about religion, meaning, ethics, and ideas. I’m Krista Tippett. Today, “The Power of Eckhart Tolle’s Now.” Tolle is one of the most influential spiritual teachers in the world today. Before he published his first book, The Power of Now, he spent several decades reading spiritual texts. He took the name Eckhart, which is not the name he was born with, after the 13th-century German mystic Meister Eckhart, whose writings influenced him in that period. Tolle studied with various spiritual teachers and was gradually sought out for counseling by others. He draws on and synthesizes core teachings of the world’s spiritual traditions, especially Buddhism, and offers tools for cultivating the awareness behind our thinking. In his book A New Earth, Eckhart Tolle coins the term “the pain body” to describe one complicating factor in human relationships and experience.

MS. TIPPETT: I want to talk about your notion of the pain body. And, you know, one way you describe it is “the energy field of old but still very-much-alive emotion that lives in almost every human being.” Where did you draw this idea from? Was it something you became aware of in yourself?

MR. TOLLE: I became aware of it when for quite a few years I would see people for counseling sessions every day. And through my work with those people, retrospectively, I understood the structure of unhappiness in my own life by understanding the structure of unhappiness in other people that I was sitting with. And there were people who were telling me their sad stories all the time, and people who had an enormous amount of emotional pain, carried enormous amounts of emotional pain inside them that I observed. And I said how can there be so much emotional pain when the situation that they’re in cannot actually justify that much emotional pain?


MR. TOLLE: And so I realized that there’s something in everybody that is a remnant of past painful emotion. And these remnants of past painful emotion from pain that you suffered as a child, perhaps even pain that was passed on from previous generations.

MS. TIPPETT: You know, the way that’s come up in my conversations and especially with a man, a remarkable yoga teacher who became paraplegic in a car accident when he was 13 — one of the things he had to reckon with was what he calls “body memory.” And I think that’s very similar to what you’re saying, which is, he had and still has no conscious memory of the offense of the accident which crippled him, but his body was there.


MS. TIPPETT: And had stored that memory and that was something that came out through the practice of yoga. But this is in some ways harder than what you’re describing about how we can gain control of our thoughts because this is below the conscious level. I mean, this is not even …

MR. TOLLE: It is.

MS. TIPPETT: … something we know. We don’t know where it is and we can’t even necessarily name it with words.


MS. TIPPETT: Or get rid of it with words. So what do we do?

MR. TOLLE: Yes. You are right. It is sometimes harder, depending on the intensity of your pain body, but it’s actually quite close to reality. Although, I am not saying this is an absolute truth, it is a way of looking at it. And that is to regard it almost as a — a independent entity, an energy form that lives in people that I have observed many times.

MS. TIPPETT: And that then complicates whatever is actually happening in …

MR. TOLLE: It complicates what is happening, yes, and it colors what is happening. It colors what’s happening with the old emotion, and that’s emotional pain.

MS. TIPPETT: So how do you banish that or heal it?

MR. TOLLE: Yes. That’s, first, of course you need to know when it arises in you, oh, there’s the pain body. That already is the beginning of being free of it, recognizing it for what it is rather than completely identifying with the pain that arises at the moment.

MS. TIPPETT: And do you recognize that because if you become aware that you have a degree and an intensity of emotion that is simply not proportionate to…

MR. TOLLE: Yes. Very often it’s out of proportion to the so-called triggering event. And the pain body has basically two ways of feeding on further emotional pain. One is through your thinking and one is through other people’s reactions. So if you are sitting alone in a room and the pain body gets awakened from its dormant state because it needs to feed on an experience of pain, what happens is the old emotion, perhaps triggered by one thought in your head about your sad story from the past, the old emotion rises up into the mind, and suddenly your entire thinking becomes extremely negative. It reflects the emotional energy. So all your thoughts that you’re thinking about your life and your life situation and your past and other people is deeply, deeply negative. Totally distorted, of course. It’s distorted by the pain of the past. If at that moment somebody came into the room and said, “Why don’t you stop your negative thinking? It’s making you unhappy,” you wouldn’t want to stop if you had already become identified with it.


MR. TOLLE: You would find a reason not to stop.

MS. TIPPETT: It’s kind of an animal energy then, isn’t it?

