In light of the title of this article, I feel compelled to let you know that prior to this past Friday afternoon, I had no idea who Eckhart Tolle was. By the time I got to the Beacon Theater, my knowledge was not much improved, and all I knew (from a quick scan of his Wikipedia page, no less) was that he was a "spiritual teacher", and he wrote a book that Oprah liked, called The Power of Now. This last tidbit told me two things: One -- that he was relatively famous and that I probably should have heard of him, and Two -- that I should be mildly skeptical because, while I do love (and I mean love) Oprah, The Secret, another Oprah endorsement, offends me in ways that I never thought a self-help book (that I haven't even read) could.
So, I walked into the theater a cynic, and the slideshow being projected on to the stage did not help. There were pictures of multi-ethnic groups of smiling children (aw!), middle-aged couples meditating (eh.), and one seemingly appropriate photo of a long-robed, bearded man with his eyes closed, face turned towards the heavens, and hands raised in some sort of spiritual jubilation (ah!). So this was to be the next four and a half hours (in two parts) of my life. Yikes.
The introductory speaker starts by telling us all about the Omega Institute, which is presenting this talk, and this makes me feel like I've stumbled into an episode of Lost (Matthew Fox!), but that's okay because the speaker makes me laugh. Apparently the Omega Institute is "sort of like the Whole Foods in Columbus Circle. A supermarket of so much delicious wisdom!" (Yum!) But then we get to the real stuff, because before he comes to the stage, Tolle would like us to take a minute or two of silence to prepare ourselves for what he's going to say. (I take this opportunity to scribble some notes.)
Eckhart Tolle takes the stage and he's a small man, slightly knock-kneed, with slow and deliberate movements, which in my (skeptical) mind is an affectation entirely required of spiritual teachers. Surprisingly, he takes a seat on a fold-out chair in the center of the stage, and he begins with a joke: "If you live in New York, and this beginning is too slow for you, I apologize!" And so he sets the stage for the rest of his talk. Eckhart Tolle is both very funny, and entirely convincing as a man who at 29 underwent a "profound spiritual transformation that virtually dissolved his old identity and radically changed the course of his life", or so says every bio (verbatim) I found online. Note: nowhere (and I do mean nowhere) on the Internet is there to be found a description of what exactly this spiritual transformation was, though the man next to me tells me that it's described in the book, which I therefore promptly go and buy. Abridged spiritual transformation as follows: Tolle wakes up in the middle of the night and thinks, "I cannot live with myself any longer," and then being "aware of what a peculiar thought it was...[that] there must be two of me: the 'I' and the 'self' that 'I' cannot live with," his mind stops and he sees "the image of a precious diamond," and then he spends "almost two years sitting on park benches." Okaaay.
Eckhart Tolle, with his smiling eyes and mellifluous German accent, is all about the now. (Duh. The Power of Now?) Essentially, there is no future, as the future never actually arrives, and therefore, we never experience it. All we can experience is the now, every present moment, and within that, no moment is more important than another. Tolle explains that when we are rushing to get somewhere, we get stressed out because we are projecting ourselves into that future place, like what will happen when we do finally arrive (late) to work. Instead, we should embrace, and enjoy, and be completely in the moment. He uses a Manhattan-centric analogy about someone stealing your taxi, and this is where he loses me, because the only time I embrace having my taxi stolen is when it's by a little old lady with her arms full of groceries, and then I feel like I've done my good deed for the day. (Later that night, while rain is pouring down and I'm on 7th Ave. in the West Village trying to catch a cab, I attempt to embrace the moment in which a couple of bankers dart ahead of me to an approaching cab. I embrace it by giving them a death-stare so lethal that they slink away, grumbling. Point, Tolle!)
I'm with Tolle on identities as well. He says that we have a tendency to derive our identities from stories that we create for ourselves. I say, "I am a writer." But, this is merely a fiction that I have created about myself. (Wait, how did he know?). I am not "a writer". I am me. And we do this to others: "He's a hipster, and he lives in Williamsburg." That may be how he is described, but we should be careful not to mistake that for who he is (although...). And here Tolle makes a great case for ridding ourselves of baggage, which, for anyone in on the dating scene in Manhattan, could be really handy. He states that our "personal histories are not relevant to who we are"... (So I can just go ahead and delete that one time, in college, when...? This is fun!)
And while some might argue here that I'm twisting his teachings, and that's not quite what he meant, well, I say this, and I'm quoting the master here: Don't attach yourselves to the words. The words are signposts, pointing you to the essence that is both in and behind the words. And I say the essence is: Delete it!
The last Tolle-ism that I wrote down and/or understood: in any one moment, we have three choices. We can change it, totally accept it, or walk away. And I appreciate this, because it brings all this now-ness, this "is-ness" (he actually said that), and this "spirituality as a dimension of pure consciousness" (that too), to a place that I can understand and, more importantly, use. And while I would by no means call this my spiritual transformation, I have decided that the next time some guy (the hipster from Williamsburg, perhaps?) feeds me some cheesy line, I'm going to choose to walk away. And the next time I'm watching TV, and the channel sucks but the remote is too far away, I'm going to choose to get up and change it.
And, really, the next time I'm running late to work, and I know that the consequence of being late to work is an excruciatingly snotty comment by my boss, I'm going to choose to totally accept it, because it's going to happen anyway, and I may as well just wait until it actually happens to go ahead and (not) enjoy it.