MR. TOLLE: Yes. It’s an addictive thing. So it feeds on the one hand on your thinking. On the other hand, if there are people around you at the time when the pain body awakens the favorite way of feeding for the pain body is to provoke a negative reaction, for example, in your partner. It could be a little situation, something he or she says or does, and you push the buttons in your partner and you amplify something that otherwise would be a relatively insignificant thing perhaps. And you know the pain body has a certain cunning intelligence to it.


MR. TOLLE: It knows exactly what buttons to push in your partner or the person close to you or your family member. And it’ll say those things that are most likely to provoke an intense negative reaction, and then it’ll feed on the drama. So that’s the second way, then, in which the pain body feeds, is the drama in relationships. And many couples recognize this truth and say, “Oh, yeah. That’s true. Every week or every two weeks or every three weeks we go through our drama.”

[Sound bite of music]

MS. TIPPETT: You know, you are very aware of this. I mean, you had something of the life of a hermit for many years, but you’ve been in a relationship for 10 years. I mean, do you have this drama in your relationship?

MR. TOLLE: No. I don’t have drama anymore.

MS. TIPPETT: You don’t?


MS. TIPPETT: Because — why? How have you tamed that in yourself?

MR. TOLLE: Well, I still occasionally find an emotion arises, and I immediately know that is emotion. I feel it. So in other words, I become the space for the emotion. I’m not the emotion, and I’m not even saying to the emotion, “Go away, I don’t want you.” It says, there it is. It’s again coming into a friendly relationship with the present moment because at this moment whatever emotion you experience, and this is the way to eventually become free of the pain body, is not to say I don’t want to have a pain body or anything like that, just to see that it’s there. So the key is to be the awareness. And another word for that rather than to say awareness is to say can you be the space of whatever is arising at this moment, which might be an emotion. Can you be the space for that? Can you say yes …

MS. TIPPETT: Is that when you talk about inner-spaciousness?

MR. TOLLE: Yes. Acting against the form of this moment, you become the space that’s behind the form.


MR. TOLLE: So when you say yes to the emotion but recognize it, allow it to be because it already is. It’s here now. It is. Can I allow this to be there? You better because it is there. [Laugh]

MS. TIPPETT: Right. Right. Right.

MR. TOLLE: And then you become deeper. Or rather, you realize that you are deeper than the emotion. And that frees you from being controlled by the emotion. Then gradually the pain body weakens because it can’t feed anymore on your relationship or on your thinking. And now if you have a lot of emotional pain from the past, you may always experience from time to time some painful emotion arising.

MS. TIPPETT: Well, it is part of you.

MR. TOLLE: Yes. And it’s not a problem because you are the space for that. And then you have to say, OK, it is. It already is. Why argue with the isness of life because it is? And then if action is required, whatever you do in response is going to be empowered by the intelligence of life itself because you are open to life which is now.

MS. TIPPETT: Spiritual teacher and author Eckhart Tolle. I’m Krista Tippett, and this is Speaking of Faith from American Public Media. Today, I’m in conversation with Eckhart Tolle, exploring his ideas and their appeal to millions in the contemporary world.

Some might say that this way of being is not connected with the fullness, the earthiness, the messiness of life. I mean, you said a minute ago you don’t have drama in your relationship, and I think some people might say, well, if there’s no drama there’s no excitement. Now, I have to say, I do experience you as having great energy. I don’t know, sometimes you speak about enthusiasm as opposed to passion. I think somebody might read your vision and say are we talking about a world where passion disappears?

MR. TOLLE: No. I have great enthusiasm or passion or whatever word you want to use for this, this teaching if you want to call it that.

MS. TIPPETT: Right. Right.

MR. TOLLE: So it doesn’t mean that all those — the intensity of life does not disappear. It actually becomes enhanced. You experience life more intensely. But not in a mad way, not in the egoic intensity that needs some kind of stimulus to be on a high, which never lasts, but an intensity that comes from a deeper place. For example, I experience — I go for a walk with my dog every day in a little forest, and I experience nature very intensely every day. It’s so wonderful and so alive. Everything is so alive. And so to be there every day it’s fresh and new. So it’s very great intensity. And I remember when I was depressed in my 20s, I had completely lost contact with nature. As a child I had it and then I lost it because my mind was far too active. There was nothing in nature that has anything to do with the problems, my problems that I thought were so important. [Laugh]

MS. TIPPETT: Right. Right.

MR. TOLLE: So there is great intensity that comes in. It doesn’t mean we lose a balance because our civilization as a whole has completely lost the balance because it’s totally identified with the external forms. It’s totally identified with that.

MS. TIPPETT: You write a lot in your book about the pressures of fame. And you are now a rich and famous person, you know, and that’s also part of our obsession with external appearances and forms. You know, has this experience pressed on your spiritual insights? Has it presented challenges?

MR. TOLLE: Well, yes. I believe in this life no matter what situation you encounter, every situation will have its own challenges. So it’s never the case that once this or that happens to me, I’ll be totally fine. Internally, you’re fine already; that’s the main thing. But no situation is going to provide complete fulfillment because there will always be another side to it. I don’t enjoy particularly being well known or being recognized in the street or being recognized in restaurants, people looking to see what I’m eating. And particularly since I love actually being invisible, so to speak. I love not to be noticed.

MS. TIPPETT: Right. Right.

MR. TOLLE: To be in the background. I’ve always loved that. And now life has given me the opposite as a challenge. So what I do is I don’t react, and I simply say that’s how it is. This is the downside of the great things that are happening. This is what is. I have to surrender to that. And so I do. I wear a baseball cap and sometimes dark glasses. [Laugh]

MS. TIPPETT: Right. Right. Right.

MR. TOLLE: And sometimes nevertheless people stop me in the street. Although I try to avoid that, the strange thing is, the moment it happens, I’m completely there and I welcome it. It’s actually wonderful to hear from somebody. “You’ve changed my life,” they say. I know I haven’t changed their life, but I understand what they mean.


MR. TOLLE: And that’s very nice. The downside is that people are looking at me and saying, “Why are you drinking coffee? You shouldn’t be drinking coffee.”


MS. TIPPETT: You’re too pure?


MS. TIPPETT: We need to finish. I think I want to ask you a final question. In all the other interviews I’ve read that other people have done of you, I haven’t seen you asked this. And I’m not sure you really directly address it in your work. You do speak of God sometimes, but do you believe in God? Or do you believe that there is a sense and purpose behind the universe as a whole?

MR. TOLLE: Oh, definitely. Yes. Yes. I use the word God rarely because it’s been misused so much by the human mind. It has made the timeless, eternal, that which cannot be named, the vast mystery of life itself, when you say God you make it into a mental idol. It becomes a thought form. And then you think you know what you’re talking about. But of course that’s the misuse of the word God. But what ultimately it points to is the essence of who you are and the essence of what everything else is. The underlying essence of all life. Words are so useless when we talk about this. That’s why the beginning of the Tao Te Ching, the ancient Chinese book of wisdom, the first line in the Tao — the Tao, of course, means “the mystery,” the great unmanifested power that is behind all life which cannot be expressed in words — and so the first line in the Tao Te Ching is “The Tao that can be spoken of is not the true Tao.” So at the beginning of the book, the book says you can’t speak of it. And then it continues to speak of it. [Laugh]

MS. TIPPETT: And that’s what we’ve done this hour.

MR. TOLLE: Exactly. Yes. The ultimate thing is the realization of the formless essence of who you are because if God has any reality in this world, it cannot be separate from who you are in your essence. And finding that in yourself, really, I see as the purpose of human life. And then the external world, the temporary world, the world of forms, also changes as a result of that. But the essence is finding who you are beyond form, beyond time.

MS. TIPPETT: Eckhart Tolle’s books include A New Earth and The Power of Now.

My conversation with Eckhart Tolle lasted 90 minutes, but we had to trim more than half of our interview for this hourlong radio broadcast. But on our Web site, speakingoffaith.org, we’re including you in the process. Download an MP3 of my entire unedited interview and learn more about Eckhart Tolle’s life and teachings.

The senior producer of Speaking of Faith is Mitch Hanley, with producers Colleen Scheck, Nancy Rosenbaum, and Marc Sanchez. Our online editor is Trent Gilliss, with Web producer Andrew Dayton. Kate Moos is the managing producer of Speaking of Faith, and I’m Krista Tippett.

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